Turkey and the EU: “She doesn’t even go here.”

Yes, all blogs should start with a Mean Girls reference.

I’ve never really been a huge fan of the EU, or the Euro,  but nor have I been a massive critic either. The EU to me, like many other people I imagine, is just not an interesting project. So, in order to expand my knowledge of the body I took a module in ‘The  Politics and Government of the European Union’. I’ve finished this module with no new burning passion to rise up and defend the EU from its critics, nor do I want to burn it to the ground and start afresh. Placing myself firmly in the ‘liberal intergovernmentalist’ camp alongside Andrew Moravcsik I see the EU as nothing more really than the sum of the various national governments – yes, here and there a European bureaucrat may be able to make a few decisions without consulting nation states, but the big, important things are down the member states… Or just Germany and we should all follow lest Poland get nervous. As such, I’m apathetic – well, in most areas. The one area that seemed to really interest me was the issue of enlargement, especially with regard to Turkish enlargement. I can not see how a credible case can be made for the EU to enlarge to include Turkey without fundamentally changing the inherent nature of the European Union.

Turkey first applied to join the European Communities in April 1987, after a long period of cooperation with past European bodies, including the Council of Europe, the OECD and the OSCE. There is currently a customs union between the EU and Turkey, which is broad in terms of goods, but excludes some essential economic areas such as agriculture, and services. For those hopeful of Turkish ascension to the EU, this is a major step towards full membership. It ignores, however, the glaring barriers to Turkish membership – some of which are fundamentally unsolvable.

Economic and Social Issues

The first significant issue with Turkish membership is the economic angle. Turkey is a relatively poor country compared to EU standards (nominal GDP per capita $10,106 vs. $35,166), meaning the fiscal requirements to drag Turkey in line with EU countries is significant indeed. In the short and medium term, with the cost of the Eurozone crisis and recessions bearing down on governments, there is significant reluctance to spend more money on Turkey. The other option is to drastically reduce the amount of funding given to other states and redirect the cash to Turkey – a prospect that would be likely shot down by the governments of the states affected.

Turkish membership of the European market would also have significant social impacts – remember the ascension of Poland and other Eastern European countries in 2004, and the sudden influx of workers into the British economy? Whist there are strong arguments in favour of a highly mobile workforce, the social tensions caused by this sudden (and on the part of the Labour Government, unexpected) influx of workers was very damaging to social cohesion. British anti-Polish sentiment soared and there was a certain ‘them and us’ mentality, forcing ghettoisation of Polish areas. Now, imagine the extent of the problem when Turkey, with a population of nearly 77 million (that’s 2 million more than all of the 10 states combined in the 2004 round of enlargement) and a booming 15 – 24 year old demographic that is economically ambitious, begins exporting workers Westwards. It would be foolish to not expect similar tensions, with a more pronounced racial edge.

Democracy Issues

The Treaty on European Union states that;

Any European country which respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law may apply to become a member of the Union. (Article 6)

Despite Turkey’s claims to be a modern, secular, democratic republic there are still some very significant laws that would mean that it should not qualify for membership, including Article 301 which states that:

“1 – A person who publicly denigrates Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and three years.

2 – A person who publicly denigrates Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the State, the military or security organizations shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and two years.

3 – In cases where denigration of Turkishness is committed by a Turkish citizen in another country the punishment shall be increased by one third.”

This law would make it impossible to argue in Turkey that the government is exploiting the Kurdish minority (which they are) without being sent to jail. To allow membership to Turkey the EU would at worst be endorsing, at best ignoring, this law and the consequences it has for bother liberty and human rights. Further to this, the current Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus needs to be resolved, not least since Cyprus has full veto power over Turkish ascension.

Structural Issues

Turkish membership poses one massive issue hinted at above – population. If Turkey was granted membership tomorrow, it would be the second biggest state in the EU by terms of population, and by 2020 would overtake Germany as the largest. In terms of MEPs, Turkey would hold around 80-85 MEPs, significantly altering the balance of power within the EU and increasing the risk of gridlock. Gridlock would not be caused by one more state sitting at the table, especially since the 12 state mega-enlargement of 2004/7 failed to slow the EU down to any significant extent. Rather, gridlock would arise due to the fact that Turkey would represent a new coalition of interest that previous enlargements didn’t – due to a mixture of it’s geostrategic concerns, history and culture.

Within the EU, Turkish membership would push the number of MEPs over the 750 limit set out in the Lisbon Treaty, thus requiring structural reform which would quite possibly trigger national referenda in numerous countries (hopefully including the UK…). With the current Eurozone crisis dampening enthusiasm for the EU it is not hard to predict that there would be a difficult battle ahead.

Geographical Issues

This is the most significant area that impedes Turkish membership, and the one that simply can not be addressed. Turkey just isn’t in Europe. As we saw above, the Treaty of European Union states that

Any European country which respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law may apply to become a member of the Union. (Article 6)

‘Europe’ is not a concept that you can change, or change quickly. For the concept of Europe to have any real meaning the boarders have to be fixed and well agreed, both in terms of historical continuity and current consensus.

Only 3% of Turkey’s landmass is in Europe (shown on the map as the blue portion of Turkey), meaning – obviously – that 97% is in Asia. If Turkey joined the EU, the landmass of the EU would rise to 2,054,027 sqm, with 293,459 sqm of the European Union lying in Asia, some 16.7%.  Indeed, Turkish membership represents the beginning of a slippery slope of membership candidates, including Russia. Whilst Russia may not want to join the EU (or may do so in future to undermine it etc.), it would certainly have a greater claim to join than Turkey. Indeed, 25% of Russia lies in Europe (and Russia makes up 40% of Europe), so if Turkey has a case for membership Russia certainly does. And if this was the case, with Russia and Turkey combined the Asian landmass that would be in the European Union would reach 61%.

(The mathematics of that claim: Asian Russia + Asian Turkey = 4,944,637 sqm + 293,459 sqm = 5, 238,096 sqm. European Russia + European Turkey + European Union = 1,648,2112 sqm + 90,761 sqm + 1,669,807 sqm = 3,408,780 sqm. Total EU landmass with Russia and Turkey = 8,646,876 sqm.)

The logic of allowing Turkey to join the EU would ultimately lead to the ‘European’ aspect of the Union being eroded, remove the common linkage between the states and the basis of cooperation that has worked relatively well since the beginning of European cooperation, preventing the outbreak of European war since 1945.

Also, Turkish membership is often touted for being able to a bridge to the Middle East, bringing peace and stability to an often war torn region. However, there is a danger that Turkish membership would be seen by Middle Eastern states as a form of neoimperialism, or a Trojan horse for the US to influence the region via the EU. There is the potential that Turkey would be excluded from Middle East processes and dialogues due to being seen as a vehicle for US/European ideas and could, ultimately, push the Middle East away from the West and into further regional isolation.


Turkish membership of the EU is often framed in terms of the development of Turkey, and the benefits the country will face if allowed to ascend. But this really misses the point of the EU – it is, and always will be, a European Union. European hopes for Turkish membership is really a way of projecting Western values onto a state in order to remove responsibility from national politicians for change. The European Neighbourhood Policy plus a potential extension of a free trade area to Turkey (barring an outward movement of people at the very least) would allow both countries to benefit from economic ties, whilst avoiding the political, structural and geographical/geostrategic issues facing Turkish membership.

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