All things considered, Turkey may never become an EU member. At the same time, however, the partnership between the two is no less important. That Turkey should be incompatible with the requirements of the Union does not mean the two should be incompatible in interests and collaboration. Perhaps, in fact, the best way for the East and West to move forward into this new century together is for each to acknowledge the importance of the other.
By Georgiana Constantin l February 27, 2017
NATO member Turkey has been trying to become a member of the European Union for quite some time. In 1963, the Association Agreement between Turkey and the European Economic Community first brought about the prospect of a full Turkey membership. Later on, even though the 1987 formal request for membership was rejected, as the state’s democracy was considered deficient, in 1999 it was finally able to become a candidate country to the EU. Official talks with respect to accession to the Union, however, only began on October 3, 2005. Since then many years have passed and Union membership is still none the closer.
In early 2016 Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan negotiated a deal with the EU, which meant that Turkey would harbor refugees in return for visa free travel throughout the EU for its citizens and aid amounting to billions of euros. However, after the failed coup attempt against Erdoğan’s government, in July 2016, which resulted in authoritarian style repercussions upon certain members of the country’s population, most notably the media and political opposition, the European Union has been very reticent in terms of continuing accession talks with the Turkish leader.
No doubt one must take into consideration the fact that Erdoğan had to deal in a very firm manner with the respective coup attempt, a dangerous and complicated situation to manage. Yet, the Turkish president’s attitude towards the West and Western democratic values in general has not been the most accommodating.
Erdoğan reportedly stated: “You clamored when 50,000 refugees came to Kapikule, and started wondering what would happen if the border gates were opened […]If you go any further, these border gates will be opened. Neither I nor my people will be affected by these empty threats.” He added: “ Do not forget, the west needs Turkey.”
Consequently, EU representatives believe that Turkey is bringing the suspension of accession talks upon itself, since its authoritarian attitude and accusations towards the EU and the West have been quite frequent. The Economist notes: “Mr Erdoğan accuses the West of siding with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—and even with Islamic State. His foreign minister brags about refusing to take phone calls from his German counterpart. Pro-government newspapers claim, without evidence that Western officials are plotting against Turkey.”
Moreover, EU diplomats warn of worsening relations with the country because of its president’s attitude: “The longer this lasts, the more the EU will close itself off.” In addition, Turkey’s consideration of bringing back the death penalty, about which Erdoğan assured his people, who were cheering at the mention, that it will happen, is also harming its prospects for a European future. “‘Soon, soon, don’t worry. It’s happening soon, God willing,’ said the president.” He reassured citizens that their opinion matters, and that he does not believe the West’s stance on this is to be of great importance: “The West says this, the West says that. Excuse me, but what counts is not what the West says. What counts is what my people say.” He made his intentions on the matter obvious: “I am convinced that parliament will approve it, and when it comes back to me, I will ratify it.”
In the face of current unstable situations and unsure EU relations, Erdoğan seems to be looking for the best alternative in terms of membership to an international entity for his country which might provide it with benefits and security.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization might be a viable substitute for the EU in the eyes of the Turkish president. Having expressed his dissatisfaction with the amount of time his people were made to wait for Europe to give them a chance at accession, and considering how things are currently going in a downward spiral, it is not hard to understand why his impatience would have given way to disappointment, anger, and, finally, most likely, lack of interest in furthering the EU dream. Although it might not be the best option for Turkey to completely ignore the EU in the future, a turn of attention away from Europe and towards Russia and China is not excluded, especially given China’s emerging “One Belt, One Road” trade project (OBOR).
For the EU to keep its deal with Turkey it would have to permit the state’s citizens to travel through the EU visa free. Many find the scenario quite risky, however. Similarly, welcoming Turkey into the EU would mean that its 80 million citizens would have free range of travel throughout the continent, but, even though Istanbul might be considered a European city, most of the country’s territory lies in Asia, and, its wealth being spread unequally through the country, such a freedom would be given to all of its citizens, even those from the poor regions, which, in this case, is most of them.
It would become the largest country in the EU and with mostly Muslim inhabitants. Such a thing might breed division between them and the culturally Christian residents of Europe. For states such as France and Germany which already have quite a significant Muslim population social divisions are already evident. That is to say nothing of the amount of financial stress a nation so large and with such a poor populace might bring to the EU. Finally, Turkey’s history with the old continent has seen it act mostly as an “outside invader”.
That being said, it is not that Turkey is a threat, but rather that the cultural, economic, and, geographical differences and issues might prove to be obstacles too big for the EU to surmount.
So, if the prospect of opening the floodgates of around 3 million migrants had any effect on Europe’s vision of the future, it is not hard to understand how reticent one might be in the face of 80 million people being allowed to roam the EU with no restrictions, especially in these uncertain and dangerous times.
All things considered, Turkey may never become an EU member. At the same time, however, the partnership between the two is no less important. That Turkey should be incompatible with the requirements of the Union does not mean the two should be incompatible in interests and collaboration. Perhaps, in fact, the best way for the East and West to move forward into this new century together is for each to acknowledge the importance of the other, respect diversity, and, most importantly, not confuse cooperation with cohabitation and mutual esteem with dilution of identity.
Georgiana Constantin is a law graduate who has studied International, European and Romanian law at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest and is presently a political science doctoral candidate at the University of Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the online-conservative-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.