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Seven years after accession talks for Turkey to the European Union (EU) began, the prospects of membership remain dim. The EU is a union of European states that was formed after decades worth of efforts towards economic and political integration of countries in the continent.
This Union has led to significant benefits for the member countries due to the good relations enjoyed among member countries. Economic prosperity and political stability have been achieved because of the union. As the membership of the EU has increased, the union has acquired marked political, economic, and financial influence on the global stage and it is now considered a power on its own right.
For this reasons, most of the countries in the European continent have been aspiring to join the EU and gain the benefits attached to EU membership. Specifically, Turkey has shown great interest in joining the EU with its leaders actively urging EU leaders to include the country in the Union (Teitelbaum & Philip 2003).
However, the country has been unable to achieve this goal to date. This paper will delve into the political, economic, and cultural reasons that have contributed to the delayed accession of Turkey to the European Union.
Reasons for Delayed Accession
- EU Members Opposition to Turkey
Turkey’s economic instability has delayed its accession to the EU. European Union member states enjoy a relatively high standard of living and income per capita. Teitelbaum and Philip (2003) assert that Turkey suffers from an unproductive and unstable economy.
Specifically, Turkey suffers from a higher unemployment rate that the average rate in the EU countries. There are fears that if Turkey became a member of the EU, it would be an economic burden to the union since millions of Turks would immigrate to countries where there are jobs and higher wages. The EU would also have to make significant monetary investments to bring Turkey at par with the rest of the union.
Turkey has been denied accession because of insufficient democracy in the country. Although Turkey has been practicing a multi-party system and free elections since 1950s, the Turkish democracy has not steadily developed over the decades. Specifically, there have been a number of direct military interventions on the political of the country.
Turkey has engaged in democratic reforms in order to meet EU requirements and subsequent membership. However, the rate of political reforms has been very slow. These slow reform process is seen as an indication of Turkey’s unwillingness to comply with EU standards by some EU leaders (Burgin 2010).
The EU requires certain values and ideals to be upheld by a country before it gains full membership to the union. One of these ideals is that the candidate country must have good human rights records and treat its citizens (including minority groups) with respect and fairness.
Human rights are given a great consideration by the EU and they have grown to become an important dimension of the Union’s foreign relations (Cakmak 2003). The government’s response to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has also been criticized. The harsh treatment of these separatist group and military aggression in dealing with the Kurdish problem has led to a deterioration of human rights performance of Turkey.
Celebi (2009) documents that the way Turkey has reacted to the Kurdish problem has become a major obstacle slowing down Turkey’s accession to the EU. Until Turkey’s human rights record becomes as good as stipulated by the EU, the country’s prospects for full membership will remain low.
Religion has played a major role in the delayed accession of Turkey to the EU. The EU is made up of countries that have predominantly Christian populations. As a country with a Muslim majority, many European leaders feel that admitting Turkey into the EU would greatly damage the integrity of the union.
As it currently stands, Islamic influence in the EU is negligible with Muslim parliamentarians being absent in most countries and in the countries where they are present, they are vastly outnumbered by their non-Muslim counterparts (Pahre & Burcu 2009).
There are fears that if Turkey gains membership to the EU, the Muslim influence in the union will increase exponentially and therefore damage EU cohesion due to the cultural differences. Some leaders even argue that granting Turkey full membership would open the door for other Muslim nations in the Middle East therefore degenerating the EU into “nothing more than a free trade community” (Teitelbaum & Philip 2003, p.98).
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The population of Turkey is also a hindrance to the quick accession to the EU. Opponents of Turkey membership state that the EU lacks absorption capacity and including Turkey would overstretch the union (Burgin 2010). At a population of about 67 million as of 2003, the country was projected to be more populous than any EU member state by 2014 (Teitelbaum & Philip 2003).
This is a very significant factor considering that citizens of any member state are guaranteed the right to move freely to any other EU state and seek jobs there on equal basis with the locals. The threat of mass emigration from Turkey should, it become a member of the EU, is therefore a major consideration by leaders of EU countries.
The population of Turkey will also have implications on the EU since it will give the country likely voting weight. Some opponents to Turkey’s EU membership argue that this would “completely change the architecture of the EU” (Pahre & Burcu 2009, p.358).
- Turkish Opposition
In addition to the hesitance demonstrated by EU leaders, a segment of the Turkish population is also reluctant to join the EU. Surveys conducted in Turkey concerning EU membership note that support for accession to the EU has been diminishing in recent years (Celebi 2009).
Turks have been opposed to the preconditions set by the EU especially concerning its democratic processes. According to some of the country’s leaders, the system in place is respectful to democracy and the excess pressure from the EU is seen as an imposition on Turkey’s internal affairs.
Membership to the EU requires Turkey to conform to certain European values and culture. These values have a Western and Christian basis since most European Countries have a Christian background. The imposition of such values has led to a rise in nationalism and conservative reactions against the EU (Pahre & Burcu 2009). A segment of the Turkish population wants the country to be able to follow its own norms and not conform with those stipulated by the EU in order to gain membership to the union.
Turkey has been unable to gain EU membership in spite of its 5-decade long effort to do so. This failure has been caused by the opposition to Turkey’s membership by EU leaders and the failure by Turkey to compellingly meet the membership pre-conditions. Some sceptics express doubt as to whether the European Union will be willing to admit Turkey even if the country is able to fulfil all the requirements imposed on it.
However, all this is highly speculative since the country is already engaged in accession talks. Turkey has proved to be a worthy contender for EU membership and has remained a steadfast military partner though NATO. The country would therefore offer much to the EU if granted membership. However, the country will have to engage in significant changes in its political and cultural sphere in order to gain admission to the EU.
This paper set out to discuss the reasons why Turkey’s full membership to the EU has been delayed. It has pointed out that Turkey’s accession has been delayed based on cultural, economic, and political reasons. The paper has articulated that in addition to economic and political considerations, cultural and religious views are also taken into consideration when considering a country for EU membership.
These factors have slowed down the process of Turkey gaining membership to the EU. The paper has also observed that there is also internal opposition to EU membership by some Turk nationalists.
However, this internal opposition is limited and majority of the population favour EU membership. The major cause of delay is from the EU member states. While Turkey’s EU ambitions continue to be great, it is hard to predict whether the ambitions will result in full membership considering the many forces opposing Turkey’s accession to the EU.
Burgin, A 2010, ‘Ongoing opposition in the West, new options in the East: is Turkey’s EU accession process reversible?’, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, vol. 12 no. 4, pp. 417-435.
Cakmak, C 2003, ‘Human Rights, The European Union and Turkey’, Turkish Journal of International Relations, vol. 2 no. 3, pp.63-90.
Celebi, N 2009, ‘Opinions of Students at Turkish and German Universities on Turkey in the EU Accession Process’, Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice vol. 9 no.2, pp. 475-491
Nisser, S 2009, ‘Between Ethnic-Nationalism, Civic-Nationalism and osmopolitanism: Discourses on the Identity of the EU and the Debates on Turkey’s Accession’, Turkish Journal of International Relations, vol. 8 no. 2, pp. 1-23.
Pahre, R & Burcu, U 2009, ‘The Myths of Turkish Influence in the European Union’, JCMS, vol. 47 no. 2, pp. 357-384.
Teitelbaum, SM & Philip, LM 2003, ‘Is Turkey Ready for Europe?’, Foreign Affairs, vol. 82 no. 3, pp. 97-111.