Turkey Should Not Have a Path to EU Membership
By Ari Kattan
Turkey’s recent behavior in reaction to a French law outlawing the denial of the Armenian genocide should give pause to even the staunchest supporters of Turkish EU membership. In addition to the country’s failure to come to terms with its past and accept responsibility for its actions, as Germany has done, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) have gone on a diplomatic rampage, making outlandish statements and suspending military, economic and political ties with France. This is not the behavior of a responsible, Western-leaning political leadership; it is the behavior of a leadership interested in flaming nationalist sentiment and moving its country away from Europe and its values and interests. This trend can be seen in a number of areas, the spat with France only being the most recent. Not only are there structural problems with Turkey joining the EU, but the direction the country seems to be going effectively puts the last nail in the coffin of the case for Turkish EU membership.
Putting aside Turkey’s behavior under the AKP, there is a laundry list of issues that, to put it mildly, seriously complicate Turkish EU membership. First and foremost, Turkey borders Syria, Iraq and Iran. Would it be wise for the European Union to border these countries? Second, Turkey has a large population of almost 80 million and the seventeenth largest economy in the world. If it gained membership to the EU, it would be the most populous country in the Union by 2020, meaning it would also have the most members in the European Parliament. Thus, the EU’s only Muslim-majority state would be among its most influential, which is bound to cause problems with the rest of the secular and Christian Europe. Contrary to how many see this argument, refusing Turkey on the basis of its being Muslim isn’t Islamophobic, just as disagreeing with Mexico becoming a U.S. state wouldn’t be anti-Mexican. It simply points out that there are cultural and social differences that would complicate Turkey’s successful assimilation into the EU. Thirdly, Turkey has ongoing conflicts in Cyprus and with its Kurdish minority, of which the latter has claimed more than 40,000 lives since 1984. If Turkey were to join the EU, the EU would inherit these problems. Lastly, Turkey does not have a human rights record on par with what is expected of a EU member. It places severe restrictions on its Kurdish minority, including banning the Kurdish language from being taught in schools. Turkey currently has more journalists in prison than China does.
Many argue that with the exception of Turkey’s geography, these problems can, in theory, be resolved. But that is not the direction the country is headed. The most telling signal, apart from the increased human rights abuses by the AKP, is Erdogan’s foreign policy. Erdogan has been shifting Turkey away from a more Western-oriented foreign policy and towards a foreign policy aligned with some of the West’s most dangerous enemies. He has consistently undermined U.S. and European attempts to stop Iran’s nuclear program and, until recently, was personal friends with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. He has also sabotaged relations with Israel, and has been vilifying Israel in an attempt to court extremist voters within Turkey and to increase his regional popularity in the Arab world. Erdogan even recently hosted the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Ismael Haniyeh, where he was received with a standing ovation in the Turkish parliament.
Turkey’s problems are too serious and too many to make it a viable contender for EU membership. And even if they weren’t, the country’s current leadership does not inspire confidence that Turkey is moving in a direction compatible with the norms of the European Union.
The European Union should offer Turkey a viable long-term path to membership on the basis of economic benefits, domestic reforms, resolution of territorial disputes and international security
By Megha Ram
Although Turkey is poorer than the average European country, many economic factors indicate that Turkey is advancing in the economic sphere and will be able to economically integrate into the EU in the future. Turkey established ties with the EU in 1995 with the signing of the Customs Union agreement, which led to significant investment by European companies in the Turkish economy and subsequently brought the two economies closer together (Yesilada). Furthermore, Turkey has the seventeenth largest economy in the world, a strong private sector and strong levels of growth (World Factbook). Thus, Turkey should be offered a viable path to membership because of its geostrategic position, which enables it to act as a bridge between European markets and Central Asia, and because of its strengthening economic position.
Naysayers decry the rise of a mildly Islamist party in Turkish government as inherently negative to EU aspirations, however this argument ignores the fundamental Europeanizing reforms that have been initiated under the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The AKP continues to strengthen its ties with the West and liberalize Turkey’s democracy; it has relaxed restrictions on freedom of expression, reduced the role of military in Turkey’s government and increased the independence of the judiciary (Phillips). Furthermore, Turkey has taken steps to increase minority rights, specifically for the Kurdish population, including the facilitation of Kurdish-language education and the rights of the Kurdish media (Phillips). Although these are steps in the correct direction, human rights and minority rights in Turkey must still be dramatically improved, and a path to EU membership is a way to ensure that they will. This is because liberalizing reforms have destabilizing consequences for Turkish society, and will only continue if Turkey is offered a viable path to membership in the EU — which would effectively counter the destabilizing effects of the reforms.
Another benefit of legitimate accession negotiations is that they promote the peaceful resolution of longstanding territorial disputes in the Mediterranean region (Robins). In 1999 Turkey became a EU candidate country, and these positive relations influenced Turkey’s decision to adapt to the EU Acquis and work with Greece to resolve disputes (Yesilada). Furthermore, in 2002 Turkey advocated for Cyprus’s reunification, even though it had to distance itself from the Turkish Cypriot government in the process (Phillips). Therefore, history demonstrates that EU membership has been an effective incentive for the resolution of territorial disputes in the region.
According to the EU, major international security concerns include unstable societies and terrorism, as opposed to traditional state threats (EU Website). Turkey’s geopolitical position would enable it to extend EU influence to countries in the Middle East and play a central role in stabilizing the region and mitigating terrorist threats. In the past, Turkey has been a staunch ally of the West, and EU membership would further emphasize the compatibility of a predominantly Muslim nation with secular and democratic values. On the other hand, a spurned Turkey will look eastward towards the Middle East and may slowly lose its secular and democratic nature, contributing to the region’s instability rather than countering it.
Turkey’s membership will enable the EU to fight terrorism, mitigate territorial disputes in the Mediterranean and be a stabilizing force in the Middle East. Conversely, rejection would hamper domestic reforms in Turkey and deprive the EU of an increasingly strong economic and military partner. Thus, in the interest of a safer and more prosperous world, Turkey must be offered a viable path to EU membership.
“Foreign and Security Policy.” EUROPA – EU Website. European Union, 27 Jan. 2012. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. http://europa.eu/pol/cfsp/index_en.htm
Phillips, David L. “Turkey’s Dreams of Accession.” Foreign Affairs 83.5 (2004): 86-97. JSTOR. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/20034069.pdf
Robins, Philip. “Confusion at Home, Confusion Abroad: Turkey between Copenhagen and Iraq.” International Affairs 79.3 (2003): 547-66. JSTOR. Web. 30 Jan. 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/3569362.pdf?acceptTC=true
The World Factbook 2009. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.
Yesilada, Birol A. “Turkey’s Candidacy for EU Membership.” The Middle East Journal 56.1 (2002): 94-111. JSTOR. Web. 30 Jan. 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/4329722.pdf