Directory Free Newsletter Contact  


Turkey {still knocking}:
EU resumes talks with Turkey.

By Dean Broadbent
Posted: November 2005

It is a paradox of the newly enlarged European Union that decisions can take a very long time to reach (what with 25 national interests to reconcile) and yet the entire politics of a matter can change dramatically with a single dissenting voice.

So it was with the rejection of the European Constitution by France and then the Netherlands this summer, and so it was again this month as negotiations finally began on Turkey’s proposed membership of the EU.

The talks began despite an 11th hour crisis initiated by Austria’s insistence that Turkey be offered a “privileged partnership” in lieu of full membership – had this been successful, Turkey would have walked away from seeking European association forever, according to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Although Austria was alone in its bid to alter the terms of the talks, its opposition is symptomatic of widespread European anxiety over Turkey. According to a Eurobarometer poll, only in Hungary do a majority of the public support Turkey’s entry, whilst the EU average stands at an ominous 36 percent. The unease is caused by a number of factors, not least opposition to the inclusion of a majority Muslim nation in what many see as a Christian club– a view shared by the new Pope. A stagnating economy has also fuelled fears – especially in Germany, which has the EU’s largest Turkish immigrant population – that an influx of Turkish migrants will further depress wages in a period of economic difficulty. It has also been noted that Turkey would likely be the largest EU member state before long, meaning that it would have more influence than any other state in matters of voting. Turkey is very poor by European standards, and would likely receive a very large amount of development aid if it achieved membership.

That negotiations finally went ahead is no small achievement for Britain, Turkey’s most enthusiastic supporter and current holder of the rotating EU Presidency. The argument that clinched agreement was that the inclusion of Turkey would prove that Western and Islamic societies are not mutually exclusive (and so disprove the long-standing “clash of civilizations” theory), that the West is not hostile towards Islam and that these things combined would greatly increase European security in an era of heightened fears over terrorism committed by Muslims against Westerners. Turkey is already a trusted and proven NATO ally, has made enormous efforts to accede to the various demands made by the EU and is seen by its supporters as a Muslim state almost perfectly in the Western mould – secular, open to European trade and ideas, and with its ambition firmly towards Europe rather than the volatile Middle East.

Turkey will not count its chickens just yet, though. Negotiations will take at least ten years and even then the path is littered with potential obstacles. French voters have been promised a veto (via a referendum) over Turkey’s accession, whilst the changing tide of national politics promises new leaders who resolutely oppose Turkish membership: the newly elected German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the man seen by many as the next French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. It also remains to be seen whether current sticking points, notably Turkey’s refusal to recognize Cyprus and European concerns over human rights, can be reconciled in the negotiations.

After four decades of knocking at the European door, the start of negotiations is a very promising milestone. It seems improbable that Turkey, which has so far surprised most commentators by satisfying so many of the EU’s criteria so quickly, will fail to meet the standard required for membership despite that standard having been raised higher than for any previous applicant. What remains to be seen is whether all those things that lie beyond Turkey’s control – the global “War on Terror,” Europe’s awkward relationship with Islam, the European economy, and, perhaps crucially, the power of veto wielded by all 25 EU members – will conspire to end the dreams of a nation that, despite lying 95 percent in Asia, has aspired to being European ever since it was created by Kemal Ataturk in 1923.



© 2007 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited