Why has the EU kept Turkey waiting so long for membership

The official relations between the EU and Turkey began in 1963 with the Ankara Agreement, which should harmonize Turkey’s economy and state with the EEC and should eventually lead to full membership of Turkey. The country submitted its application for full membership in 1987 but it took another twelve years until the EU finally recognized Turkey as an official candidate for accession. The begin of the EU-Turkey relationship has started nearly 50 years ago but still today, Turkey is not a full member of the European Union, yet.

Numerous obstacles impeded Turkey’s joining; some of them stemmed from provisions of EU member state, others were or are related to Turkey’s economical state or to the country’s domestic or international policy. The essay at hand will try to summarize the reasons that have kept Turkey from joining over the past 50 years. In order to maintain a high level of clearness, the essay will first look at essentialist arguments and functionalist arguments and finally arguments that are related to economic or demographic reasons in that order. Essentialist arguments are among the most obvious arguments that prohibited accession of Turkey.

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Most of them are quite obvious and generally considered as unchangeable. The most common one is probably the argument of geography. Turkey is geographically only partly European and 95% of its population live outside of Europe. 12 It does therefore not belong to Europe and should not be part of the EU. One might think that spatial aspects have lost importance nowadays and can be ignored in favour of other aspects, but the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy still used this argument in 2007 to block further progress of the accession discussions. Two other essentialist arguments that are often cited are Turkey’s history and its culture which is said to be inherently different from the ones of the EU member states.

These arguments are based on the Eurocentric assumption that Europe shares a common history in cultural, social and historical terms while Turkey was not part of this experience. 4 The assumption refers to the Roman and later on the Christian influence on Europe and also on the fact that Turkey is and has always been a Muslim country. Therefore, it does not share the common European values. These arguments were initially mostly cited by voices of the political right-wing but gained more and more supporters as the idea of European identity grew stronger over the years. 6 The group of the functionalist arguments differs from the essentialist ones in so far as that one believes their causes to lie in the fustiness of Turkey. They are therefore not innate to the Turkish nation and can be changed in the future. One of most common functionalist arguments in relation to Turkey is the state’s democratic deficiency which is closely connected with the role of armed forces in Turkish politics.

The Republic of Turkey was founded by Kemal Ataterk, who believed that the future of his country lied in Westernization and Europe in 1923. 7 It is remarkable that the society was changed from above and the young Turkish republic still carried the Ottoman Empire’s idea of a strong state and a weak society. Having an elitist character, it was based on both a reformist bureaucracy and military. This attitude can be seen as stretching throughout the whole 20th century. 8 The military has always played a very dominant political role and Turkey was actually ruled by the military during 1960-1, 1980-83 and indirectly during 1971-73. This means that within 23 years, the military has intervened three times. After 1983 Turkey clearly moved towards democracy, but even the 90s, Turkey’s democratic state was not seen as complete. 10 EU reports in 1998 and 1999 again point out incorrect relations between military and civilian authorities; the influence of the army on Turkish political life was called “excessive by any standarts”. 11 Another functionalist argument against the accession of Turkey is the respect for human rights and minorities.

The most prominent example for the lack of respect for minorities are probably the Kurds. Being a Muslim group, they are not given they are not granted any minority status, although they constitute the biggest minority of the Turkish society. This stems from the Lausanne Conference of 1923 which “solved” the Turkish ethnic problems at a single blow as it permitted minority status for non-Muslim minorities only. 12 The problems persist and the conflict between the extremist Kurdish worker party PKK and the Turkish state has claimed over 30000 lives so far (Effective 2003). 3 Although protected by the law, discrimination against other minorities, including Christians, has also occurred repeatedly, which is why Turkey has been criticized for the implementation of its laws.

This insufficient implementation of laws also concerns women’s rights, the unacceptable living conditions in Turkish prisons and the reappearing reports of torture as a continuing evil. 161718 Another issue of the EU, which cannot be discussed entirely here, is Turkey’s missing recognition of the Armenian genocide. 9 The Turkish foreign policy in connection with Cyprus represents another functionalist argument of the EU. The Turkish military intervention in the conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriots has caused many problems in the way of Turkey’s accession. Today Turkey’s policy is quite paradoxical: It is seen as a national cause and an area of strategic interest but at the same time one argues that solving the problem is not part of Turkey’s responsibility but the one of the inhabitants of the island.

Yet, the Cyprus Question constitutes one of the major disappointments of Turkish foreign policy and the fact that Cyprus is already EU member intensifies this. 20 This disappointing affair might turn into an unsolvable problem in relation to Turkey’s accession. Angela Merkel underlined this when Turkey decided to close its ports to Cyprus. 21 Other concerns about Turkey’s EU accession stem from the country’s economical situation. Although Turkey has more inhabitants than the new eastern European membership states combined, its economy is only half as big as theirs. 2 It is also dominated by a major agricultural sector which would be entitled for a great share of the CAP funds of the European Union which especially troubles other member states whose economy is grounded on agriculture. 23 In addition, the Turkish economy was quite unstable and suffered periodical crises as well as deterioration in fiscal and monetary management which hampered successes in the past.

These crises are responsible for the high volatility of the GNP growth rates and prevented Turkey from performing as well as certain Asian countries for example. 5 But the problems lie not only in the past. Still today, Turkey’s economy cannot unleash its full potential because of structural imepedents and opposition against the ongoing liberalization of the economy. 26 Several reforms are needed if Turkey wants to reach EU standard. These include, but are not limited to, reforms in financial system, corporate governance and labour markets as well as the elimination of state economic enterprises and measures to lower the high unemployment rate. 72829 Further obstacles in the accession are Turkey’s demographic condition. Turkey has about 74 million inhabitants, which would make Turkey the second largest EU member after Germany. 30 If population growth continues it could soon be the largest country of the EU and therefore have a considerable amount of say in the community. This shift in powers is especially feared by Germany, France and the UK as Turkey’s accession would weaken their influence on policy-making drastically.

This point is also closely linked to the essentialist argument of the Muslim culture as the biggest country of the EU would then be a Muslim country, which does not at all align with the idea of European identity. 31 The already mentioned high unemployment in connection with the size of the population is another thing which could be hard to handle for the EU and therefore creates doubt about the accession. It has been shown that there is a considerable amount of resistance against Turkey’s accession into the EU.

As a response to the persistent demand for membership the EU has presented an Acquis of 35 chapters which Turkey has to fulfil if it wants to become a member state. From those 35 chapters only one is considered as complete, another six are seen as generally aligned with EU standards but another 17 are currently frozen. It is unclear when Turkey will finally fulfil all requirements. Before an accession is possible all member states have to agree on it and this is clearly questionable. This seems even more unlikely if we consider the essentialist arguments that have been stated as well as the unresolved conflicts with Cyprus.