The European Council of Ministers took a momentous decision and opened accession negotiations with Turkey in October 2005, but progress since then has been painfully slow. Only 14 of the 33 chapters of the acquis that require negotiations have been opened in more than 10 years and just one (science and research) provisionally closed.
The country, which stands at the epicentre of the divide between an increasingly unstable Europe and an ever more conflictive Middle East, had been knocking at the EU’s door since 1963 when it became an associate member of the then European Economic Community. In 1996, Turkey became the first and so far the only non-EU member to form a Customs Union with the EU for industrial goods and processed agricultural products.
Turkey’s accession process is in a category of its own –very different to that of other applicants– because it is said to be ‘too big, too poor and too Muslim’. There is no reason why the country’s size, its predominantly Muslim religion and economic underdevelopment in the impoverished south-east, should be in themselves stumbling blocks on the road to accession. Turkey’s population of 76 million is slightly more than the combined populations of the 10 Eastern and Central European countries plus Cyprus that joined the European Union in 2004.
Turkey’s per capita income in 2014 (the latest year available) was 53% of the EU average compared to 109% for the UK. Ten years earlier it was only 39% as against the UK’s 125%, showing that over a decade Turkey has become in relative terms substantially richer, as a result of very strong growth, while the UK has become poorer.
Opposition to Turkey’s full EU membership, particularly in Germany and France, has intensified with the recent avalanche of migrants into the EU although significantly Turks are not among those seeking to enter the Union illegally. Indeed, Turks already in the EU have been returning to their country for several years, something not widely known, as Turkey has become richer.
The country’s special case was implicitly made clear in the negotiating framework when the green light was given to open the accession process. This enables the EU to determine opening and closing benchmarks for every chapter, in addition to long transition periods, derogations, permanent safeguard measures and grey areas like the EU’s ‘absorption capacity’. And there is no guarantee, unlike that which existed for all the other candidate countries, that completion of the accession process automatically brings with it full membership. Turkey’s accession process is not an irreversible one in which Turkey’s membership perspective becomes gradually clearer. Ankara, with some justification, accuses the EU of double standards.
Indeed, the framework and subsequent declarations by some EU leaders have strengthened the feeling that the EU wants a ‘special partnership’ for Turkey and not full membership.
Nevertheless, a new if ambiguous reality has been established for Turkey which was accepted by sceptics such as Wilfried Martens, the chairman and co-founder of the conservative European People’s Party, the largest party in the European Parliament. In 1997 Martens cast doubts on Turkey’s accession. After negotiations began in 2005 he saw in it ‘a unique opportunity, as great as making peace between France and Germany after the War, or as reunifying Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. These talks begin a dialogue between Christians and Muslims which could signal an extraordinary new beginning for the world as a whole’.
The accession negotiations, however, have not laid to rest the issue of whether Turkey is really part of Europe, despite joining the Council of Europe in 1949, being a founding member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1961, the club of developed economies, and becoming a NATO ally in 1952 (with the second-largest standing military force after the US). Turkey also participates in the Eurovision song contest.
Three-quarters of foreign direct investment in Turkey comes from the EU, and the country is the EU’s sixth-largest trading partner. Some 55% of European economic legislation is reflected in corresponding Turkish law, and entrepreneurs employ 600,000 workers inside the EU. Were the many Turks employed in the German car industry to down tools and go on strike, production would ground to a halt.
When Turkey became an associate member of the European Economic Community in 1963, there was no doubt in the mind of Professor Walter Hallstein, the then President of the European Commission, on this issue. ‘Turkey is part of Europe’, he declared. ‘This is the ultimate meaning of what we are doing today. It confirms in incomparably topical form a truth that is more than the summary expression of a geographical concept or of a historical fact that has held good for several centuries’.
The EU itself seemed to rebuff the geographical argument with the accession of Cyprus in 2004 (most of which is east of Ankara). As school children we learned that throughout the 19th century the Ottoman Empire, with Turkey at its heart, was known as the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ not the ‘Sick Man of Asia.’
The problem is that Turkey is imperfectly European (Samuel Huntington, the Harvard professor author of the Clash of Civilisations, called it a “torn country”). Unlike Australia, America and Africa, Europe does not really have clear cut geographical boundaries and a good deal of uniformity. The Ural mountains, the Caucasus and the Caspian sea are generally regarded as the traditional boundaries, but Europe is also part of the Eurasian landmass. Europe’s southern border – Spain – would appear to be clear since the expulsion of the Moors from Spain in 1492, but the eastern and western frontiers are more problematic. History has seen continual changes in Europe’s eastern frontiers.
The Oxford historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto in an essay entitled A European Civilization: Is There Any Such Thing? said Europe is an elastic concept and a “club to which selection is by self-assignation”, and “if we are to give it a future, we must begin by admitting that it does not already exist”.
The acceptance of Turkey into the EU would probably open a Pandora’s Box of requests from other countries to join. With Turkey inside the Union, it would be difficult to reject Georgia and Armenia. Not only are they much smaller countries, but, unlike Turkey, they have a strong and specifically Christian identity. And if they applied, there is no doubt that Azerbaijan would also want to join. And why should the people of Belarus, Ukraine and Moldovia be less entitled to a European standard of living than those of Estonia, Romania and Bulgaria, which joined in 2004. And what about Russia?
It is one of the paradoxes that it was not the political heirs of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the enlightened founder of Turkey’s secular republic in 1923, on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and for whom France was the maxim expression of civilization, who started EU accession negotiations but the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) of the increasingly autocratic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The AKP was founded in 2001 and won a landslide victory in the 2002 parliamentary election and has been in power ever since. Its victory followed seven coalition governments between 1991 and 1999.
Atatürk got rid of the sultanate (the sultan was the absolute ruler) and the caliphate, introduced civil, commercial and penal codes based on European models, as well as western dress for men and women, and gave the vote to women (in 1934, only six years after women in Britain over the age of 21 got the vote).
The AKP was initially reformist, particularly defanging the powerful military, the arbiter of political life, which intervened directly in politics three times between 1960 and 1980 and in 1997 shut down the ruling Islamist Welfare party (a precursor of the AKP) without seizing power. The military has long seen itself as the ‘guardian of Turkish democracy’ and the defender of the rigidly secular state created by Atatürk.
The National Security Council, which represented an institutionalisation of the military’s influence over politics and acted as a kind of shadow government, has been under civilian control since 2004 and the military is no longer represented on the Higher Education Board, which oversees the administration of universities, or on the Radio and Television Council. Officers have also been brought to trial in civilian courts for allegedly plotting to overthrow the AKP government.
Curbing the power and influence of the military was a key driver for Erdogan to push for Turkey to start EU accession. It was very much in the interests of the AKP’s Islamist agenda given the military’s anathema of anything that smacks of political Islam.
Erdoğan also did more in his first years in office for the Kurds, who constitute 15% to 20% of the 76 million population. They were gradually granted greater cultural rights. Kurdish-language private schools, television and radio broadcasts were legalised, and limited time on state TV. Not that long ago the mere act of speaking Kurdish could expose one to criminal charges of being a ‘separatist’: the National Security Court, for example, handed four musicians prison sentences for singing in Kurdish at a wedding reception.
Twelve acquis chapters for EU accession were opened between 2006 and 2009 but only two since then, underscoring the extent to which the pace of reform has decelerated. The blame for this lies on both sides.
By making Turkey a special case, albeit for understandable reasons, given the complexity of the issue and the lack of a unanimous stance among EU countries, reinforced by the absence of an unequivocal commitment that Turkey will be accepted as a member once the accession process is completed, the incentive for reform has been weakened and with it the EU’s transformative power.
EU conditionality (the use of ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’) was effective in 1999-2005 as Turkey got itself into shape to become a candidate country and saw the incentive to do so, but the EU no longer has any leverage. As there is no certainty of a reward at the end of the accession process (ie, full EU membership), Erdoğan who became the first directly elected President in 2014 after serving as Prime Minister for 11 years, feels under no pressure to move decisively and so proceeds at its own pace, dictated by the domestic political climate and his own electoral interests. Unlike Spain, my country of adoption, which joined the EU in the 1986, Turkey’s government is not pursuing democratic reforms because they are good in themselves but as a means to an end.
The AKP began as a broad mosque party, attracting wide support from many different segments of society. It galvanised the disparate opposition to the so called the entrenched deep state and to the endless bickering coalition governments, particularly in the more pious Anatolian heartlands, but also among secular, liberal voters.
The social-democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition and founded by Atatürk, is stuck in the past, while the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) rabidly waves the national flag, which Erdogan has also taken up.
The protracted EU accession process, however, has not dented support among Turks for EU membership, which has been on the rise since 2013 after falling. Expectations, however, that Turkey will eventually become a full member –as opposed to support for the EU– have decreased.
The increased support for EU membership comes at a time when the economy is flagging after a period of stellar growth and the quality of Turkey’s democracy leaves a lot to be desired. This suggests that Turks see Europe as the solution for their problems.
Early in his career Erdogan made a telling remark. Democracy is like a train, he said; you get off once you have reached your destination. Judging by events in recent months, Turkey’s president may be getting close to that goal.
The Cyprus issue
On the international front, the main stumbling block to progress in EU accession is Cyprus, as Turkey has still failed to implement the 2005 Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement and extend its Customs Union with the EU by opening its ports and airports to Greek-Cypriot traffic, and thus recognise the Republic of Cyprus which joined the EU in 2004.
As a result, the European Commission suspended at the end of 2006 the opening of eight chapters related to the Customs Union and announced that no more chapters would be provisionally closed until Turkey had fulfilled its commitment.
Ankara wants the EU to implement the decision of the Council of Ministers, taken in April 2004, to end the isolation of the internationally unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), created after Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The promise was made two days after Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of the Annan Plan to reunify the island (rejected by Greek Cypriots). Cyprus joined the EU on 1 May 2004 (the writ of EU law does not run in the Turkish part of Cyprus) and since then has blocked the direct trade regulation needed to lift tariffs on goods.
Cyprus and France have also unilaterally blocked the opening of certain chapters.
Although reunification of Cyprus is not in itself a sine qua non for EU membership, unlike Ankara’s obligation to fully implement its Customs Union, a deal would go a long way toward enhancing Turkey’s EU prospects and creating a more favourable climate.
The chances for reunification look better than they have for a good number of years, following the landslide victory last April of the more consensual Mustafa Akıncı as President of the TRNC. Both Akıncı, a former Mayor of the Turkish-Cypriot part of the capital Nicosia from 1976 to 1990, and Nicos Anastasiades, the (Greek-Cypriot) President of the Republic of Cyprus, voted in favour of reunification in the 2004 referendum.
Big challenges, however, remain, particularly the thorny issue of the property of Greek Cypriots in the TRNC and that of Turkish Cypriots in the south of the country.
A seriously flawed democracy
After taking office as president in August 2014, following 11 years as prime minister, Erdogan installed himself in a new $615 million presidential palace (with more than 1,000 rooms), which dwarfs Versailles. It has been ridiculed by the opposition as the needless extravagance of an increasingly authoritarian leader.
Erdoğan wants to replace parliamentary democracy with an executive presidency which would give him more powers, although it is already a de facto executive presidency given the way he conducts himself. As Erdogan said in a speech last year: “There is a president with de facto power, not a symbolic one. Whether one accepts it or not, Turkey’s administrative system has changed. Now what should be done is to update this de facto situation in the legal framework of the constitution.”
The AKP’s 317 seats in parliament out of a total of 550, however, fall short of the 330 needed to change the constitution.
The European Commission reports every year on the progress which Turkey has made and the areas where it needs to do better. The reports make it clear how far Turkey still has to go.
Take press freedom. Freedom House, the US-based democracy group, has rated the Turkish press as ‘not free’ since 2013, when the government suppressed mass protests. Turkey’s press freedom score dropped from 54 in 2010 to 65 in 2015 (0 = best; 100 = worst). Turkey ranks 149th among the 180 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, just above the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Russia.
The state media is tightly controlled and pressure applied on private media owners with other business interests who are fearful that if they do not toe the line they will lose lucrative business deals and government advertising, or be subject to visits by tax inspectors.
The latest of many victims and the most serious is Zaman, the country’s biggest-selling newspaper, which was taken over by the authorities last month following an edict from the courts, and virtually at gunpoint. Police used tear gas as they rounded up staff. Zaman, which has an English edition, was closely linked to the influential Hizmet movement of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, a kind of Islamic Opus Dei (a conservative Roman Catholic organisation), which Erdogan has classified as a terrorist group aiming to overthrow his government. Under the administration appointed to run the newspaper, there has been a sea change in the editorial policy. The first edition after the seizure showed Erdogan on the front page, smiling in an article announcing a presidential reception for Women’s Day.
It was probably no coincidence that the takeover of Zaman took place while the EU was courting Ankara over measures to deal with Europe’s migrant crisis, something which I will come to later.
Gülen was once an ally of Erdogan. The Gülen network, with adherents in the police, the judiciary and the security services, worked hand in glove with Erdogan’s AKP when it came to power, particularly in curtailing the military.
A court last year cleared 236 of the more than 300 officers convicted in 2012 in the Sledgehammer trial, as some of the evidence had been fabricated.
Erdogan and Gülen fell out in 2013 after differences emerged over policies toward the Kurds, Israel and Iran, and over the proposed closure of schools controlled by the Gülenists.
In an earlier crackdown, the editor in chief of the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet and its Ankara bureau chief were charged with espionage after the paper printed a story suggesting that the government was conniving at the supply of arms to extremist rebels in Syria. Prosecutors are demanding life sentences for the pair. Erdoğan himself is a plaintiff in the case.
When the country’s highest court ordered their release in March after three months in jail pending trial, Erdogan characteristically announced: “I do not abide by the decision or respect it.”
The thin-skinned Erdoğan sued more people in his first 18 months as president over charges of insulting the President than the number of those who were tried over the past 64 years under a notorious law for criticising Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the nation’s founder. There were 1,845 cases during that period brought against Turks for defaming Erdogan, mostly on Twitter.
Few cases led to serious punishment. In two of the more absurd incidents, a schoolteacher was sentenced to almost a year in prison for making a rude hand gesture at a political rally, and a former Miss Turkey was prosecuted for ‘insulting’ the leader by posting a satirical poem online.
Erdogan was so incensed last month by a two-minute song broadcast on a satirical show on a German TV channel which mocked him that Germany’s ambassador in Turkey was summoned to the foreign ministry and told to get it deleted from internet where it had gone viral. Accompanying footage of Angela Merkel being received by Erdoğan at his palace, are the lines: “Be nice to him since he’s holding all the cards”, in reference to the way she embraced Turkey despite deep misgivings about its human rights record in order to secure its support over the refugee crisis.
The Law on the Protection of Atatürk came into force in 1951 and is still on the statute books. The article in the constitution that criminalises insulting the President was hardly applied until Erdoğan took office. While Süleyman Demirel, President between 1993 and 2000, ignored virulent cartoons against him (he proudly collected them), Erdoğan’s lawyers have instructions to go after anyone who criticises him.
Corruption is also a big problem. Turkey’s score in the 2015 index of the Berlin-based Transparency International continued to fall (by three points to 42, where the nearer to 100 the cleaner the country). It is ranked 66th out of 167 countries; however, the country still does better than Bulgaria, an EU country which was ranked 69th with a score of 41.
The AKP has been rocked by several graft investigations. In 2013, police raided homes and confiscated some US$17.5 million in cash. Four ministers lost their posts following the probes. The sons of three of the four ministers, including Erdoğan’s son Bilal, were also allegedly implicated in the corruption investigations.
Erdoğan dismissed the graft investigation as a ‘judicial coup’ by the followers of Gülen. Prosecutors and police officers involved in the investigations were removed from their posts, and Twitter and YouTube were temporarily banned. Both corruption investigations against some 60 suspects were then dropped by the new prosecutors. The parliamentary Corruption Investigation Commission quashed the case into the ministers, as the AKP had an absolute majority in parliament.
Turkey’s elections are regarded as free and fair. There is, however, an abnormally high threshold of 10% of the national vote in order to enter the legislative body, the highest in Europe. This threshold, which hinders a more representative parliament, is a legacy of the 1980 military coup and aimed at only allowing ‘moderate’ parties into parliament. The threshold locked out a pro-Kurdish party until 2015 when the pro-Kurdish party won 13% of the vote and 80 seats in parliament.
The judiciary and the law enforcement agencies have become more politicised in recent years. The former Constitutional Court chairman Haşim Kılıç, accused politicians last year of turning the judiciary into an ‘instrument of revenge’. ‘Everybody knows the political views of judges and prosecutors, even in the remotest villages of the country, he said. ‘We cannot move forward with such a judiciary.’ Government-backed candidates last year won the majority of seats in elections for the country’s top judicial body, further tightening government control over the judiciary.
The 1982 Constitution, which came into force as a direct result of the 1980 military coup, needs to be changed. The approach so far has been piecemeal, with more than 100 amendments, but it is still too authoritarian with its emphasis on the state’s as opposed to the individual’s rights
The polarising President Erdoğan with his majoritarian concept of democracy and increasingly top-down rule has earned few friends abroad for the way his opponents are treated. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, was particularly appalled by the brutal handling of the Gezi Park protests in 2013.
Europe’s refugee crisis
Turkey and the EU are now in a new ball game as a result of the influx of migrants, mainly from war-torn Syria, into Europe via Turkey which has caused Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War Two. Last year, more than one million people entered the EU illegally by boat, mainly going from Turkey to Greece, compared to 59,000 in 2008. More than 150,000 have arrived so far this year and about 460 have died.
Most of you, I assume, remember the photo that went viral on social media last September of a little Syrian boy lying face down on a Turkish beach after he drowned, and then carried in the arms of a Turkish rescue worker.
Turkey, it has to be said, has been hugely generous to these migrants: some 2.7 million of them are living in camps in the country. In comparison, the number of migrants the UK has received is a drop in the ocean. Turkey spent some 9.5 billion euros of its own money on the migrant crisis before the agreement with the EU.
The EU has struck a Faustian pact with Erdogan under which Turkey, in return for reducing migrant flows, receives €6 billion in funding to look after migrants, a pledge to resettle in Europe some of the Syrian refugees, an acceleration of the EU accession process with the opening of another chapter and visa liberalization for Turkish citizens visiting the Schengen open borders area of the EU by the end of June if Turkey meets all the conditions. All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands will be returned to Turkey (the first shipment was made this week); and for every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greek islands, one Syrian already in Turkey will be resettled in the EU. This temporary link between resettlement and return is capped at 72,000.
The agreement with Turkey could have an impact on the UK referendum debate. It would not be surprising if the Brexit camp used visa-free travel for 75 million Turks in its campaign
It might come as something of a surprise to you to learn that Boris Johnson, leader of the Brexit campaign, used to campaign for Turkey to join the EU. That was back in 2006 in a BBC documentary in which he said he could not wait for the “great moment” when the two halves of the Roman Empire “are at last reunited in an expanded European Union. The crowning irony is those who would keep the Turks out, on the grounds that they are un-European, would thereby disbar the city that for a thousand years was the heart of the Roman Empire and which preserved our European civilisation,” he said.
Boris’s great grandfather Ali Kemal was briefly a minister in the Ottoman empire, which makes him one eighth Turkish. He was lynched by a mob in 1922 and hanged from a tree for opposing the nationalist movement fighting the Turkish War of Independence that followed the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in World War I. Apart from the colour of Boris’s hair, he could be mistaken for a pasha.
Brussels no longer holds all the trump cards. The refugee crisis has turned the tables. Ankara is now calling the shots. Without Turkey’s help, the flow of people entering Europe cannot be reduced, and even with Turkey’s help the outcome is far from certain.
However hard Turkey may try to stem the flood of refugees, it is impossible for it to fully control the chaotic situation. Turkey has 7,200km of coastline, and unless it stations soldiers along every inch of it, it cannot prevent migrants taking to the sea and crossing into Greece, the main entry point. As one crossing point is closed down, for example that to the Greek island of Lesbos, which we have all seen on TV, another will be opened.
Turkey has the EU over a barrel, as it is Europe’s gatekeeper. Transcripts leaked to a Greek website in February before the EU summit with Turkey last month appeared to show Erdogan threatening Europe with an uncontrolled flood of refugees unless he was given money and rapid accession to the EU. Real or fabricated, and they have the ring of black propaganda, the transcripts served to expose what many Turkish democrats fear: European leaders’ criticism of Turkey’s eroded democracy is likely to be more muted in the future as they kowtow to Erdogan. EU leaders traded moral high-ground principles for realpolitik.
The Kurdish issue
The two and a half year ceasefire between the Turkish state and the insurgent Kurdistan Workers Party (known as the PKK), which followed a brutal dirty war for 28 years that killed at least 40,000 people and displaced more than 1 million, broke down last July, with a renewal of violence on both sides.
At the same time Turkey launched air strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq following a series of attacks on its police officers and soldiers blamed on the militant group, which is classified as a terrorist organisation by the EU and the US.
The strikes were launched virtually in parallel with ones against the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), as Turkey reversed its policy and joined the US-led coalition in its fight against Isis after the group carried out a suicide bombing near the Syrian border. Turkey, however, is also targeting Syrian Kurds, although they are helping the coalition. Its army, the People’s Protection Units, controls territory along the border with Turkey. Ankara fears the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria — similar to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq — would spur the separatist ambitions of Turkey’s own Kurds. The very complex situation is a bloody mess.
Since the end of the ceasefire, more than 1,000 people, including at least 253 civilians and 376 members of the security forces, have lost their lives in southeastern Turkey alone. The climate now recalls that of the military-dominated 1990s at the height of the war with the PKK.
During the more than 10 years that Turkey has been negotiating its EU accession, Croatia leapfrogged over Ankara and joined the EU in 2013 after completing all the reforms needed to bring it into line with EU laws and standards. Tiny Croatia (population 4.2 million), however, cannot be put in the same category as the giant Turkey whose full membership would be a much more seismic event. Moreover, Turkey is still a very long way from meeting the conditions, particularly its seriously flawed democracy.
The European Commission promised to give a new impetus to the stalled EU accession process by opening more chapters. It agreed to open the insignificant chapter on financial and budgetary provisions.
The EU is in a bind: by any standards Turkey is in breach of the Copenhagen criteria that define whether a country is eligible to start the process to join the EU, and which it was regarded as having sufficiently fulfilled in October 2004, one year before the accession process began. And yet that process continues, albeit at a snail’s pace, for fear of alienating a country that has become crucial for Europe as a result of the migrant crisis.
Were Turkey not today such a vital country for the EU, would it be treated in the same way and less harshly criticised or would the accession process be halted until it put its house in order? I suspect the process would be suspended.
The Copenhagen criteria require that a state has the institutions to preserve democratic governance and human rights, has a functioning market economy, which Turkey does to a large extent, and accepts the obligations and intent of the EU. These criteria have nothing to do with Turkey being a Muslim country. They are the rules of the club.
The approval of all EU countries will be needed to open more chapters, which means that Cyprus, the most recalcitrant country toward Turkey, has to lift its veto otherwise there will be no progress. The president of Cyprus told Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, last month that it would not give its consent to the opening of any EU chapters with Turkey until it fulfilled its obligations. Any move to open more chapters requires the agreement of all 28 EU member states.
That said, I find it ridiculous that the EU is beholden to one country, but that is how the process works, as unanimous decisions are required to open chapters. There is a good case to be made now for using qualified majority voting, which avoids the need to find a unanimous consensus on every issue and means that a decision can instead be taken if two conditions are met: when 55% of EU member states vote in favour of a measure, and when it is supported by member states representing at least 65% of the total EU population.
Turkey’s EU membership can be seen as a rose or a thorn. Whether the country will ever fulfil all the conditions, whether once fulfilled other EU countries will unanimously accept its membership – some would hold referendums on the issue – whether, indeed, Turkey at the end of the day will want to join a Union that is in danger of crumbling is impossible to say. Let us assume in a leap of imagination and optimism that Turkey one day, far off, does join, although, given all the considerations, this is most unlikely.
For the EU, the home of secularism, letting in Turkey would prove that the Union is not a Christian club and that it is open to other cultures and religions. A Union with Turkey would be more cosmopolitan and more open-ended; as a EU member Turkey could be a beacon for the troubled Muslim world.
Turkish workers would rejuvenate the ageing European work force and thus help to maintain creaking social security systems where too few workers are supporting too many people who are retired or not working.
The rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has put Turkey at the centre of a conflict that has global consequences. Assuming the worst that this is a problem that is not going to go away, allowing Turkey to become a member would create a strong ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism in the region. As a Nato member since 1952, Turkey is already making a significant contribution to Europe’s defence and security. As a EU member, Turkey would become more of a middle eastern power.
Economically, Turkey is a vast and increasingly rich market. EU membership, added to the current customs union, would make it more attractive for EU exporters.
For Turkey, EU membership would anchor the economy into the free market system and democracy, and over the long term bring much greater prosperity. This prosperity, in turn, would reduce the country’s potential for migration to the EU, though, as I stated earlier on, the flow of Turks to Europe was reversed some years ago.
Given Turkey’s flawed democracy, the best way for the EU to engage with the country, move the EU accession along and in the process put the autocratic Erdoğan’s flagging democratic credentials to the test would be to open chapter 23 of the acquis on judicial and fundamental rights and chapter 24 on justice, security and freedoms.
It is somewhat hypocritical of the EU to criticise and rightly so Turkey’s major deficiencies in the areas of the rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms –the core of the negotiation process– and not give it the chance to make improvements by opening these chapters.
Turkey’s EU accession bid is a long and winding road, and there is no end in sight. If I had to stick my neck out, I would say it will not reach the end of the road, and if it does it is far from certain that the EU countries which will hold national referendums on the issue will accept it as a member of the club.