Europe From 1948 to 2004
The ascension of Turkey into the European Union has been one of the most historically difficult of all expansion moves. Several member states with limited or strained relations with Turkey, (mainly France and Greece) opposed the absorption of Turkey into the EU. Their cited reasons for opposition included their own political agendas as well as the fact that Turkey was slow in meeting the Copenhagen criteria, set up early in the process as essential to membership. (Bache & George, 2006, p. 204) the Copenhagen criteria as detailed by the EU organization in 1993 were as follows; political criteria, applicant must have stable institutions, guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities. Economic criterion the applicant must have a functioning market economy, and the capacity to cope with the competitive market of the single EU, lastly the applicant must be able to take on the obligation of membership including its aims of political, economic and monetary union. (Bache & George, 2006, pp. 552-553) (Peterson & Shackleton, 2006, p. 35) (Woyke, 2002, p. 27) Turkey, with its historical aggression and challenging human rights record became the most controversial applicant members in the history of the EU. Expansion with Turkey as a member state in discussion, in fact occurred only as a result of the relaxation of independent demands of the EU for membership. The EU was in fact forced to some degree to negotiate membership with Turkey as a result of doing so with a few other nations, who where less controversial. (Bache & George, 2006, p. 204)
Turkey, was clearly not the only applicant that had difficulty in some of these areas and yet, Turkey became the most controversial of applicants through its historical attempts at membership. From and EU perspective the goal was reformation in member states, along the lines of democracy and economy and Turkey, with its historical internal and external humanitarian and economic strife was not a favorite acquisition on many notes.
Such skepticism is warranted by long-standing resistance within the European Union to a Turkish member state. Points of contention include Turkey’s geographic boundaries, economic instability, cultural and religious differences with the rest of Europe, questionable human rights record, and high population growth (by approximately 2015 Turkey, if made an EU member, would be the largest EU state). The overwhelming majority of European citizens oppose membership, according to a European Commission poll two years ago, which showed that only 35% of Europeans support Turkey’s bid. (Clarke, 2006, p. 13)
On economic dealings alone the EU had had its share of run ins with Turkey, and often suspected unfair dealings. (Peterson & Bomberg, 1999, pp. 110-111) Turkey had in fact been passed up on several occasions and a clear outline of demands for Turkey were not handed down by the EU until 1999 (Bache & George, 2006, p.192). Membership was not taken seriously by the EU until relations with Greece and France were repaired and Turkey had a complete regime change in 2002, and began to accept more rapid democratic and economic changes that aligned her with EU politics. (Nugent, 2003, p.30, 60) Turkey, proved a difficult acquisition, despite the fact that from an EU perspective her membership would build a political and economic bridge between Europe and the Middle East, Asia and figuratively and practically a communication between the West and Islam a goal that had been hard pressed for many years. (Nugent, 2003, p.68) (Peterson & Bomberg, 1999, pp. 237, 239) Clarke, argues that the contention over Turkey’s membership has been so longstanding that some member nations and others seem to forget that the strategic advantage of Turkey’s membership is significant for the EU and the west in general.
A there are remarkable strategic benefits to including Turkey in the European coalition, especially in light of current events. Turkey shares its borders with Syria, Iraq, and Iran — all volatile nations that have at best tenuous relations with the West. Including Turkey in the European Union would provide a stronger and more legitimate Western presence in the region and could curb future terrorist activity. The alignment would also boast symbolic significance. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Turkish membership would show the West’s support for moderate, democratic Islamic states. Additionally, with U.S.-Turkish relations tense due to the U.S. presence in Iraq, Europe needs to ensure it does not alienate one of the West’s greatest allies in the Middle East by refusing to grant it membership. The stakes for the future of Western relations with the Middle East are nothing short of enormous. (Clarke, 2006, p. 13)
More recently opposition from Austria has been the biggest hurdle for Turkey to achieve full membership, a state it is still seeking. According to many, who appose Turkey’s acceptance as a member of the EU the differences between Turkey and the other member states are to vast a gulf to cross. Turkey remains an aggressive member of its society, according to some and has to many cultural conflicts to note.
The most outspoken critic on a state level, and the only country in the European Union to take a firm stance against membership, is Austria, which has long advocated a “privileged partnership” status for Turkey rather than full membership. It was Austria’s continuing opposition that seemed likely to stall the opening of accession talks past the scheduled date, Austria recently took over control of the EU presidency from Great Britain and might use the office to influence the outcome of the talks. Several other key voices in the European community oppose membership. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, a likely candidate for the French presidency in 2007, has opposed a Turkish member state. So has Angela Merkel, who took over as German chancellor in November 2005 and believes that “Turkey does not fit into the EU because it is culturally different.” With current and future leaders of Europe standing in stark opposition to the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union, it seems unlikely that the accession talks will proceed either smoothly or quickly. (Clarke, 2006, p. 13)
Even in Turkey, many EU members contend there is not full, widespread acceptance of the idea that Turkey should be a an EU member. The goal of democracy, alone is debilitating to the nation, as Democracy is a western ideal that goes against thousands of years of Islamic governmental rule.
The issue of Turkey’s EU membership is a contentious one within Turkey itself, albeit not to the degree it is in other European countries. While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to work toward the ultimate goal of EU membership, conflict between various feuding parties has hindered his efforts. (Clarke, 2006, p. 13)
The current prime minister may see EU membership as essential to progress, in an economic sense, but the nation itself has misgivings about Turkey being remade into a European state through membership.
Despite misgivings, both external and internal the degree to which the EU will benefit from acceptance of Turkey as a member state is at the least controversial. Some argue that no matter the benefit acceptance of terms is the only manner in which the EU will negotiate Turkey’s role. The Turkish prime minister seeks a moderate Islamic state that demonstrates significant support for the EU and any nation targeted by terrorists, and yet the nation itself may not be ready to celebrate the “victory” that would come from full membership in the EU. It remains to be seen if Turkey, despite modern efforts is ready to accept all the terms and conditions of membership, despite her strong membership with NATO, an association many EU nations have with her. (Woyke, 2002, p. 27)
Woyke in fact argues that the watering down of the EU by further expansion is detrimental, as the EU is currently strong economically and socially and adding additional member states will create a diversity that could be fundamentally destructive. (Woyke, 2002, p. 27) From a Turkish perspective membership would allow Turkey fundamentally stronger trade rights and privileges and waiting much longer could allow her to slip into a non-competitive role in the region. The EU is so strong that the development of the region depends on support from ember states. Isolationist arguments on the part of the EU would seem illogical given the nature of the union as well as the diplomatic manner in which it has accepted members and formed cohesive networks. Turkey will likely be accepted into the union at some point, in the near future, and yet it may take a monumental fight for it to occur. The strategic advantages will have to be weighed against monumental opposition to creating an EU that is to vast and diverse to control.
Clarke, K. (2006). Crossing over? Turkey and the European Union. Harvard International Review, 27(4), 13.
Bache I. And George S., (2006), Politics in the European Union (2nd ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press
Nugent N., (2003) (5th ed.), the Government and Politics of the European Union, Houndmils, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan
Peterson J., (1999), Decision-Making in the European Union, London: The MacMillan Press.
Peterson J. And Schackleton M., (2002) (Eds.), the Institutions of the European Union, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Woyke, W. (2002). European Union Enlargement – Consequences and Problems. German Policy Studies, 2(1), 27.
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