TURKEY’S EU MEMBERSHIP
Turkey has been an active member of international organizations such as OECD and NATO and the country aims to reach the level of contemporary civilizations. One of the most important goals of Turkey has been towards developing strong relationships with the European countries. The European union accession process is a part of Turkey’s objectives of building relationships with European countries. On a chronological basis, the first step that Turkey took in order to develop relationships with the European Union is the Ankara agreement which let Turkey build a partnership with the European Union. Later, on 1970, the additional protocol was signed which pointed important issues such as the free movement of agricultural and industrial products. Later in 1987, Turkey applied for full membership to the European Union and Turkey’s European Union accession process started officially with this application (Ministry for EU Affairs, 2016). This paper examines the European Union accession process of Turkey in terms of European Union standards, economy, politics, culture, geography and conflicts of interest and besides that the paper makes a comparison between the acceptance and denial situations of Turkey from the European Union.
Ebru Hisamoğlu investigates the potential economic results of Turkey’s membership to the European Union and while doing this investigation, the writer relates the economic effects of Turkey’s EU membership to the institutions of Turkey. The writer states that “the membership process is considered as a supranational anchor to further improving institutional quality” (Hisamoğlu, 2014). According to the writer, the economic growth of Turkey is strongly related to the individual components of the institutions of the country. To put it more specifically, the writer mentions management of internal conflict, bureaucratic quality, ethnic tensions, law and order while referring to the institutions of Turkey. In addition to the economic effects, the writer concludes that there is a significant evidence which support the fact that the institutions of Turkey are connected to the overall growth of the country.
Besides the institutional development of Turkey in case of European Union accession that Ebru Hisamoğlu claims, a comparison should be made between the existing economies of the members of European Union and Turkey in terms of being a developing economy, providing a new market for the European Union and offering more customers for the existing market. According to CNBC’s writer for European macro-economics and politics, Holly Elyatt, if Turkey can achieve its economic goal of 2023, which is to become one of the top ten global economies, Turkey can become the ‘China of Europe’ in terms of production and industry. The main themes of the 2023 goal are underlined as “By 2023, Turkey aims to achieve a gross domestic product of $2 trillion from $775 billion in 2012. It also hopes to make social improvements to achieve a per capita income of $25,000 by 2023 and reduce unemployment to 5 percent” (Elyatt, 2013). According to the writer, this goal of Turkey may be a charming issue for Europe during Turkey’s accession process to European union. In addition to that, Holly Elyatt makes a comparison between Europe and Turkey in terms of the growth rates of both. Elyatt expresses the findings as “Indeed, while most of Europe struggles to achieve 1 percent growth, Turkey is expected to have 3.5 percent growth in 2013, the IMF said in recent forecasts” (Elyatt, 2013). Thus, Turkey may be considered as it is in a more advantageous condition for its accession to European Union with the new economic goals, when compared to the past, where Turkey’s economic growth was developing with a slower rate.
Economic Results of Turkey’s EU Membership
Up to this point, it seems like Turkey is in an all favorable condition in terms of economic activities and growth in the road of accession but when the GDP of Turkey and the European Union countries are taken into consideration and compared, we see a very unfavorable condition for Turkey. According to Eurostat – Statistics Explained, we see the GDP, GDP per capita, consumption per capita and price level indices for Turkey and the members of the European union. According to the statistics, Turkey is in the 7th place from the bottom in the GDP per capita list and Turkey is far below the European GDP per capita average and this issue is stated in the report as “The EU Member States Croatia and Romania followed by the candidate country Turkey have a GDP per capita of less than 50 % below the EU-28 average while the EU Member State Bulgaria is placed at 54 % below the EU average” (Eurostat, 2016). As the data is the most recent data, with the date of extraction of June 2016), it can be stated that even Turkey is in a more favorable situation when compared to the other European Union candidates and the potential candidates of European Union, Turkey is still far behind the other countries in the European Union in terms of GDP per capita and this makes Turkey’s accession process in European Union harder. As a last point about Turkey’s economic disadvantage and its candidacy of European Union, it is stated in The Week that “However, others point to the recent economic crisis in Greece and warn that Turkey is not yet rich enough to join, saying that taxpayers in wealthier countries would be forced to subsidise it” (The Week, 2016). This statement is a summary of the GDP per capita issues that were discussed above as it compares Turkey with wealthier countries and it finds Turkey as a poor country, which puts the country in a very detriment position.
Turkey has one other advantage that will help during the accession process and it is the creation of a new market for the European Union. Turkey has a very high population compared to the existing members of the European Union and this makes Turkey a very attractive potential market for the members of the European Union where they can have free trade and increase exports. It is stated in The Week that “Free trade between EU countries is one of the bloc’s greatest advantages and granting Turkey membership would create a whole new market for European goods” (The Week, 2016). So, being a huge potential market for Europe may be very helpful while Turkey is being granted with a membership in European Union.
In addition to the economic incidents and issues, Turkey’s accession process of European Union should be analyzed based on geography as well. Turkey has some advantages and disadvantages in terms of being a member of European Union. The first issue of the geography of Turkey is about being a part of the European soil. A huge part of Turkey is in Asia and this makes the country a non-European country. This issue has been mentioned by some politics of members of European Union as well. Foreign affairs columnist Simon Tisdall from The Guardian underlines this issue by pointing that “Sarkozy argued that Turkey was geographically not part of Europe and had no place in the EU. François Hollande, Sarkozy’s successor, is similarly unsympathetic” (Tisdall, 2016) and this quotation from Simon Tisdall shows the disadvantageous situation of Turkey’s geography. When compared to the other members of Europe, we see that, in case Turkey is accepted as a member, it will be the first country that has nearly all its soil located in Asia. Thus, if Turkey is accepted then there will be nomination to European Union from Cape Verde to Kazakhstan which Europe will not favor as those countries do not have considerable advantages for European Union.
On the other hand, there are some advantageous facts about the geographic place of Turkey as well. First of all, when compared to the members of European Union and the candidates that are in accession process, Turkey has the most fortunate geography as it is a bridge between Asia and Europe. Recently, Turkey’s comparative advantage of geography is seen in the gas pipelines issues. “On April 7th Volkan Bozkir, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs, met in Budapest with the foreign ministers of Hungary, Greece, Serbia, and Macedonia to discuss energy security. Much of the agenda was taken up with Gazprom’s proposed Turkish Stream pipeline, which would carry natural gas to the Turkish-Greek border and continue on into Europe” (Economist, 2015). Even the pipelines shows how Turkey is important for the European Union and if a country is going to be elected for the European Union, then Turkey will become more advantageous with its charming geographic position when compared to other candidates and possible candidates of European Union.
Up until this point, this paper examined the accession process of Turkey to European Union in terms of economic and geographic issues and the geographic issues were related to some economic interests of the countries. In addition to economy, Turkey should have a satisfactory rating for some non-economic issues such as democracy, secularism and human rights as well. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff from Free Democratic party makes a clear statement about human rights and democracy issues in Turkey by saying “For liberals and democrats, the situation of fundamental rights like freedom of information, expression and assembly is still a matter of concern. Turkey’s achievements in that regard have been unsatisfactory and leave a lot to be desired when measured against the requirements of the first Copenhagen criterion” (Lambsdorff, 2011). The point that Lambsdorff makes about Turkey is a serious matter that Turkey should be aware of.
Democracy and Secularism in Turkey
While examining the issues like freedom of speech, democracy and secularism in Turkey for the European Union accession process, the first thing to be done is clearly to make a comparison between those issues in Turkey and in the members of European Union. Freedom of speech and freedom of press in Turkey are investigated and surveyed by the independent watchdog organization Freedom House which is dedicated to increase the freedom of democracy in all around the world. The annual report of Freedom House says that there is a decline in Press freedom in Turkey in the last 5 years. In the report, it is stated that “Media freedom in Turkey deteriorated at an alarming rate in 2015. The government, controlled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), aggressively used the penal code, criminal defamation legislation, and the country’s antiterrorism law to punish critical reporting, and journalists faced growing violence, harassment, and intimidation from both state and nonstate actors during the year” (Freedom House, 2016). This statement shows that there is a poor legal and political environment in the country and the grade given for legal and political environment, which are 26/30 and 30/40 respectively, where 30 and 40 are the worst scores, support this claim too. Turkey scores very low for legal and political environment but the comparison between members of European union and Turkey should be done as well. According to 2016 World Press Freedom Index, carried out annually by Reporters Without Borders (RSP), Turkey is the 151st out of 180 countries from all around the world (RSP, 2016). When the list is analyzed, it is seen that Finland, member of European Union, is in the first place, Netherlands is in the second place and Denmark is in the fourth place. Even looking at the first four countries that has the most freedom of press in all around the world shows the greatness of the members of European Union in terms of freedom of press. Turkey is a way below than the average freedom of press in the countries of European Union. In that case, freedom of press seems to be a very tough barrier for Turkey in the accession process of European Union and the press freedom should be increased to at least the average levels of the press freedom in the member countries of European Union. In addition to all the data from 2016 World Press Freedom Index and Freedom House, some incidents that decrease the press freedom level in Turkey to lower points compared to the members of European union are underlined by Andrew Retmann, writer and coloumnist at EU Observer, by stating that “Turkey has indicted almost 2,000 people for insulting Erdogan. It recently shut down its leading opposition paper, Zaman. It has also used terrorism charges to justify detaining many journalists who have criticised Erdogan” (Retmann, 2016). According to Andrew Retmann and the data collected from Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House gives the implication that the press freedom is being decreased by the actions of Justice and Development Party to the levels that are very low compared to the members of European Union. Thus, in order to increase the possibility of accessing the European Union, Turkey should also level up to at least the average levels of freedom in European Union member countries.
Non-Economic Factors of Turkey’s European Union Membership
Two other non-economic factors that are very strong influencers of the accession process of Turkey to European Union are culture and religion. To put it simply, for culture, it can be said that, the new member of European Union naturally needs to have a similar culture to the societies living in the existing members of the European Union. However, when the Turkish culture is analyzed, the result does not seem very similar to the cultures of European countries. Thus, when Turkey and Europe are compared to each other, it is easy to see the gaps and differences between the cultures. This issue is mentioned by Hasan Kösebalaban,in his paper that examines the candidacy of Turkey to European Union. Kösebalaban makes a statement about the Turkish culture as “Turkish identity politics are commonly explained as a clash between two forces, the modernizing state and the traditional society. According to this model, Turkish modernization has taken place because of efforts of the state against the resistance of societal forces” (Kösebalaban, 2002). From this statement and the rest of Kösebalaban’s article, it is seen that Turkey is struck in between different cultures of east and west. Later in the article, Kösebalaban makes a comparison between Turkish culture and the western cultures, which are in other words the European cultures, and says that “Despite 75 years of Westernization policies, the Turkish state ideology has not achieved a process of common identification with the West that would diminish its sensitiveness to issues of national independence” (Kösebalaban, 2002). From the points that Kösebalaban comes up with, it is seen that the Turkish culture and the European culture and ideology are still not even similar in spite of the Westernization policies of Turkey and this makes Turkey not ready for accessing the European Union. Later in the article, Kösebalaban mentions religion issues as well as the issues about Turkish culture. Kösebalaban makes a statement that claims “Westernization was largely a material process, aiming to curb the influence of the Islamic sociopolitical cultural legacy of the former political establishment” (Kösebalaban, 2002). From this statement as well, we see an opposition between Turkey and European Union members both in terms of culture and religious issues and with these differences, it seems Turkey’s job becomes harder to achieve while accessing the European Union. In addition to what Hasan Kösebalaban states about the cultural differences that appear when Turkey and the members of European Union are compared, Laurance Norman, columnist at Wall Street Journal, states that some leaders of the powerful members of European Union such as Germany hesitate to accept Turkey in the European Union as they think “the cultural, political and geographic differences may be too vast” (Norman, 2014). As seen in Laurance Norman’s quotation, leaders of the greatest members of European Union also agree with what Hasan Kösebalaban argues in his article about culture and religion.
Besides the above points about religion, the European Churches has an inevitable effect on the accession process of Turkey to European Union. Erkan Toguslu analyzes the effects of European Churches on Turkey during the accession process. Toguslu claims that Turkey is in a transition period, which was mentioned by different researchers as mentioned above, by saying “transnationalism is transformative when organization and institutions connect the local with the global, the domestic politics with the international” (Toguslu, 2013). Turkey is claimed to be in a transformational period as two different researchers agree on and this obviously will result in some changes in every area when Turkey before and after the accession process are compared to each other. Erkan Toguslu claims that the European churches use their influence in terms of transnational activism and as a result of this they make attempts on modifying the domestic politics in Turkey (Toguslu, 2013). This means that Turkey is being changed continuously during the accession process and the country is shaped accordingly with the European Union in terms of culture and religious issues.
Conflicts Between Turkey and EU
Other influencers of Turkey during the European Union Accession process are the conflicts of interest between Turkey and the members of the European Union. One of the conflicts of interest is about the Syrian refugees and this is the most current issue between the members of European Union and Turkey. While selecting refugees, both of the sides try to attract the refugees that will give the country more human capital. This issue is explained by The Week as “EU representatives have criticised Turkey’s selection process for the exchange, claiming that Syrian doctors and engineers are being denied permission to leave in favour of severely ill or uneducated refugees” (The Week, 2016). This issue is one of the most recent and greatest problems between the European Union and Turkey. European Union and Turkey gain different advantages from this conflict of interest when their current situations are compared to each other. European Union needs people that can adapt to the existing society in their countries and the two sides agreed on exchanging refugees in return of money. This issue is explained by The Week as “Under a deal agreed in March, one Syrian refugee from a Turkish camp will be admitted to Europe for each irregular migrant sent to Turkey from Greece. In return, the EU has promised fresh discussions on Turkish membership and visa-free travel for Turks, as well as £2.3bn of refugee aid between now and 2018” (The Week, 2016). Both of the sides try to turn the conflict of interest to an advantage for themselves.
Population of Turkey
Another issue that should be examined in detail is about the population of Turkey. Turkey has a great population with nearly 80 million people and this amount is far more than the population of most of the members of European Union. Bearing in mind this comparison about population between Turkey and European Union, Turkey’s accession to European Union is seen as a danger in terms of immigration of Turkish people. It is underlined by Simon Tisdall on The Guardian that “Vote Leave’s argument that millions of Turks would move to the UK if they could is borderline fantasy for other reasons” (Tisdall, 2016). This argument by itself may be a sign that shows how attractive UK is for Turkish people. Later in his article, Tisdall argues that “Gove’s claim that more than 5 million people – exceeding the population of Scotland – could move to the UK from the EU by 2030 reveals a surprising ignorance of European realities. Truth be told, it’s a load of old kebab” (Tisdall, 2016). Thus, as Turkey has a huge population compared to Europe and the population has a great potential of moving to Europe, especially to UK, Turkey is seen as a danger by most politicians in case they enter the European Union.
To conclude, it is a fact that the Turkey accession process of European Union depends on many different influencers such as economy, politics, culture, geography, population and conflicts of interest. In terms of economy, Turkey is a growing economy but when the GDP per capita values of Turkey are compared to that of the members of the European Union, it is seen that Turkey has lower GDP per capita than average GDP per capita of EU countries. Secondly, the culture of Turkey plays a key role in the accession process of Turkey as well. European countries argue that Turkish culture is in a transition phase and it is in between the Western, which may also be called as European, and Eastern cultures and Turkish culture does not fit into the European culture and this creates a problem. In addition, freedom is another issue that Turkey is far too behind when compared to the European countries. Recent data shows that freedom of press is in a decline in the last 5 years and Turkey ranks very low in freedom of press researches whereas European countries have the highest scores for freedom of press. Lastly, Turkey’s population is seen as a danger for European Union because it is very big and it has a potential of moving to Europe, especially to UK, in case of being accepted for the European Union.
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