Events

Turkey's EU Prospects and Europe's Domestic Politics

June 15, 2004 // 12:00am

Executive Summary
Summary of Conference Remarks
by Susan M. Spencer
Writer and Sr. Editor, Western Policy Center

Opening Remarks: John Sitilides, Executive Director, Western Policy Center (see full text)

Panel I: "Is Europe Ready for Turkish Accession Negotiations?"

Moderator: Jonathan Davidson, Senior Advisor for Political and Academic Affairs, European Commission Delegation

Since 1963, when Ankara signed an Association Agreement with the European Union, the EU has said that Turkey is part of Europe. At its December 1999 Helsinki summit, all 15 member nations declared that Turkey was a candidate for membership in the bloc, with all the rights and obligations accorded to candidates. There has been a flow of pre-accession financial aid from the EU to Turkey to prepare the country for accession.

In 2002, all 15 European Union members agreed that, if Turkey met the political criteria of the Copenhagen membership criteria, which include establishing the rule of law and meeting human rights obligations, by the end of 2004, the EU would open accession talks with Ankara without delay. It is the general understanding that, under these circumstances, talks would begin in the spring of 2005.

I am stressing the fact that requiring Turkey to meet the political criteria before it can begin accession negotiations is consistent with EU practice. Several precedents exist indicating that the opening of talks with other countries has been delayed because these criteria were not fulfilled. For example, the United Kingdom waited on political grounds for 10 or 11 years to begin talks. Once a candidate country begins accession talks, it can proceed with meeting the required economic criteria.

In late September or early October, the European Commission is expected to release its report concerning whether or not the specific political criteria have been met by Turkey. The Commission will use a highly objective method to determine this.

There are those who say that the European Union is foot-dragging concerning opening accession talks with Ankara because Brussels is not ready to welcome Turkey into the bloc. Strong political leadership is needed in the European Union to persuade the member countries that accepting Turkey into the EU is the right thing to do.

A huge gulf has had to be crossed. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established a strictly controlled Turkish state in 1923 because he thought that the influence of religion would be divisive. The basis on which he founded the state has been antithetical to the philosophy of European states since the 1950s. The achievements of the Turkish government have been enormous in crossing this gulf.

The Turkish parliament has passed a huge array of legislative and constitutional reforms, and new reforms are expected by the end of July. The focus now is on whether the reforms have been implemented. The challenge is carrying out societal changes down to the level of local governments and throughout a nation characterized by diversity.

The European Commission has been deeply involved in Turkey's road toward accession over the last few years, and particularly over the last few months. At this time, there is no bigger issue facing the Commission than the issue of Turkey's accession talks because the stakes are significant. The issue of Turkey's entry into the EU is pivotal because of its geographic location, history, and religious make-up.

Once the Commission releases its report, the Council of Ministers will discuss it. Then, at the EU summit in The Netherlands in December, a unanimous decision of the current 25 member states will be required to approve a date for beginning accession talks with Turkey.

Asla Aydintasbas, Adjunct Fellow, Western Policy Center, and Columnist, Sabah Newspaper

There are signs from the European Union that it is ready to begin accession talks with Turkey. It is expected that this view will be stated at the June 17-18 EU summit in Dublin.

From now until December 2004, when the EU will decide whether to open accession talks with Turkey, there will be challenges facing Ankara.

The Cyprus issue has not gone away and will plague the 25 EU states, particularly Cyprus. In addition, it is not certain that there will be a new settlement initiative. It does not look as if the Cyprus government is ready to give Turkey an "easy ride," and an effort will have to be undertaken to persuade the Greek Cypriots not to veto the opening of accession talks with Ankara. The question on the table now is whether Turkey will extend its customs union agreement with the EU to Cyprus. This could change the present dynamic.

There are the issues of terrorism and security in Turkey. The European Union is not in tune with Turkey's definition of terrorism and vice versa, but, since September 11, the EU is more in agreement with Turkey's view that terrorism needs to be dealt with on an international level. Terrorism could increase in Turkey. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants remain in northern Iraq, and the PKK has announced an end to its five-year ceasefire. It would be embarrassing for Turkey if these issues became part of the public debate in Europe.

The potential migration of Turks to EU countries was an issue in the June 10-13 European Parliament elections among some right-wing parties. For example, in France, some parties campaigned on an anti-Turkish platform. In Italy and Greece, the right-wing parties continue to support Turkey's EU aspirations. Talk of diversity is not a big vote-getter in the European Union.

The question of the EU's "strategic imagination" is an issue. Is the EU ready to take on a secular Muslim nation, and is the EU ready to take on the Middle East as a "transformational" project, as the United States is. More and more, however, the EU's view is that the Middle East is already a European problem. Turkey is already looking toward the European Union regarding the handling of Iran and Syria, and, in some respects, Iraq. The last few months, Turkey has agreed more with the European Union than with the United States concerning Iraq.

Iraq remains unstable, and it is not clear what will happen in northern Iraq, particularly in Kirkuk. If there is ethnic conflict in Kirkuk, how will the Turkish people react? If Turkey cannot send troops into Iraq, would it work something out with the EU? Would Turkey act unilaterally in northern Iraq?

There is a clash between the federalist and non-federalist views of the EU. There are still members of the EU public that view Turkey as a non-federalist Trojan horse, interfering with the federalist dream.

Dr. John Hulsman, Senior Fellow for European Affairs, Heritage Foundation

Once Turkey's accession talks begin, the assumption is that Turkey will accede to the European Union. The December EU summit, where a decision will be made on whether to grant Ankara a date for talks, is the "Rubicon." There is a Utopian notion in Turkey that there are no alternatives to EU accession, but there are alternatives.

Is Turkey ready for accession talks? Two things have happened. The Cyprus "train wreck" has occurred. The Bush administration has not been an exemplar of "touch," i.e., the indefinite nuances of diplomacy.

In addition, no one expected the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to do so much, so quickly in accomplishing reforms toward EU accession. This has put added pressure on the European Union to make a decision concerning accession talks. Laws have been passed at an amazing rate, but, at the societal level, it must be agreed that they will be implemented. In a Kemalist state, it takes longer for implementation of legislation to filter down to the base.

The European Union is correct to stress implementation of new reform legislation in Turkey, but it is difficult for the EU to judge whether the legislation is being carried out in all parts of the country. "Touch, subtlety, and nuance" come into play.

In December, the 25 EU member states will consider how well Turkey has fulfilled the political requirements for opening accession talks. It would take very little to ruin a consensus among the states on this matter. The Cyprus government and France could possibly do so. Former French president Giscard d'Estaing stated that Turkey was "not in our civilization," while others in the EU say that Turkey is. The political party of French President Jacques Chirac is against Turkey's accession to the EU, but Chirac has said he would ignore the party's platform concerning this matter. If the Cyprus government opposes granting a date for accession talks to Turkey, France "can hide behind" the Greek Cypriots and say that the lack of consensus concerning the talks is the "fault of the new guy on the block."

In making its decision concerning Turkey, the EU has to decide where it is going? What does the EU want to be on the philosophical level? What is the logical limit on the number of countries that will be admitted to the EU? What about Russia and Kyrgyzstan?

During the June 10-13 European Parliament elections, no one brought up the fact that the EU's constitution might not be passed. The elephant in the corner of the room was not talked about. If the constitution is not approved, the deepening of the EU into central and eastern Europe is not going to be the project that the EU hoped it would be.

If the United States is "overly pushy" with the European Union and "arm twists" with respect to the issue of granting Turkey a date for talks, it will ignite all the anti-Turkish elements in the EU. If Washington offers no opinion on the matter, it will suggest that the U.S. does not care about the issue, but Washington does care. The U.S. needs to start thinking about this issue now. If the EU says "no" to a date for talks or says "yes" with qualifications, the U.S. needs to offer support to Turkey, such as expanding trade and intelligence ties.

Dr. Omer Taspinar, Turkey Project Co-Director, Brookings Institution.

There is a certain degree of reluctance in the European Union to talk about technicalities. In the June 10-13 European Parliament elections, there was only a 40 percent turnout, the lowest in EU history.

When the EU discusses beginning accession talks with Turkey, what will the length of the talks be? Ten to 15 years, as French President Jacques Chirac has suggested? Or a shorter period of time, such as 5 to 7 years? The EU needs to clarify this.

The European Union is not a monolith. Britain, France, and Germany have different motivations than other EU countries do when they consider granting Turkey a date for accession talks.

The arguments in favor of Turkey's membership in the European Union are:

Europe's population is in decline. By 2015, the non-Muslim population will shrink by 5 percent, a factor that will affect matters such as pension funds.

Turkey is a large export-led market economy and a big consumer, presenting an opportunity for direct EU investment concerning exports to China, Russia, and Central Asia.

The European Union has proved that it is secular and multi-cultural. It is "de facto multi-ethnic" with 15 million Muslim inhabitants. Many are saying that, if the EU does not admit Turkey because of its predominantly Muslim population and its ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), it will confirm the perception that the EU is a "Christian club."

If the EU wants to play a role in the Middle East, how can it do so without admitting Turkey? There is a need for the EU to develop a strategic identity concerning its foreign policy in the Middle East, Central Asia, and northern Africa, and such a foreign policy needs to include Turkey.

The arguments against Turkey's accession to the EU are:

It is a large country of 65 million people.

Turkey has one of the highest disparities in income between the rich and the poor. Although EU candidates Bulgaria and Romania are as poor as Turkey is, they do not have this structural problem of income disparity.

Despite the fact that the AKP has changed the structure of Turkey's political system, there is the question of the country's political culture and who really runs the country. Because of the illiberal democracy in Turkey and the established political culture of Kemalism, the military is still likely to play a role in politics. A liberal democracy is hard to achieve in Turkey, and EU membership would help achieve it. In Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, the military did not have the role it has in Turkey.

Does the EU want to border Iran, Iraq, and Syria? Turkey's neighbors make the country more vulnerable to terrorism, a factor that could make the EU more vulnerable to it as well. Some say political Islam is on the rise in Turkey, and they point to al Qaeda networks in the country and the infiltration of other terrorist groups.

The low turnout for the European Parliament elections was indicative of the growing gap between the European "elites," who are well educated and willing to give Turkey a date for accession talks, and the "masses," who are unemployed and contributing to the rise of the extreme right in Europe. The masses do not view Turkey as the elites do.

There is no way to determine if Turkey is ready for accession talks since the Copenhagen criteria do not constitute an exact science. A "trend" in Turkey will be determined, and the EU's decision on talks will eventually take on a political dimension.

The British view concerning the strategic role Turkey plays is close to that of the United States. France is the most problematic country when it comes to Turkey's EU accession talks. France wants the EU to be a "federal project." The German position concerning Turkey's accession talks is very important. If Chirac is persuaded to support granting Ankara a date for the talks, it will be the result of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's influence. Both Schroeder and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer have made it clear that they want Turkey to begin talks. The German government is not willing to alienate Germany's 3 million Turkish voters.

How can the European Union say "yes" to Turkey's accession talks before the EU's constitution is approved? The constitution is necessary to determine how the EU will operate with its 10 new members.

Featured Speaker: Saban Disli, Deputy Chairman of Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP)

When the AKP was an opposition movement, it placed Turkey's desire to accede to the EU at the center of its policy platform. Since 1889, Turkey has looked toward the West, and it will continue to do so.

The AKP government's pursuit of reforms is being carried out "for the happiness of the Turkish people," setting this process apart from the reforms of the previous government. The AKP told the Turkish people that reforms would be legislated because they would be good for Turkey and said that the government "would continue on this road" no matter what happened with respect to the European Union.

The government has implemented reforms for the Kurdish people, and Leyla Zana and the other three Kurdish former parliamentarians have been released from prison. Turkey has also legislated all the reforms that it told the European Commission it would carry out. Turkey needs to identify how the EU will benefit from Turkey's entry into the bloc.

A second difference between the AKP government and the previous government is that the AKP has declared 2004 the year that all the reforms required for EU accession talks will be implemented. An "internal harmonization committee" has been established within the cabinet. At each cabinet meeting, the first item on the agenda is what problems remain concerning the implementation of reforms. Ankara seeks a "zero tolerance" policy concerning torture and other human rights issues. It wants to speed up democratization and eliminate income distribution problems.

Turkey is aware that accession negotiations will take time and that there are still things to get done. Ankara is paying a lot of attention to the training of judges and police in line with EU standards, and has sent both to Europe for training.

The government has identified 36 Turkish cities in which investment will be promoted so that the economy will flourish. Road building is taking place to aid the opening of new markets.

In October, the European Commission will release its report on Turkey's readiness for EU accession talks. Once talks begin, the EU will have to tell Turkey what to do to "catch up" in its preparations for accession.

There is no "plan B." If "plan A," the granting of a date for accession talks, does not take place in December, the Turkish government "will go back to plan A," since it is not going to change course.

Panel II: Is Turkey Fulfilling EU Accession Criteria?

Moderator: John Sitilides, Executive Director, Western Policy Center

There have been positive developments in Turkey concerning Kurdish broadcast rights and the release of Leyla Zana and the other three Kurdish former parliamentarians. In addition, state security courts have been abolished, full parliamentary control over the military budget has been achieved, and media freedoms have been expanded.

In a May report by the EU concerning Turkey's readiness for accession talks, the EU raised areas in which improvements need to be made, such as torture, corruption, and insufficient women's rights, including the issue of honor killings. The report gave Turkey high marks for its progress in economic reform.

European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen noted that the Cyprus settlement issue is no longer an obstacle for Turkey with respect to its being granted a date for accession talks. The fact that Turkey has not extended its EU customs union agreement to Cyprus is an issue. If Turkey recognizes Cyprus as a sovereign nation, what does it mean for Turkey's recognition, over the past 21 years, of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus?

The presidency conclusions of the December 1999 EU summit in Helsinki noted that Turkey should solve its Aegean disputes with Greece by the end of 2004. Twenty-five meetings between Greek and Turkish officials have taken place to discuss the Aegean issues. It may be announced that these meetings could continue beyond 2004 in a way that is mutually beneficial to both Greece and Turkey.

Claude Salhani, International Editor, United Press International

There is an increasingly impassioned debate going on in Europe concerning the admission of Turkey to the European Union. It is a complicated, intractable issue that has divided the EU, and there are no simple answers. There are advantages and disadvantages to admitting Turkey, and the EU has to make a decision on the matter because membership has been dangled in front of Turkey for a long time.

Those who are firm in wanting to admit Turkey say the question is not "if" Turkey will become an EU member, but "when." Though huge strides have been made in Turkey with respect to reforms, some say Turkey is "not there yet" regarding matters such as religious rights and women's issues.

There is also the question of whether Turkey is "European" or not from the geographic and cultural points of view. There are Turkish people who also wonder what will happen to Turkish culture if Turkey becomes an EU member.

From the European Union perspective, Ankara will be the first EU capital that is not in Europe. In 2001, 40 percent of the Turkish economy was based on agriculture. By 2020, Turkey's population of 68 million is expected to overtake that of Germany, a factor that would make Turkey the most populous nation in the EU. In addition, the EU will have new security headaches if Turkey becomes an EU member because the bloc will border Syria, Iraq, and Iran, not to mention Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Some point out the fact that the EU has just admitted 10 new members, constituting the largest expansion in the bloc's history, and it needs to "sit back" for a while. As long as Turkey does not recognize Cyprus, an EU country, it cannot become an EU member.

Washington's push for Turkey's EU accession is "infuriating" to the EU. The U.S. maintains that the EU should admit Turkey, a Muslim country in a dangerous part of the world. The EU has initiated ties with Albania and Bosnia that could lead to the eventual entry of these countries into the EU, a factor that indicates that the EU is not against admitting Muslims.

The EU is not the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Turkey can exercise its veto if it is an EU member.

Dr. Soner Cagaptay, Turkish Research Director, Washington Institute for Near East Policy

There is a tendency among the Turkish public to view EU accession in an extremely positive light. It seems that Turkey has satisfied the criteria for starting EU accession talks, in view of the reform activity that has taken place over the last few months.

The Copenhagen criteria that Turkey is meeting were invented by the EU in 1993 for the purpose of providing concrete benchmarks for the east European candidate countries to meet in order to qualify for accession. The political criteria that must be fulfilled in order to start accession talks are establishing the rule of law, institutions that promote democracy, and respect for minorities. The east European candidates started accession talks when these three criteria had been met.

Turkey has satisfied the criteria that the east European candidates had fulfilled when they were given dates for accession talks. The EU has never required 100 percent implementation of the Copenhagen criteria before a date can be given.

For example, Slovakia, now an EU member, opened accession talks with the EU in December 1999, despite the fact that a gross violation of minority rights existed in the country against the Roma population, comprising 10 to 15 percent of Slovakia's inhabitants. When Roma women went to the hospital for any reason, forced sterilization was performed on them.

In Latvia, which began accession talks in December 1999 and is also a new EU member, Russian speakers comprise 40 percent of the population. Half of these Russian speakers have not become citizens because an individual has to speak Latvian fluently, proven through a test, to become a Latvian citizen. Therefore, half of the Russian speakers cannot vote.

The EU's view is that, if minority issues exist in Turkey, it will not be considered for accession talks. The EU looks at Turkey as a glass that is "half empty" and at Latvia as a glass that is "half full." The EU's May progress report on Turkey's readiness for accession talks noted the presence of the military in politics and called for increased rights for Kurdish speakers.

Some other points to consider: Nicosia is not in Europe. Eleven of the al Qaeda terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks came from Germany. Germany has a greater problem with terrorism than Turkey does. Turkey is not the only country in Europe with a strict separation of church and state. If the prevalence of broadcasting in other languages is a criterion for EU accession, France and Greece fare far worse than Turkey does. France has very short Basque broadcasts, and Greece has no broadcasts at all in the Macedonian language or in Vlach, a Latin language similar to Romanian.

The EU has to treat Turkey fairly in comparison to other candidate countries. Full implementation of all the Copenhagen criteria has never been a requirement for opening accession talks.

Yasemin Congar, Washington Bureau Chief, CNN-Turk and Milliyet Newspaper

By the end of the year, Turkey will have fulfilled the criteria for opening EU accession talks within a minimum margin of error. It wants to fulfill 100 percent of them, but there will still be room for improvement.

In a televised speech on May 29, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would overcome its shortcomings in implementing reforms for accession. A more difficult issue, Erdogan said, was the necessity of a "change in mentality" or a change in the "political culture" in Turkey.

The reforms that have taken place in Turkey have occurred at an incredible pace, which the EU, the U.S., and the Turks, themselves, did not deem possible. Because they were legislated so quickly, not all Turks have adapted to the changes involved.

Broadcasts in Kurdish began last week, as the bureaucratic resistance to airing the programs was overcome. The Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) did not initiate the broadcasts on its own, although it had been asked to do so by the government. Leyla Zana and the other three Kurdish former parliamentarians were released from prison following an appeals court decision. Erdogan is getting ready to meet with them. The political reality is that they will not go back to prison because the legal decision to release them was in line with reforms in conformity with EU norms.

There will be movement concerning the property rights of non-Muslims in Turkey. A move is also expected toward opening the Orthodox Christian theological seminary on the Turkish island of Heybeliada (Halki in Greek). I would not be surprised if a decision is made within two months.

A law was passed giving parliament control over the military budget. A new law passed in May will expand the authority of the auditing department over the budget. A new criminal code will improve women's rights, including categorizing a sex crime as a crime against humanity.

A change in mentality in Turkey is taking place and is a basic ingredient of the road toward the EU. You will not find many in Turkey who question the need for this change, which the military is adapting to as well. The reforms were regarded as something that the military was against, so the change in the military's attitude is enormous.

Turkey will extend its EU customs union agreement to Cyprus, especially if Cyprus is more open to the easing of the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots.

Turkey will have fulfilled the criteria for accession talks to the point where the EU will not be able to say "no" to a date for opening the talks. But could there be roadblocks to the pace of reform? For example, the PKK has decided to take up arms again. What will happen if there are clashes in Diyarbakir, for example, and the military re-introduces a state of emergency?

Dr. Ian Lesser, Vice President and Director of Studies, Pacific Council on International Policy

In the near term, Turkey's road toward accession talks is in uncharted waters. One does not need to assume that new approaches cannot be taken by the EU. It is most likely that the EU will grant Turkey a date for talks with a few qualifications, or "buts," thrown in. It is likely to agree that Turkey has met the objective criteria for talks, although the implementation of reforms needs to be worked out. Turkey has legislated remarkable reforms that are structural in nature. Although the EU's decision is technical, it is also inherently political. The fact that Turkey is such a large country makes a difference.

The long-term issue is convergence with the EU, which Turkey has done markedly over the last decade. This process has accelerated during the last couple of years. The European Union will be very different in a decade, making Turkey's eventual accession "a complicated geometry." There are no alternatives to Turkey's accession to the EU.

What could go wrong on Turkey's course toward accession? The economy could take a turn for the worse. If the Turkish military reacts to a revived PKK insurgency the same way it reacted to the PKK insurgency a decade ago, it would be a serious problem. The balance between Islamism and the reform process could take a shift toward Islamism, but this is not likely since the reform process has a life of its own. If Turkey is not given a date for accession talks in December, it could produce a nationalist reaction.

In Washington's relations with the EU, the U.S. should be careful not to put Turkey in a place it does not want to be. Turkey does not want to be seen as "a valuable Middle East ally." Turkey should be viewed as a "Western, European, Atlantic actor looking outward."

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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