It has been over 50 years since Turkey expressed its interest in accession to the European Communities; thus far the EU’s longest application process. The cooperation with western organizations and institutions has always been an integral part of Turkey’s policy and Kemal’s idea of a secular and democratic Republic since the beginning of 20th century. However, Turkey began to adopt a less pro-Western political stance following the Cuba Missile Crisis (where Turkish territory was put under risk of Soviet bombing since it had American missiles on its soil), and the hostile American response to the Turkish intervention in Cyprus in 1964.
After the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union into numerous independent nation-states, the E.U modified its accession criteria in Copenhagen in 1993, further setting the bar higher for Turkey. Yet in 1995 the customs union between Turkey and E.U was completed and came into effect in 1996. In December of 2004 the E.U leaders decided that the 2 years (2001-2003) reform process which took place in Turkey was enough to open the negotiations process for accession on Oct. 3, 2005.
Skepticism and Debates
Although the Turkish public was very excited about the news, European public opinion was very skeptical. One could say there remains a longstanding debate among the E.U countries on whether they want a full Turkish membership or a ‘Special Relationship’ with the country of Kemal. Based on this debate, E.U countries were divided into two sides: one side supporting the full membership of Turkey, led by the U.K, including countries such as Poland and Sweden, as well as additional support from the US; on the other side is France and Germany and their allies, pushing for a ‘special relationship’ with Turkey.
The first side has much to gain from the full Turkish membership (e.g. Turkey is a big market open for new investments and trading and also has cheap labor; Turkey can be the mediator and the bridgehead between the east and the west regarding security and energy issues, etc.). The second side feels threatened by possible migration waves coming from Turkey; they also feel threatened by the great power that Turkey can gain in the European Parliament and as a result affect European decision-making according to its and NATO’s own interests.
The Last Five Years
Throughout the last five years U.S has been pressuring the E.U and its counties to carry forward Turkey’s accession process. Furthermore certain E.U presidentships – such as U.K’s and Sweden’s – clearly stood for the Turkey’s membership. Sweden even tried to skip major problems that Turkey is facing in its foreign policy (e.g. the Cyprus Problem) by trying to convince the General Affairs Council of the E.U that bilateral differences between candidate countries for membership with other countries, should not affect their accession process. However Cyprus and Greece did not let that happen. The problem with Sweden’s proposal is that Turkey is facing major legal problems in Cyprus regarding human rights and violations of the international law, and with Greece concerning the delimitation of its continental shelf as well as the Exclusive Economic Zone in the Aegean Sea.
Also dogging Turkey are issues related to human rights, particularly the rights of its Kurdish minority, as well as problems related to its democratic political structure, though its recent constitutional reforms were widely praised in the EU. Even so, U.S and the other Turkey’s supporters in the E.U want Turkey to be a full E.U state-member in order to serve their interests both in Europe and the Middle-East. It is surprising how some counties are willing to overlook vital legal problems in order to serve their political and economic interests.
American influence has shrunk over the last few years because of its two wars (Afghanistan, Iraq) and the effects of the global financial crisis. Therefore they cannot influence European behavior the way they used to. In addition, the E.U is in a very bad financial situation and therefore cannot afford another enlargement at this time, especially with a country the size of Turkey. What is sure is that Turkey has a long way to go and that for now things are most probably going to remain mostly unchanged.
*This is a revised version of an article with the same title published on http://www.global-politics.co.uk/ on the 22th of Oct. 2010.