Turkey’s EU Membership Bid: Factors to Reckon With

Turkey’s EU Membership Bid: Factors to Reckon With

The accession talks between the EU and Turkey have stalled for more than a decade after beginning in October 2005. Back then, the Turkey’s conflict with Cyprus proved to be a major stumbling block. Today Turkey moved a step closer in its bid to join the European Union after the November 29, 2015, EU-Turkey summit. It was agreed to re-energize the Turkey’s accession talks. 

The negotiation process will kick off in Brussels on December 14. The EU agreed to open Chapter 17 of the EU’s acquis communautaire, the body of common obligations that prospective member states must accept before obtaining membership. 

It is composed of 35 chapters including foreign, security and defense policy; environment, justice, freedom and security and free movement of goods. German Chancellor Angela Merkel previously said that she is opposed to Turkey becoming a member of the EU but has promoted talks, calling Turkish membership an «open-ended issue». Other European leaders may not be overwhelmingly in favor of Ankara’s membership bid as Turkey borders a number of conflict zones. 

No doubt, the Turkey’s downing of the Russian Su-24 warplane will be a factor to negatively influence the process. Hardly will EU members want to be dragged into conflicts at Turkey’s whim. For instance, French President François Hollande invoked the European Union's ‘mutual defense clause’ for the first time to combat the perpetrators of the Paris attacks, betting on EU support over NATO in the country's fight against the Islamic State. Article 42.7 of the EU Treaty «provides that when a state is attacked, all member states must bring their solidarity to address the aggression». The precedent is set. As a EU member, Turkey could invoke the article too to drag Europeans into Asian frays. 

Cyprus has already vetoed six other chapters ahead of Turkey’s proposed accession, including energy; the judiciary and fundamental rights; and justice, freedom and security over a number of grievances, such as the presence of Turkish troops in the country’s Turkish-speaking north.

President Erdogan is evidently becoming more autocratic, trying to sweep aside everything standing in his way. In 2014, the Turkish s security forces launched a bloody crackdown on the protests in and around Gezi Park. Hundreds of police officers, dozens of prosecutors and judges have been fired or transferred because they refused to halt their probes. In late November, 2015, two Turkish journalists Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gul, senior editor of the paper, were arrested for publishing several articles containing the photos of what was claimed to be weapons smuggled by the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) into Syria in 2014. The trucks that carried weapons were reportedly searched by police, with Cumhuriyet obtaining the photos and videos of their contents. According to the paper, «the trucks were carrying six steel containers, with 1,000 artillery shells, 50,000 machine gun rounds, 30,000 heavy machine gun rounds and 1,000 mortar shells for anti-Assad extremists in Syria».

On November 26, police used pepper spray against supporters of the journalists. Several thousand people rallied in their support in Istanbul and Ankara.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, Turkey is witnessing a crackdown on media freedom under Erdogan’s rule, with many journalists facing prison terms for reporting on corruption and surveillance by the Turkish state.

The Erdogan’s regime even attempted to silence social media, blocking YouTube and Twitter on a number of occasions.

The 2015 EU progress report said there had been «serious backsliding» on freedom of expression and the judiciary had been undermined. «It emphasizes an overall negative trend in the respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights», the paper reads.

Turkey's declared commitment to joining the EU was offset by moves at home that «ran against European standards» it continued, urging the new government to address what it called «these urgent priorities».

The report highlighted a raft of criminal cases against journalists and writers, intimidation of media outlets and changes to legislation related to the internet. «After several years of progress on freedom of expression, serious backsliding was seen over the past two years,» it said. Referring to Turkey's justice system, it said the «independence of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers have been undermined since 2014 and judges and prosecutors have been under strong political pressure».

Indeed, from point of view of human rights the country is a far cry from other EU members. Turkey’s politics are a tussle between the military and Islamists of varying hues. Amnesty International’s annual report is filled with accounts of torture, free speech violations, journalists languishing in jail, denial of minority rights, unfair trials, you name it. 

«It is becoming clear that Erdogan's Turkey does not belong to Europe», said Andreas Scheuer, the Secretary General of German Christian Social Union. «A country in which the government threatens its critics and tramples democratic values cannot belong to Europe, he emphasized».

There are other factors that just cannot be ignored when it comes to Turkey’s EU membership. 

According to European standards, Turkey remains an underdeveloped economy. Its GDP per capita at €13,000 is less than half the EU average. Turkey’s wealth is unequally spread. A flood of poor immigrants would head to other European states. About 10 million Turks already live in the EU. A massive movement of labor from Turkey to the rest of Europe will increase European social welfare costs while decreasing the living standards. Turkey weathered the economic crisis but failed to implement necessary reforms. Its economic growth is falling while unemployment is rising. The Turkish currency is in freefall. It is expected that Turkey will receive great financial assistance from agricultural funds if present policies remained unchanged for the next 15-20 years. The Turkey’s membership will exponentially increase the already heavy burden Europe has to shoulder with Greece’s debt problem and asylum seekers flooding its territory.  

Turkey’s historic and cultural roots lay in Central Asia and the Middle East. As an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, Turkey’s cultural traditions are fundamentally different from that of Christian Europe. Turkey does not fit into this scheme of the concept of common European identity. It does not have any traditions of humanism, nor is its culture based on ancient Greek or Roman cultures.

If Turkey joins the EU, Europe would have to tackle the intractable Kurdish issue. And there is the never ending dispute over the divided island of Cyprus. According to the 1963 «Association Agreement», Turkey needs to extend the customs union to all member countries which have joined the EU since 1996 opening its ports and airports to ships and planes from the Greek part of Cyprus. Ankara states that ports will not be opened until the EU allows the northern Turkish part of Cyprus to trade directly with EU states. The problem seems to be a large order with no solution in sight. The leaders of the both parts of the island have failed to make any gains on the way to achieving some kind of settlement over the structure of federal states, property restitution, withdrawal of Turkish soldiers from the north, and security guarantees. The issue remains a handicap for Turkey’s membership bid. 

Turkey is not a European country. 97% of its territory lies in Asia. The last thing the EU needs is sharing the borders with Syria, Iran and Iraq. Agreeing to one non-European member would open the door for candidates from all parts of the world. Turkey is too big for the EU to absorb. With a population of 80 million (predicted to reach 91 million by 2050), it will dominate the EU. 

With Turkey as a member the EU will have nothing to gain with many things lost.