We’ve already looked at the tricky question of EU enlargement on Debating Europe (see here and here), but most of our focus was on Eastern Europe and the Balkan states. Today, we’ll be looking specifically at the controversial issue of Turkish EU membership. With Cyprus due to take over the rotating EU Presidency on 1st July (and with large deposits of natural gas recently discovered off the Cypriot coast) are Turkish-EU relations set to be sorely tested in 2012?
For a basic introduction to some of the issues related to Turkish membership of the EU, see our infobox here.
Recently, we spoke to German Green Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Franziska Keller, a member of the delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). The EU-Turkey JPC is composed of an equal number of MEPs and Members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, and it meets twice a year in Turkey and the EU. We asked Franziska Keller for her reaction to a comment from Ari on Debating Europe suggesting there could be “some grey area between [non-membership] and full EU membership” as a possible solution to an issue that has been dragging on for decades.
Well, at the moment Turkey is already in a sort of ‘grey area’. The problem is, what rights do they have in such a relationship? For instance, Turkey is part of a customs union with the EU, must apply the EU’s common external tariff to third countries and has to adopt a large part of the Acquis Communautaire [i.e. EU law]. Turkey complies with the rules, yet has no formal say in the law-making process. You can see that such a ‘privileged partnership’ is not to Turkey’s advantage as a permanent solution.
We also spoke to German Liberal MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and a founding member of the German-Turkish Foundation. We had a comment from Nikolai arguing that the EU needs to start communicating more clearly on this issue. Nikolai argues that “Clearly stated SMART targets, openly and repeatedly declared to the general public of Turkey… will keep expectation levels realistic whilst keeping momentum should the public be behind the policies advocated.” What did Lambsdorff think of Nikolai’s comment?
Well, I would ask Nikolai what does he mean by such ‘targets’? Are these just benchmarks? Policies that need to be implemented by Turkey? Or are they clear target dates on a roadmap to accession? In terms of policies, yes, I would agree that communication has not been very good. But for target dates, I’m strongly opposed to this approach. It would only increase pressure to rush the process and risk raising false expectations.
There is clearly no political consensus on this issue. As Nikolai points out, there is waning enthusiasm in Turkey for membership. However, I think it’s important not to look at Turkey exclusively through the lens of accession, but more broadly look at how we can cooperate in foreign policy, energy policy and other areas.
We’ve had a couple of comments sent in about the question of Cyprus. Sotiris, for example, sent in a comment arguing that Turkey cannot be a member of the EU as long as the question of Cyprus is unresolved.
The number of sticking points is much larger than just the issue of Cyprus. Of course, I don’t see a solution anytime soon for the Cyprus issue, which is maybe a lack of imagination on my part, but it’s difficult to be more positive. As well as Cyprus, though, there is the particularly bad situation of human rights in Turkey; more journalists are in prison there than any other country, including China. There is also a political culture not conducive to pluralism, though I hope that constitutional reforms improve the situation. Then, of course, the final sticking point is that only 20% of EU citizens are in favour of Turkish membership. Therefore, we’d have to have a dramatic shift in public opinion.
Finally, we spoke to Nevin Öztop from Turkish LGBT organisation Kaos GL. We caught up with Öztop when she was being presented with the award for her organisation’s work by Solidar at their Silver Rose Awards ceremony in March. We received a comment earlier from Sam criticising MEPs for not doing enough to support LGBT rights in Hungary, so we asked Öztop what the EU can do to support human rights (including LGBT rights) in Turkey without being seen to interfere too much with Turkish sovereignty.
What do YOU think? Should Turkey join the European Union? Or could there be a ‘grey area’ of half-membership that satisfies all parties? Do you think Turkey will still want to join if it is left waiting for too long? Are you confident that the major sticking-points to Turkish EU membership can be resolved? Or do we need to consider an alternative? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.
IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – World Bank
When Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, came to power in 2002, he at first sought to prove his democratic credentials by aggressively pursuing European Union accession, and reforming his country with that goal in mind. Turkey adopted a liberal penal code and strengthened civilian control of the military, improving its democratic credentials and giving it a green light in 2005 for accession talks.
But Turkey will only reform itself when it believes the prospect of European Union accession is real. This explains why Mr. Erdogan’s government cooled toward the idea of membership around 2005 and began to pursue blatantly illiberal policies at home, like intimidating and imprisoning journalists.
When the accession talks opened in 2005, Brussels made them a Sisyphean ordeal, creating 35 rounds, and requiring the consent of all (then 27) Union members to open and close each of these rounds. France and Germany simply did not want to have Turkey as a third power in Brussels. Because the European Union allocates voting power to its members based on population, if Turkey were to join the Union, its voting power would be greater than France’s and just a bit less than Germany’s.
Facing 35 rounds of talks involving 27 members meant that Turkey had to overcome hundreds of possible vetoes to gain membership. Countries opposed to Turkey’s accession, like France, vetoed chapters at will. This rejection prompted Mr. Erdogan’s pivot away from Europe and its liberal democratic ideals.
The European Union’s recent progress report on Turkey’s membership harshly criticized Mr. Erdogan’s government. Yet, smartly, Europe has not pulled back, but moved closer. Leaders in Brussels are aware that Turkey will pivot further away if accession does not again become a reality. This would have devastating implications for Europe’s growing community of restless Muslims, many of whom see Turkey’s acceptance or rejection as a Union member as a test of whether there is room for them on the Continent.
And even the staunchest opponents of Turkey’s accession are aware that Europe would be better off with a strong Turkey inside the Union, rather than a belligerent one outside it. After all, today’s Turkey is no longer the “sick man of Europe.” Its economy is poised to overtake the struggling Italian and Spanish economies in size in the coming years.
But Turkey has a window for reform that will not always remain open. Turkey’s creative classes will flee, and those outside will avoid the country, if its leaders cannot provide unfettered freedom of expression, media, assembly and association, and respect for the individual, environment and urban space — all key demands of the Taksim protesters.
Either the country will become a consolidated liberal democracy, taking off politically and socially, or it will remain a partial democracy, trapped where it is. A genuine path to European Union membership is the surest path toward democratization.
Soner Cagaptay is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the author of “The Rise of Turkey: The 21st Century’s First Muslim Power.”Continue reading the main story