One of the more bizarre interview requests I have received was this afternoon when Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) sent me an email. I presumed it was about the usual Italian questions; instead the topic was “to discuss San Marino and its refusal to be a member of the European Union”, not an item at the top of either my own news agenda or most others for that matter.
Now we all know that Turkey has had a long and sometimes troubled relationship with the EU and previous incarnations for 50 years and so could be expected to show an interest in others would or would not like to be part of the club. But San Marino? Turkey has a population of 74 m., San Marino with 32,000 does not reach half of 0.1%. It is wholly surrounded not just by Italy but a single region of Italy, the Marches (most of the Sanmarinesi who live “abroad” are in the Marches or Emilia Romagna, a different country to be sure but the same accent and variety of Italian, the same food and same architecture). It has also had agreements with the EU since 1991 covering most economic matters.
On Sunday, they were asked to vote on whether San Marino should apply for EU membership; a very small majority said yes 50.3% to 49.7 saying no but as only 20% of the electorate voted and the threshold is 32%, the results were declared invalid. The ruling Party of Socialists and Democrats (PSD) was pro-accession, the Christian Democrats were neutral and the right was against so the result was a blow for the PSD.
But it was hardly a blow for the EU. Clearly the majority of Sanmarinesi had better things to do than go and vote; accession would not change the lives of anyone except perhaps the few who aspired to a Brussels job. The everyday questions would hardly change for most of them. The centre and the right were neutral or against the application. Some had worries that membership would prevent San Marino from controlling immigration. Until 2008, San Marino was a tax haven, mostly for local Italian businesses but then the Italian authorities started looking for Italian tax evaders and the EU authorities started applying international banking regulations much as they have done with the Vatican.
The EU too is not keen to consider microstates like San Marino, Andorra or Monaco so an application was unlikely to be successful which discouraged many voters.
Supporters of the application hoped that membership would modernise the country but they will have to wait for another opportunity.
More interesting than the San Marino vote is why an international Turkish broadcaster dedicated more than five minutes of a 45 minute show to the issue. The questions emphasised that San Marino had “rejected” the EU and whether this meant that the “European dream is over”. I could only answer that the Sanmarinesi were not “dreaming” about anything. They took a very pragmatic decision based on their interests. In a Europe riddled with different crises, few have dreams but most know that an EU is better than no EU. Even England, if it ever comes to that, will realise that the advantages of “Europe” in all its forms outweigh the disadvantages. The Serbs who aspire to membership, are inspired and moved by Russia and the greater Slav culture but they have no desire to become part of a greater Russia; they have no emotional attachment to Brussels but they very much want to be part of the EU.
The European “dream” which the founders certainly had, was intentionally masked by two resources which could not have been more concrete: coal and steel, essential to rebuild a ruined continent. Since then, “Europe” has always been short on inspirational rhetoric and long on tedious regulation.
Turkey wanted to dream in the Sixties when they first applied while the Europeans stalled. Today, it is Turkey which is full of doubts but they have little to console themselves with from San Marino.