Accession of Turkey to the European Union: A Quick Reference of Common Pros and Cons

Spanish President (i.e. Prime Minister) José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero promised he will personally support Turkey’s accesion to the European Union for 2010, because – he says – “that great country has been waiting for too long at the doors of Europe”. That is probably a follow-up of his concept of the Alliance of Civilizations, which was created within the UN thanks to his personal promotion, mainly with the support from Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Common criticism to Turkey’s membership by Europeans include:

1. Turkey is not in Europe, and the European Union should only accept European countries.

  • It depends on the concept of the European continent. But Europe is a geopolitical concept, just like North America – it began as a regional concept (modern Greece) different from Asia (modern Anatolia), and has been extended to include from Portugal to the Ural Mountains and the Caucasus. Today it is clear that the geographical continent is Eurasia (Europe+Asia), or even Afro-Eurasia, like North and South America are in fact part of a common America.
  • It also depends on what you define as “being in”. A part of Turkey (region of Marmara, including Istambul) is in Europe, although its largest territory lies in Asia. Russia is in a similar situation, but few people would doubt its classification as a European country. Spain has territory outside Europe (like Ceuta and Melilla and the Canary Islands, all in Africa), and so do the UK and France.
  • The whole territory of another member state, Cyprus, is in Asia. Also, the western islands (like Great Britain, Ireland, Azores and Iceland) are separated from continental Europe, but still included in the political concept of Europe.

2. Turkey is a Muslim country, and the European Union should only accept Christian countries

  • Turkey is defined as a secular, constitutional republic. Unlike most Europen countries, which lay the foundations of their modern laicism on liberal efforts, in Turkey it’s conservatives who defend a laicist country since Atatürk.
  • Turkey is a Muslim-majority country. Just like Bosnia or Albania. But, unlike Turkey, they do not define their countries as secular. And, unlike Turkey, they could probably enter the EU without problems, if their economy and politics where equivalent to Turkey’s.

3. Turkey has a Turkic (for some “Arab”) culture and population, and the European Union should only accept European peoples (AKA Indo-Uralic and Basque)

  • Hispania (Portugal and Spain) had a history of successful invasions by Celtic tribes, Romans, Visigothes and then Muslim Berbers and Arabs. Only after 1500 could the Iberian Peninsula be called a mainly Indo-European, Christian territory. Did those wars and invasions fully change the real population that dwelled the land? Modern culture and social beliefs might answer yes. History and archaeogenetics say no. The same happens with Turkey. In other words: are Turks mostly descendants from Turkic peoples? Probably not more than modern Spaniards are mostly descendants from Arabs…
  • Also, Malta, a member state of the European Union since 2004, was invaded by Arabs and its modern language is an Arab dialect.

4. Most Turks are Eurosceptics, they don’t really want to be in the European Union. Turkey will be another UK, hindering our common development as a stronger European Federation.

  • Turkey has made a great effort since 1959 to enter the EU. The majority of Turks have demonstrated more than once their will to become members of the EU.
  • Even if Turkey was a future Eurosceptic country that could try to stop the development of the EU into a stronger Federation, the EU has already developed a concept called multi-speed Europe, so that a core European Union can develop its own economic and international policies as a common State (Euro, security, etc.) while others – like the UK – can stay aside in a simple European customs union. Also, the Czech Republic entered the EU to be one of the strongest Eurosceptics, and there wasn’t a strong opposition against its membership then.

5. Turkey is too big in terms of population and could destabilize the whole European Union political, social, economic systems, as well as its international relations.

  • Turkey has 71 million inhabitants. With the preference that the European Union democracy gives to small states over populated ones (and the EU Constitution as the Treaty of Lisbon will reinforce that if approved), the 2004 enlargement of ten countries bringing 75 million people plus the 29 million people from Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 wouldn’t have been made. Also, since the accession of those countries, the EU has a population of 500 million people, and 70 million more are 14% more, while the accession of the 12 member states in 2004 and 2007 meant an increase in the EU population of 26%. That means that the possible destabilization of the EU by the accession of Turkey is now (and probably then) less risky than the accession of the Eastern Bloc.
  • Turkey’s geostrategical situation and strong Armed Forces could help the European Union become an international actor in world conflicts, including the Middle East and South Asia. Nowadays, like the invasion of Iraq demonstrated, Europe is just a handful of countries either with or against the US, without a real independent policy of its own.

6. Turkey doesn’t respect Kurdish rights, like language, politics, etc. Greek and Armenian minorities were expelled and their rights should be restored before entering the EU.

  • Linguistic rights of minorities aren’t recognized in almost any European Union member state. Apart from linguistically divided countries like Belgium, only Sweden and to some extent Spain, Portugal and Great Britain have given a legal framework for minority languages. Italy and France are obviously not far better off than Turkey in that respect, especially after the introduction of a greater degree of official tolerance for Kurdish cultural activities in 1999, encouraged by the European Union.
  • Political rights for Kurdish political parties might be compared to Spain’s declaration of illegality of Batasuna, the political arm of Basque terrorist organization ETA. The violation of human rights in Turkey are comparable to the situation in Northern Ireland in the 60’s and 70’s, to Spain’s violation of human rights during and after the transición (1973-1981), of the German Democratic Republic in the 80’s, etc.
  • Greek and Armenian populations have been displaced and genocides have been committed in Turkey. But still more recent are other European displaced peoples (Jews, Gipsies, Poles, Germans) and wars (2nd World War, Spanish Civil War, Soviet repression in Eastern Europe) in EU member states.

7. Turkey has a long-lasting conflict with Greece, a member state, and therefore it is illogical to let two traditionally enemy nations enter the Union.

  • The European Union was created by states who had fought against each other in the Second World War. One of the aims of the European Communities was to promote cooperation and peace in Europe.
  • Many European countries have historical and territorial disputes unsolved, and are still part of the EU. So for example Spain with Great Britain over Gibraltar; Portugal with Spain over Olivenza; Germany, Austria and Hungary with the Czech Republic over the Benes decrees, still in force; etc.

I promised arguments against, and I’ve already written them down:

Turkey is geopolitically, culturally and historically Asian; the majority of its population is Muslim; it has a Turkic and Arab tradition; a lot of Turks are eurosceptics; it is too big in terms of population and could destabilize the rest of the EU economically, politically and socially; it doesn’t respect human rights as the rest of European countries; and it has a long-lasting conflict with Greece and Cyprus.

Separated, all those reasons against accession could be accepted. But with such a combination of them, it will be difficult to obtain the necessary support from member states, because opponents will always have strong reasons to reject it…

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