Turks Are at the Gates

By Tuukka Repo and Liisa Paltta

Turkey has been banging on the gates of European Union for decades but it takes a considerable amount of time to change the image of a country. The Turks have made some progress in the matter in recent years yet still the negotiations seem sluggish at best.

There is little doubt among most observers that over the past five years, the EU accession process has had an influence on Turkey’s internal march toward reform and democratization. It has also been a factor in helping transform Turkey’s economy, its political atmosphere, military institutions, leadership, and political culture.

The Door Stays Shut Till 2014

Under Article 49 of the Treaty on the European Union, any European country may apply for membership if it meets a set of criteria established by the Treaty. In addition, the EU must be able to absorb new members, so the EU can decide when it is ready to accept a new member.

Current accession structure involves also that any candidate country whose accession could have substantial financial consequences on the Union as a whole. Under this provision, admission of such a candidate can only be concluded after 2014, the scheduled date for the beginning of the EU’s next budget framework. Currently, only Turkey’s candidacy would fall under this restriction.

Turkey´s State Minister and Chief EU Talks Negotiator Egemen Bagis said on Mehtap television interview:

Turkey and the EU need each other, but Turkey’s need for the Union is shrinking while the Union’s need for Turkey grows greater with each passing day. One day the EU will look for ways to do away with obstacles to Turkey’s membership.”

Despite of Bagis’s opinion there are some that no longer share the belief that Turkish membership would come about in any time soon. 

 Candidate Countries


Current Economy

Turkey´s economy suffered badly in the global recession of 2009, but over the previous five years it had been unusually vigorous, and it has bounced back so quickly that this year it is likely to grow faster than those of almost all other European countries.

Turkey has escaped the Mediterranean sickness that has taken hold in its neighbor Greece. Overall Turkey’s future appears to be much brighter than in Spain, Portugal or Italy.

Turkey is on the verge of acquiring an investment-grade credit rating, inflation is in single figures and the government has been able to dump the IMF.

Economic changes have not gone unnoticed. Turkey is now a vocal member of the G20 club of important economies. It also held a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council in the years 2009-2010.

Turkey is very close to become a member of BRICs club of emerging giants. Most optimistic forecasts suggest that during the next decade it will grow faster than any country exept India and China. Some predict Turkey could climb up the ladder five steps and become the world’s tenth-biggest economy by the year 2050. The economy is still a work in progress. Inflation is not wholly defeated, the current-account deficit is large and Turkey’s competitiveness in manufacturing is a matter for concern.

The biggest threat of them all is a very high unemployment rate, especially among women and the young in the poorer areas in east and south-east.

Labor and Education

If you compare the demographics of European nations Turkey is in a good shape. It had a population of 72,5 m in 2010 and the average age of a citizen is only 29.

It´s been evaluated that by 2050 Turkey´s population will have risen to almost 100m. If by then Turkey has managed to get into the EU, it will be its most populous member, far ahead of Germany, which will have an estimated 70m people in 2050.

According to Turkish government officials in 2008, 87 % of the populace over 15 years of age could read. The percentage varies quite drastically between different areas, the poorer areas have considerably lower numbers.

Democracy and Human Rights

Some might argue that the human right issues are among one of the key reasons why the membership talks between Turkey and the EU have progressed so slowly. Turkey has altered some of its legislation on the matter but there are still some laws that EU and its members can´t tolerate.

The example that keeps surfacing in opposing EU politicians’ speeches is the Article 301, a law which states it is illegal to insult the Turkish nation. Several authors and newspaper reporters were imprisoned for breaking it in the 00´s.

Turks softened the tone of Article 301 a bit in 2008. Insulting the nation is still a crime, punishable by two years in jail.

Gateway to Middle East

Turkey has the 2nd largest military force in NATO and its geographical location is strategically ideal for a number of things.

Turkey has historical and geographical ties to surrounding areas such as East Mediterranean and Black sea coasts, the Balkans, Middle East and even Central Asia.

As a member, Turkey would offer the EU a huge bumper or a frontline of defense for the present and the future turmoil of the Middle East. Even the strongest opposing countries for Turkey´s EU membership like Germany and France acknowledge this fact.

But There Is Always Greece

Even in the most improbable situation where Turkey and the EU in general could patch up all their disagreements there would be one sole opposer, Greece.

Both Turkey and Greece consider Cyprus to be part of their country. Greece has historical ties to Cyprus dating back more than a thousand years although the island has seen numerous occupiers during this time.

Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 as a divided state, the northern parts of the island have been under Turkish regime since 1974.

There has to be unanimous decision among current members when accepting new member states to the EU. Therefore as long as Turkey and Greece keep arguing of the ownership of Cyprus the door to EU stays shut for Turkey.


One Response to “Turks Are at the Gates”

  1. peter.verweij Says:

    Good story; presenting an overview of the problems. One oral source is a bit limited, you have added a Finnish source given the Finnish or EU position. Links in the article are interesting. I am missing the geo-political argument, which would underline the defense aspects of the EU. Finally you did not touch the aspect of religion, which is a sensitive issue.

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