EU left red-faced as Bill Clinton ‘insisted Turkey WOULD join bloc’

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Talk of Turkey joining the EU has been on the table for decades. In 1987 the country, which is both in Europe and Asia, applied to accede to the European Economic Community (EEC), the precursor to the EU. It was, in fact, one of the first countries to become a member of the Council of Europe in 1949, following the tragedies of World War 2.

Turkey eventually signed a Customs Union agreement with the EU in 1995, and was later recognised as a candidate for full membership in 1999.

This, however, has yet to be realised, despite the country being approved as a member in 2004.

And while in recent years EU leaders have said Turkey’s government is essentially undermining its chances of joining the bloc, at one point in time, its membership was considered an inevitability.

So much so, that when Mr Juncker, former President of the European Commission, recalled a story about US President Bill Clinton during a speech to mark the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty, the audience was privy to the full extent of foreign concerns.

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It came as Mr Juncker attempted to “sing (his) economic monetary opera” – a nod to the single market.

Mr Clinton, however, didn’t take this talk very seriously, and instead asked: “No, I am not interested in that, because this will never happen.

“Explain to me when Turkey will become a member of the European Union.”

As Mr Juncker went on to explain, Mr Clinton’s main concerns were how legitimate the common market was, something which he at the time thought little of.

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Many were dubious about whether the single market would work at the time, including Mr Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who, when Mr Juncker restarted his “opera about the economic and monetary union,” said: “Let us talk about the Internal Market, because this will never happen.”

As Mr Juncker pointed out, the monetary union did come into fruition.

He spoke of how he knew things were going well when he spoke of Secretary Rubin’s interest in the economic and monetary union a year later, in 1996.

As he explained: “One year later, I was back in Washington – IMF meetings and things of that kind – and then I received a phone call from the Secretary of the Treasury, from Rubin. And he said: ‘We were starting a debate last year on the economic and monetary union. Could you come back tonight to explain to me where you are?’

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“And suddenly I had the impression to be a very important person.

“And I said: ‘No, I do not have time tonight’.

“And then he invited me for breakfast on a Sunday morning. And I said to myself: ‘If the American Finance Minister is inviting the Luxembourgish Finance Minister for breakfast on a Sunday morning, then they believe it’.”

Many now claim, however, that this policy could see the union through to the point of collapse.

Following the 2008 crash, Greece was economically split in half, and was forced to ask for help from the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Bailouts were provided but on the basis of strict austerity measures that are only now easing today, some 12 years on.

The coronavirus pandemic has also proved a strain on the EU’s economic policy.

A Covid-19 recovery fund was granted earlier this year, much to the dismay of northern European countries like the Netherlands.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte demanded that the recovery deal – to help southern nations like Spain and Italy hard-hit by the pandemic – consist mainly of loans rather than grants, and for structural economic reforms in order not to lose out on money.

A deal was eventually struck at the last-minute.

Yet, fears that one economy could plunge the entire union into disaster persist.

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