Do Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Bashar Assad support ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ in Britain’s EU referendum? I ask because they are the most powerful foreign leaders in deciding the vote, their views being much more effective than any sonorous words that may soon be offered by Barack Obama or any last-minute inducements from Angela Merkel. If President Assad — his position secured by Vladimir Putin — decides to make a dramatic gesture between now and 23 June, and call for some peace conference, preferably in a European capital, then the sense of crisis which makes the EU look so weak will dissipate. If President Erdoğan accepts the latest EU bribe and temporarily halts the export of terrorists and ordinary, decent migrants to the union, then it may seem, for the few months necessary, that order has been restored and European solidarity has worked. Only later will the arrival of millions of Turks into the Schengen area as part of the deal cause consternation. On balance, both these feints should be considered quite likely, although one must doubt whether Assad or Erdoğan have any love for ‘our common European home’. A ‘remain’ vote, which helps to perpetuate the illusion of a single European actor in world affairs, would help both men bamboozle the international system for longer. It is a long time since the Ottoman world has been so important in British politics.
A friend draws my attention to the statement of the European (Catholic) Bishops’ Conference on Europe, published in March 2007 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. It was celebratory. The first paragraph said ‘We consider it our duty to carry on the work of European construction, bearing in mind that it is a century-long task… In 50 years we have built a new “cathedral” for all Europeans.’ An interesting feature of this statement is that it marks almost the last possible moment at which such remarks could have been made.