Turkey first applied to join the EU was in 1987. Turkey was then made a European Union Associate Member in 1964. It was officially recognised as a candidate for membership in 1999 at the Helsinki sumit for the European Council. Turkey recently started negotiations in 2005 , this started a chain of events which lead to many differing public opinions, such as:
European Public: Turkey’s application to join the EU has produced a range of different opinions amongst the existing 25 EU states. On one hand there are the strong supporters of Turkish membership such as Britain, Italy, Portugal and Spain. On the other hand there are countries strongly opposed to ‘full’ membership like Austria, Germany and France. The situation in Germany is that there is a coalition between Christian and Social Democrats. The Christian Democrat chancellor favours a “privileged Turkey-EU partnership”, whereas the Social Democrats leader, who is also the Foreign minister, disagrees and supports Turkeys bid to join the EU. France will not accept Turkey into the EU until Turkish government admits to having committed genocide against the Armenian race. For different reasons countries like Greece and Cyprus advocate support for full Turkish membership, but not until certain preconditions are met, such as Turkey’s opening of its ports and airports to Cypriot shipping and airlines.
The people of the EU countries are generally cautious of full Turkish membership as shown in the graph in Appendix 1. Only Hungary (51%) closely followed by the UK (46%), Portugal (43%) and Spain (42%) show substantial support for Turkish EU membership. The EU average supporting view is only 36%.
Turkish public: A factor that seems to have been pushed aside until now is whether the Turks as a majority want to join the EU. There are many different opinions from just Turkey alone about EU membership. Initially, and as long as two years ago the overwhelming majority of the Turkish people were in favour of EU membership. However the support has dropped in the last year following publication of the European Commission report (November 2006). The report criticises Turkey’s slow progress in democratic reforms and its failure to open its ports and airports to Cyprus traffic, contrary to the Ankara Protocol.
The Turkish public saw this as prejudice and discrimination, with the Prime Minister, (Tayyip Erdogan-Leader of the Justice and Development party) stating that “The EU decision is an injustice against Turkey”. Many influential people in Turkey, such as Guler Sabanci, the richest woman in Turkey and a leading industrialist, claim that criticisms made by the European Commission are the same as the current agenda in the Turkish government and all they need is time to reform.
Challenges facing Turkey
Many European countries do not agree with Turkey joining the EU in the near future. The primary concerns of the European public and their representative governments
are provided below:
Economic: Turkey has a large population over 70 million that is still rapidly increasing. It is a relatively poor country in comparison to other EU countries. The graph in Appendix 2; shows that Turkey has the lowest of all GDP’s (Gross Domestic Product- total value of goods and services produced by a nation) in Europe. Absorbing a poor country of over 70 million would have a crippling effect on the EU economically. In comparison to other EU member states Turkey is an undeveloped country e.g. there are fewer roads, highways, airports, seaports in comparison to land mass and less reliable technology to maintain these important factors of trade and industry; if the EU plans to trade with the Turkish market there would be heavy infrastructure risks (Chuck C.Y. Kwok and David M. Reeb) ‘infrastructure risks, for example, includes such items as the increased transportation delays due to fewer roads, highways, railways, less developed air routes and greater susceptibility to route closing due to less reliable machinery operating on these routes.’
Political reforms: A major change that would have to take place for Turkey to join the EU is the strong military influence. Traditionally, since the creation of modern Turkey in 1923, the army played a significant role in the running of the country. The armed forced seized power in more than two occasions in the last 50 years. Despite the fact that Turkey is a democracy, the powers of the Turkish Prime Minister are limited when it comes to decisions of national security. Such decisions are taken by the National Council which is dominated by the military. This practice is unknown in all other EU countries where the armed forces are subordinate to the government.
Human Rights: This aspect could be one of the major obstacles in Turkey’s path to membership of the EU. The European Council in Copenhagen (1993) determined that states wishing to join the EU must obtain stability of their institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities. Turkey has been accused of breaching the human rights act. (M. Harper) “Such economic and political repression is invariably accompanied by massive denials of basic human rights standards, including cultural rights. Indigenous languages are outlawed (e.g. Kurdish in Turkey); religious or other festivals and cultural traditions are persecuted”.
The Kurds (approximately 20% Turkey’s population) are imprisoned for speaking or even writing in their own language. Other violent acts committed by Turkey include the Armenian genocide that turkey unbelievably denies (V. N. Dadrian) “ The Turkish government wholly rejects the claim that they took part in any type of genocide, and researchers specializing in the study of Turkey must avoid the subject or follow the Turkish party policy if they hope to do research in the country.” Turkey has breached the human rights act more than once though (Frank Hoffmeister) “The European Court of Human Rights, sitting as a grand chamber of 17 judges, rendered the longest judgment in its history. It ruled in Cyprus vs. Turkey that Turkey was responsible for various breaches of the European convention of Human Rights in the so called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’”.
Free movement: Some trade unions and many workers are concerned about the potential free movement of workers from Turkey. More than 3 million Turkish people have in the past 50 years emigrated to Europe to seek a better future. There is widespread unease in countries with strong Turkish minorities like Germany, Austria, Denmark etc, at the prospect of free movement of 70 million Turks.
Cultural: Turkey would be the first Muslim country to join the EU despite the fact that Turkey’s laws are based on secularism. Major personalities and some far right political groups argue that the EU is a Christian club.
Geographical: Again, some far right political groups argue that Turkey’s boundaries are mostly outside the physical boundaries of Europe.
Tony Blair and other strong supporters of Turkey’s European aspirations, argue that the EU has a lot to benefit from full Turkish membership. These arguments are summarised below.
Economic: This is stemmed by Turkey’s young and low labour cost population.A strong argument for the membership of Turkey is the Economic value she will bring to Europe. Turkey has a moderately young population compared to the EU’s ageing population, this in turn can help provide more labour at lower costs to help in competition from the emerging low labour cost markets of India and China. The UK department of trade and industry claims that ‘Enlargement brings increased and improved trade and investment opportunities. Enlargement will increase the population of the EU by 20% to 455 million creating the largest multi-country single market in the world.’
Regional Political Stability: Turkey has strong relations with other Turkish Nations (e.g. Turkmenistan) and Azerbaijan.
Bridge to Muslim and Middle East countries: Turkey could be seen as a bridge that could be used to reach other countries for different purposes. The EU could promote understanding and cooperation between long divided countries, the EU would also have access to the middle east, whether this is for securing oil lines or extending their influence, it would help stabilise situations to the west (the Balkans) and the east (the middles east) of Turkey.
If Turkey is to join the EU it is my belief that they will have to make drastic changes in their views on human rights, and they will also have to admit to the atrocities they committed against the Armenian people, the French and Austrian governments will not accept Turkey into the EU until it admits committing genocide against the Armenian race. (Jon Gorvett) “With the French parliament passing in early October a resolution to make denial of the Armenian genocide a crime support in Turkey for the European Union–of which France is such an important symbol–has never been more dismal. Widespread leaks, and a condemnatory version of the report from the European Parliament, had left little doubt in Turkey that this year’s end-of-term grade would have a definite “could do better” ring to it.”
Some trade unions and many workers are concerned about the potential free movement of workers from Turkey. Socio-economical issues like immigration need also to be talked in the EU-Turkey agreement. More than 3 million Turkish people have in the past 50 years emigrated to Europe to seek a better future. There is widespread unease in countries with strong Turkish minorities like Germany, Austria, Denmark etc, at the prospect of free movement of 70 million Turks
I believe that Turkey will inevitably join the EU at some stage or another. It is just a matter of how much of its ideals it is willing to give up for the sake of becoming part of the world’s largest multi-country market in the world (Steven A. Cook) “it will probably take at least a decade for these negotiations to conclude. He notes that, even though the current Turkish government has passed a series of economic and legal reforms needed to qualify for membership, they have yet to be implemented. And, he says, considerable anti-Turk sentiment lingers in several European nations.”
Recep Tayyip Erdogan-Turkey criticises EU ‘injustice’ [online]. Tuesday, 12 December 2006 [Cited January 14] Available from World Wide Web: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6172335.stm>
Support for Turkey graph-Analysis: EU views on Turkish bid [online]. Friday, 30 September 2005 [Cited January 14] Available from World Wide Web: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4298408.stm>
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Gorvett, Jon. 2006 “French vote on Armenian genocide adds to Turkey’s growing anti-EU sentiment.” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 25.9 (Dec 2006): 30(2).
Steven A. Cook- Cook: Despite Some European Qualms, Turkey Will Eventually Join the EU [Online] October 5, 2004 [Cited January 14] Available from world wide web: <http://www.cfr.org/publication/7427/cook.html>