Turkey and the European Union
Turkey has chosen to pace its internal reforms in line with European Union financial planning. Turkey has set its objective on membership by 2014. The internal reform process will go ahead whether Europe warms to Turkey or not as the reforms are expected to bring economic benefits either way. Who thinks what about Turkey’s membership of the European Union?
Relations between the EU and Turkey are not as good as they could be or even ought to be. Turkey is a secular and democratic state with a predominantly Muslim population. For the United States, Turkey as a member of the European Union would be a show-case for stability and democracy in an Islamic country with strong connections to the Middle-East. The country has experienced instability though its democracy has proven to be resistant. Turkey has since its founding been aligned with the West. It is a member of NATO and this membership recognizes its geopolitical importance as well as its significant military capacity. If Turkey were to become a full member, the EU could reach more easily into Georgia and the rest of the Caucuses and even further into Central Asia. It is also a member of a number of other European inspired organizations. Its cooperation with the European Union started in the days of the EEC. Yet it is still not a member and the enthusiasm for Turkish membership on the part of some EU nations seems to be cooling. Even in Turkey popular opinion, according to a recent article in Guardian Unlimited, is suggesting a turn to the East and to the driver economies of Asia rather than to EU membership.
Turkey is already benefiting from the process of negotiating with the EU. It has engaged in democratic and economic reform and the latest package of measures include wide-spread administrative reforms (reform of social security; of the work permit system for foreigners; independence for the Central Bank) and further economic reforms (liberalization of the natural gas sector and of the postal sector) in order to meet EU requirements. These reforms will reduce the significance of the state in production and will lead to greater market freedoms. It is also engaging civil society in the drive for EU membership in order to provide a secure political basis for membership that may assuage fears about Turkish society. The economy is strong, mixed and has achieved historically high rates of growth in recent years, largely as a result of reforms that are already in place. Turkey is determined to meet the EU regulatory standards and requirements. The Turkish government sees the objections to Turkey’s membership as basically political and based upon wide-spread misunderstanding of Turkey’s economy and society.
Officially, the EU continues negotiations on Turkish membership but at a slower pace than was once expected. From the EU point of view, there are a number of problems. The long-standing and unresolved issue of Cyprus is clearly a stumbling block. Turkey invaded in 1974 and still ‘protects’ the Northern part of the island and does not recognize the Government of Cyprus. The EU wants Turkey to speed up changes with respect to Cypriot access to Turkish ports. The EU Parliament is unsure of the progress that Turkey has made in areas such as women’s rights and minority rights. Turkey is home for a significant portion of the Kurdish people. Individual countries have different perspectives. Germany is skeptical despite the fact that Turkey is a significant trading partner. France will hold a referendum on any proposed Turkish accession. The sticking point is the French electorate’s notion that France is somehow ‘full’ and the EU over-enlarged already. The UK remains positive about Turkey’s membership as does Greece. The Commission, shocked by the lack of accord between the EU and the citizens of member states, will hold a dialogue on the issues of enlargement. The constitutional issues need to be resolved somehow and any resolution will be partly determined by the outcome of the French presidential election.
What Turkey needs to do is meet the requirements and concerns. It also needs to convince the European public that its democracy is strong and that a healthy and growing economy in Turkey will mean that even before membership it will not be exporting labor but it will be rather importing it. Europe needs to have the imagination to see that there are potentially huge political advantages that will flow from Turkish membership, not the least of which will be giving the lie to the idea of a clash of civilizations.