Turkey – EU Relations Essay

Table of contents:

1. Introduction

2. The historical background of Turkey ”“ EU relations

3. Costs and benefits of EU membership for Turkey and the EU

4. Obstacles to Turkey’s EU membership

5. Conclusion: Outcomes

6. References



Historically, Turkey represented a serious threat to European continent and representatives of western civilization perceived Turkey as a potential enemy. However, in the course of time, the situation and attitudes of European countries to Turkey and Turkey to European countries have changed totally. Today, Turkey strives for getting the EU membership, which is one of the strategic goals of Turkish authorities and leading political forces. Within the last half of a century, Turkey closely cooperated with the European community and made considerable efforts to become a part of Europe. This trend was a result of Atatruk’s revolution, which was followed by the westernization of the country. In fact, after the Ataturk’s revolution, the westernization of Turkey became the priority in the development of the country. In such a context, current efforts of Turkey to gain the EU membership are quite logical and meet the general strategy of Turkish policy which has been conducted since the Ataturk’s epoch.

On the other hand, regardless considerable reforms and consistent changes, which took place in Turkey, the country still has not got the EU membership and the prospect of its membership is still unclear. In this respect, the question concerning the reasons of such an outcome of Turkish efforts to join the EU naturally arises. On answering this question, it is possible to find a lot of reasons which refer to political, economic and socio-cultural spheres of life of Turkey and existing European standards. It is important to underline that Turkey’s EU membership is a two-side process and the willingness of Turkey to join the EU should meet with the   EU’s intention and agreement to accept Turkey as a reliable member of the European community. At the same time, the existing disparity in the socio-economic level of the development of Turkey and average EU countries and the current level of the development of democracy in the country are the major obstacles to the immediate integration of Turkey in the EU. However, socio-cultural factors may play even more important role since, at the moment, the EU unites countries, which represent a relatively homogeneous European community, while Turkey will be a totally new and different member of the EU. In fact, Christian Europe has to accept Islamic Turkey, if the EU grants Turkey with the EU membership. In such a way, numerous obstacles prevent the integration of Turkey in the EU, but all the obstacles and negative outcomes cannot outweigh benefits of the EU membership of Turkey because the country is unwilling to change the direction of its strategic European integration, which is the dominant direction of its current policy. Such a persistence of Turkey, increases its chance of gaining the EU membership consistently, but it is very important to evaluate both benefits and costs of this membership and assess existing obstacles in order to clearly define whether the EU membership of Turkey is a real prospect or it is just an unattainable goal which, though, stimulates Turkey to reform its economic and political system and leads to the democratization of the country increasing standards of living to the level of the EU.

The historical background of Turkey ”“ EU relations

Until the 20th century, the relations of Turkey and European countries were extremely tense and conflicts between Turkey and European countries occurred regularly. The cultural differences between Turkey and European civilization, religious contradictions and the huge geopolitical importance of Turkey in the international economic and political relations of Europe with the rest of the world were the basis for conflicts and tension between Turkey and Europe. By the 20th century, the backwardness of Turkey compared to leading European countries became obvious, while socioeconomic problems within the country had made radical changes in the life of the country practically inevitable. In such a context, the revolution, headed by Ataturk, was a logical outcome of the growing social disparity within the country and its backwardness compared to leading nations, which was absolutely unacceptable for the country which took a strategically important geopolitical position. In fact, Turkey was and still is a bridge-country between Europe and the Middle East, between East and West. In such a context, the EU membership of Turkey is of a paramount importance for EU. But the EU membership is not less important for Turkey itself, because after the Ataturk revolution and reforms to follow, Turkey was oriented on the European integration and westernization. This was a very important and difficult turn from traditional Islamic roots of Turkey to traditionally Christian values of Europe, since the latter constitute the basis of European democracy, social relationships, and basic civil rights of people.

Taking into consideration the past conflicts and the cultural background of Turkey, the country and its political and economic elite could not have taken the decision concerning the integration and total support of European initiatives in a day. Instead, Turkey had remained neutral for about half of a century, until the middle of the 20th century, when the outbreak of the Cold War forced Turkey to join either pro-Western or pro-Soviet bloc. Naturally, being westernized, Turkey had started a long journey to the integration into the European community. This integration had started from the close cooperation of Turkey with western European countries during the Cold War, when Turkey, according to Park (2005), had been an ally of the EU in the EU’s interest of containment of Soviet Union during the Cold War and the EU’s sphere of interest.

At this point, Turkey played a very important political and military role due to its physical position, which allowed the country to control the movement of the Soviet fleet in the Mediterranean direction. In such a way, Turkey assisted to the European community in its struggle with the Soviet bloc and, in fact, Turkey secured South Eastern territories of Europe. However, the cooperation of Turkey and Europe on the international level stimulated profound changes in Turkey, which attempted to reach the level of leading European countries in various spheres of life, including politics, economy, and social reformations.

Consequently, being an ally of the EU, Turkey attempted to adopt standards of living, politics and economy which were accepted in Europe. At the same time, the EU could not fail to ignore the efforts of Turkey to change and adopt European standards, especially, taking into consideration the fact that Turkey was an important strategic ally of the EU. The common struggle against the Soviet bloc made Turkey closer to Europe and facilitated its cooperation with the EU. In such a way, before Turkey has started its efforts of gaining the EU membership, both Turkey and the EU has already had a considerable experience of cooperation.

In this respect, it is possible to refer to Yasiada who lays emphasis on the fact that the relationship of Turkey and the EU began when Turkey applied to the European Economic Community (EEC) membership and granted it under the Ankara Agreement in 1963 (p.1). Since that time, the EU and Turkey actively developed their economic and political relations, though there was a period from the 1970s to the early 1980s when the EU have practically stopped any cooperation with Turkey in the result of coup d’etat. In such a way, the violation of democratic norms and principles became a serious obstacle for the integration of Turkey into the European community. Nevertheless, Turkey has resumed democratic reforms and its relations with the EU were restored. As a result, in 1995, Turkey gained the EC membership, which was viewed as a signal for the prospective EU membership of Turkey. However, until the present moment Turkey has not join the EU, though in 2005 the country has started negotiations with the EU concerning the EU membership of Turkey. The formal reason for the rejection of the candidacy of Turkey as a member of the EU is the fact that the country does not meet the Copenhagen criteria. In such a way, slow reforming of Turkey political and socioeconomic life still remains one of the major obstacles on the way of Turkey to the EU membership, but there are also a number of concerns which are not related to socioeconomic or political spheres, which prevent the country from being included by members of EU, for instance, cultural and religious difference of Turkey, which does not match a relatively homogeneous, Christian European community.

Costs and benefits of EU membership for Turkey and the EU

The EU membership of Turkey is one of the major goal of the Turkish political and economic elite. At the same time, the EU can also benefit consistently from the membership of Turkey. However, along with numerous benefits there are certain risks and problems which may cause serious difficulties in Turkey as well as in the EU at large in the result of Turkey joining the EU.  In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that Canan (2007) insists, many Turkish scholars predicts more economic costs than benefits from EU membership that irrelative with Turkey’s size, Turkey would only gain 5.9 billion euro by 2014, and it is not enough to be explained as EU’s supporting. Moreover, the EU membership of Turkey imposes constricting regulations on the country and the declining share of Turkey in the world trade would costs more to Turkey, while Turkey would also need to deal with EU’s standards of labor cost and working times. Also, the EU’s plan for reconstructing Turkey’s agriculture to modernize would cost millions of job losses (p. 13-14).

In such a way, from economic point of view costs of the EU membership can outweigh benefits for Turkey because the country will have to play in accordance with the rules, established by the EU. Naturally, the threat to the national agriculture and the necessity of the modernization of the national industry will need huge investments and Turkey alone could hardly afford such a financial pressure. Consequently, the assistance of the EU to reform Turkey’s economy will be needed. In such a context, the question arises: whether the EU will be ready to sponsor reforms in Turkey in order to minimize possible negative effects of the EU membership for the economy of Turkey.

Furthermore, Canan (2007) also estimates that political and social costs of EU membership that the uniqueness of Turkey’s political cultures that sovereignty belongs to the nation and exercised by Parliament, but EU membership would transfer her sovereignty to the EU and affect her executive and judiciary. And also the intervention of EU on the human rights issues following by joining EU would threat Turkey’s security over ethnic conflicts (p. 12-13).  Being a member of the EU, Turkey looses a part of its sovereignty. The country cannot take absolutely independent decisions. Instead, it should take into consideration the consolidated position of the EU, which would affect not only foreign but even domestic policy of Turkey. For instance, the position of women in Turkey is severely criticized and the EU membership would more likely to force considerable reforms which could change the current situation in Turkey and minimize the risk of discrimination.

On the other hand, as Tekin (2004) depicts, the EU also has costs to pay for Turkey’s inclusion. He suggests that Turkish membership would harm not only much-needed common identity and unification, but also creating a European demos (p. 5). Moreover, Canan (2007) throws some simple interpretation on the issue of EU’s costs that the ideological problem that Turkey is not a European country and has religion-based different perspectives, Turkey’s poverty, and the likely outcome of massive influx of new migrants (p. 8). Obviously, Turkey is different from the rest of Europe and its EU membership can change consistently the EU itself. In this respect, it is necessary to refer to economic and socio-cultural and political spheres. On the economic level, the EU membership of Turkey will definitely need a considerable support of the country by other members of the EU because, at the moment, Turkey GDP per capita is the lowest in the EU that indicates to the necessity of reforming the national economy and increasing its efficiency. Furthermore, the adaptation of Turkish economy to the EU standards will also cost a lot to the EU. On the other hand, on the socio-cultural and political level, the EU will need to accept a new country with a totally different culture where Islamic traditions are very strong and where there is a risk of the springing of radical movements. Obviously, the latter may become a serious problem for the EU.

Although there are negative views on the costs of Turkish membership, there are also greater benefits that both sides would attain from Turkey’s joining. Canan (2007) estimates benefits of EU membership for Turkey from ideological to political and economic benefits. Becoming member of EU would be meant to Turkish as sign of becoming part of West and accomplishment of Ataturk’s legacy and reform that would enhance Turkish morality. And politically, recent transferring of military power to government from the reform for EU membership and democratization which would protects Turkish citizens after EU membership is the political benefits. On the economic reasons, Canan points out the economic benefits as followed, Turkey’s ecomic growth by increased trade, increased volume of her foreign investment, improved Turkey’s GDP per capita like previously joined poor countries, and increased surplus by transferring labor forces to Europe (p. 3-8).

Since the EU’s motivation to accept Turkey is mostly because of its enlargement process, EU also has some benefits from Turkey’s membership. Herpan (2004) states that the Turkey’s membership is symbol of the EU’s key regional power that the EU would become global and geostrategic actor with contributed Turkey’s geographic location and economic, political, cultural uniqueness, and large resources to the EU for becoming a geographical sphere of influence (p.2). In fact, Turkey plays a strategically important role for the EU and its EU membership will open larger opportunities for the EU to develop its international trade as well as it will increase the geopolitical role of the EU.

Obstacles to Turkey’s EU membership

The main obstacles of the EU membership of Turkey are actually the major causes for the unwillingness of the EU to grant Turkey with the EU membership. To put it more precisely, the country needs considerable socioeconomic and political reforms to enforce basic democratic institutions and transform Turkey in a democratic country of European type, i.e. similar to other European countries. According to Guiltekin and Yilmaz (2005), Turkey is a lowest income country at $6,750 per capita (p.62). Obviously, to close the gap in the level of income of Turkish population and other members of the EU, the latter will need to invest considerable funds to raise the Turkish economy on the upper level. On the other hand, such a socioeconomic situation increases the risk of a huge flow of immigrants from Turkey arriving to other countries of the EU, where standards of living and the level of income is consistently higher.

Furthermore, as it has been already mentioned above, the socio-cultural difference and traditions of Turkey do not match traditional European standards. For instance, the improvement of the position of women may be quite a difficult process in an Islamic Turkish society, but the equality and the lack of discrimination are milestone concepts of European democracy. For instance, according to N. Pope (2005), 22,4% of Turkish women are illiterate, they have no legal rights under marriage and divorce because of religious marriages, while cases of beating and honor killing of women still occur in Turkey. Without consistent changes in this regard the prospect of the EU membership of Turkey is vague.

Finally, the political system of Turkey is another serious obstacle since “party leadership once captured is never given up until part itself is eliminated like a family owned firm” (Guiltekin and Yilmaz, 2005, p.73).

Conclusion: outcomes

Thus, in the current situation, the EU membership of Turkey is rather a long-term prospect than a short-term one.

The existing disparities between Europe and Turkey on the economic, political and socio-cultural levels raise unsurpassable barriers on the way of Turkey to the EU membership. At the same time, the benefits of its membership are confronted by considerable costs both Turkey and the EU should pay, which makes European countries be very careful while taking a decision concerning Turkey, especially after the recent enlargement of the EU due to the EU membership of Eastern European countries.

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