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Turkey's process of Europeanization and the prospects for its full membership in the European Union

In his final web-log as the Alworth Institute's International Fellow, Dr. Oktay Tanrisever (Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey) discusses Turkey's process of Europeanization, which goes back to the modernizing reforms of Ottoman Turkey at the beginning of the 19th century, and seems to be one of the most challenging Europeanization processes for the European Union. What are the features of Turkey's Europeanization process and what are its prospects for full EU membership?

There are several characteristics of Turkey's very complex process of Europeanization. To start with, the Europeanness of Turkey was confirmed by the European states a very long time ago. In fact, it was the Crimean War that integrated Ottoman Turkey into the European state-system as two European great powers, Britain and France, allied themselves with Turkey against another European great power, Russia, for the first time. Turkey's process of Europeanization gained a new momentum with the formation of modern Turkey in 1923. Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who is the national leader of modern Turkey, Ankara oriented itself firmly towards Europe and successfully implemented wide-ranging, modernizing reforms in political, economic and socio-cultural aspects of social life. These changes consolidated the place of Turkey in the European state-system just before the outbreak of the World War II.

Secondly, the Europeanization process of Turkey took a new turn in the post- World War II era as the regional integration processes in Europe led by NATO, the Council of Europe and the European Economic Community (EEC- forerunner of the EU) emerged as three key pillars of Turkey's Europeanization in the security, political and economic spheres respectively. After joining NATO and the Council of Europe as a full member, Turkey signed the Ankara Agreement for full membership with the EEC in 1963. However, after the end of the Cold War, the EEC transformed itself into the EU in 1992 and started EU membership negotiations with the former Warsaw Pact countries, but not with its NATO ally, Turkey (with which only a Customs Union was established in 1996). This led Turkey to freeze its relations with the EU in 1997. After intense discussions among the EU members and lobbying by the United States in favor of Turkey, the EU revised its policy towards Turkey and declared it a candidate country for full EU membership in the 1999 Helsinki Summit. Finally, the EU confirmed that Turkey had fulfilled the Copenhagen Criteria by adopting new civil and penal codes as well as implementing a number of human rights reforms in December 2004.

Thirdly, Turkey has made significant progress in actual accession negotiations with the EU. These negotiations formally started with the adoption of the Negotiation Framework by the Council of the European Union in October 2005. By early 2010, Turkey was able to open negotiations on the following 12 out of the 35 chapters since June 2006: Science and Research; Enterprise and Industrial Policy; Statistics; Financial Control; Trans-European Networks; Consumer and Health Protection; Company Law; Intellectual Property Rights; Information Society and Media; Free Movement of Capital; Taxation; and Environment. Turkey is very likely to open negotiations on the following four chapters when it meets the specific benchmarks as demanded by Brussels: Public Procurement (3 benchmarks); Competition Policy (6 benchmarks); Food Safety, Veterinary and Phytosanitary (6 benchmarks); and Social Policy and Employment (2 benchmarks).

Fourthly, despite Turkey's considerable progress in the negotiations, it is not certain yet that Turkey could negotiate all of the 35 chapters. The EU Council already froze the opening of eight chapters over Turkey's rejection to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus in 2006. These chapters include: Free Movement of Goods; Right of Establishment and Freedom to Provide Services; Financial Services; Agriculture and Rural Development; Fisheries; Transport Policy; Customs Union and External Relations. The Greek Cypriots also blocked six more chapters, namely; Education and Culture; Foreign Security and Defense Policy; Judiciary and Fundamental Rights; Justice, Freedom and Security; Energy and Freedom of Movement for Workers (which was also blocked by Germany and Austria). Another obstruction came from France in June 2007 as Paris blocked the expected opening of the Chapter on Work towards the European Monetary Union in addition to the following five Chapters due to their 'direct bearing on full membership': Agriculture and Rural Development (already suspended by the EU Council); Economic and Monetary Policy; Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural Instruments; Financial and Budgetary Provisions and Institutions.

Lastly, Turkey's prospects for full EU membership have suffered a huge blow as, at present, France, Germany and Austria offer only a special status for Turkey within the EU rather than full EU membership. Nevertheless, a special status is very unlikely to meet expectations of Turkey's elites as they already enjoy a special status with its customs union with the EU. Under these circumstances, Turkey's eventual success in the negotiations for full EU membership depends mainly on its capacity to solve its structural economic development problems as this could change the image of Turkey in Europe positively: a change of image from a burden for the EU into an asset for the EU. It seems that economic costs and benefits of Turkey's EU membership could be decisive in the final decisions of France and Germany, the most influential members of the EU that pay for the costs of EU enlargement. Another important challenge for Turkey is that the bilateral political differences of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots with Greece and the Greek Cypriots need to be settled with a balanced approach by the key European powers. Currently, the EU decision to integrate the Republic of Cyprus that - at present - represents only the Greek Cypriots before a sustainable settlement complicates Turkey's prospects for full membership considerably. This is quite ironic since it was not the Turkish Cypriots, but the Greek Cypriots who rejected the EU-backed UN plan in April 2004. Last but not least, the continuity of the support from the United States and Britain is essential for keeping Turkey's hopes for eventual full EU membership alive.

To conclude, Turkey has significant reasons to push for eventual full EU membership despite some difficulties ahead. Turkey's full EU membership is likely to serve as confirmation for the success of its Europeanization strategy, which carries in itself a positive vision not only for Turkey, but, also for both the EU and the Western world.