The Turkish problemPosted: December 30, 2011
It was back in 1987 that Turkey first applied to become a member of the European Commission. Situated at the fringes of Europe and with a blend of Western and Eastern cultures, Turkey is a cultural melting pot at what is often referred to as the ‘crossroads of the world.’
Whilst much progress towards Turkish European Union membership has been made, a recent diplomatic spat with France has highlighted the problems facing Turkey and a liberal European Union only too well. As reported by BBC News, the French National Assembly passed a bill on the 22nd December 2011 criminalising denial of the 1915 – 1916 Armenian genocide, of which the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) was the chief protagonist. Whilst the bill is unlikely to be passed by the French Senate, the sabre-rattling has been highly successful in highlighting an issue that EU negotiators would rather ignore, gaining the attention of Ankara and bolstering support for President Sarkozy from the sizeable Armenian population within France.
The Armenian Genocide is not the only historical grievance that European countries have with Turkey. Whilst the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus occurred over 35 years ago in response to an alleged Greece Cypriot coup, Cyprus is still divided along a United Nations monitored Green Line. Although several solutions have been offered and a recent, high-profile ‘Kofi Annan’ plan endorsed by Turkey, the United Kingdom and United States was produced, an agreement between the Greek and Turkish governments has yet to be reached. For many European countries, Turkey’s history is a sticking point; and unfortunately for Turkey a sticking point that will hinder full European Union membership until errors are recognised and apologies are made.
Although important to some Europeans, history would appear to be irrelevant for a sizeable section of the Turkish population. In 2004, a poll taken among Turks placed support for EU membership at 73%. By 2010, this figure had declined to 38%; interviewees citing growing economic prosperity and hopes of greater Turkish significance in the region as reasons for the lack of support. Whilst support for full membership has undoubtedly declined, it is likely that support will once again increase as the European economy recovers and the current rose-tinted view of the Arab Spring darkens. Similarly, it is predictable that the resulting Turkish advances for a fast-track membership will be welcomed by an EU hoping to use Turkey as a bridge to influencing euphoric and naïve governments set up in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Aside from historical and public support issues, Turkey has primarily been withheld from full EU membership because of the failure to adopt and adhere to the 35 chapters of the ‘acquis communautaire’ – in effect the EU Law which all member states must abide by. For instance, considerable efforts are still required with regards to agricultural and rural development, the environment and ensuring implementation of legislation allowing female equality. Despite the best efforts of negotiators, negotiations have stalled several times due to Turkish intransigence and it is still unclear as to whether these obstacles and other considerable hurdles can be resolved within the next decade.
So, will Turkey ever join the European Union? At present, there is no reason why it should not, and it is highly likely that Turkey will join the EU in the not too distant future as European leaders take measures to maintain political, economic and military influence when faced with the growing might of a resurgent Asia. Likewise, the push from European leaders for diversification of energy suppliers will only become stronger as time progresses and Russia becomes more erratic, this forcing Turkey into the spotlight due to Turkish geographic location and proximity to Middle Eastern oil and gas pipelines.
Additionally, despite tough-talking rhetoric from France and Germany, Turkey enjoys substantial support for integration from the United Kingdom, United States, Spain and Italy. France has also recently watered down amendments to the French constitution that called for a public referendum when Turkey is eligible to succeed to the EU; instead choosing to leave the decision to elected officials.
The only certainty with regards to Turkish membership of the European Union is that Turkey will not be fusing with Europe within the next decade. This is due to two reasons – one being that Jose Barroso, President of the European Commission has stated that succession will not be possible until at least 2021 so that differences can be resolved, and two being that the European Commission is currently distracted with the on-going Eurozone economic crisis. Rightfully so, the EU should ensure that the status quo is stable and free from further shocks before adding more strain to an already fragile system with a country such as Turkey that will no doubt require substantial economic, political and agricultural assistance in the early stages of integration.
However, despite this positive outlook it should not be forgotten that the EU is currently in severe trouble. Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal are at risk of economic collapse, their political collapse already complete. In the face of economic disintegration intense political negotiation designed to find a solution has only produced bickering and deadlock; this resulting in a failure to produce any long term plan to soothe global financial markets and bring down borrowing costs to a manageable figure.
Such a peculiar political situation begs the question – if European leaders are unable to negotiate constructively and agree over a matter survival now, will they ever be able to agree enough to allow a controversial Turkey to join the EU?