Europe's turkish Dilemma?

"Will Turkey ever become a member of the EU? "

By: Nicholas Newman - Monday, 09 October 2006


Politicians are again in the 'line of fire' again opinion polls inside Europe and Turkey are reporting declining support for the very idea that Ankara should join the European Union (EU) by 2015. In fact, opponents on both sides of the Aegean Sea utilise many of the same arguments in their case against Turkey joining as Europe’s first predominately Moslem Middle Eastern state.

On the European side, there are distinct advantages in Ankara joining the EU, despite many European’s valid concerns and worries. However, EU politicians should follow the advice of Italian political strategist Niccolo Machiavelli ‘and take advantage out of a disadvantage.’ If the EU fails to implement the reforms required and make the necessary compromises in its negotiations over the role of the Turkish military and Cyprus, then the prospects of Turkey joining look increasingly doubtful.

Brussels’ case for Turkey’s accession is based on essentially economic, political and strategic reasons.

European business is facing a problem of finding enough skilled workers to fill all the fresh jobs being created each year. EU’s existing labour force is aging, due to declining birth rates, by 2015 it is estimated that the supplies of new young labour from Eastern European states will be fully utilized. Consequently, the prospect of Turkey providing a new source of workers is likely to be welcomed by many expanding European businesses.

Last winters’ gas dispute between the Ukraine and Russia, demonstrated that Russia is prepared to use its energy supplies to Europe as a weapon to promote its economic and political interests. The impact of the Kremlin cutting off supplies to Kiev caused those concerned with maintaining Europe’s energy security to question Russia’s reliability as a gas and oil supplier of its energy imports. Security analysts now see Turkey as a secure alternative land route to oil and gas fields to countries in the Middle East and around South Caspian Sea region that avoids making use of Russian territory.

Turkey with its army of over one million soldiers is seen as a useful bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism. Already, the Turkish army has proved useful in EU reconstruction efforts in Lebanon providing 1,000 troops for peace-keeping purposes. In the future, it is hoped to be a significant partner in a planned European Army.

However, unfortunately for Turkey, Europe has a few qualms about Turkey joining and these are political, economic and social in nature. These doubts about Ankara’s accession is reflected in recent polling by the German Marshall Fund which reports those European’s favoring Turkey’s membership have fallen from 30% in 2004 to 21% in 2006.

The implications of Turkey joining before the EU has fully implemented a number of constitutional reforms are of increasing concern to many observers. Without such reforms, it is believed that it will be harder for member states to make and implement EU policy and lacking such reforms, the ‘Big Four’ will have limited its scope for maintaining essential control of the direction of EU policies.

For Europe, there are concerns about the role the Turkish military has in politics. The army has influenced policy on issues it deems a threat to the country, including those relating to Kurdish insurgency and Islamism. The Army has staged three coups between 1960 and 1980, whilst also influencing the removal of the Islam-oriented government of Necmettin Erbakan in 1997, in its efforts to maintain a secular and democratic society.

In terms of trade between mainland Europe and Turkey, a World Bank study suggests there will be little difference in the volume of trade in goods, services and capital, since Turkey is already a member of the European customs union. In fact, the study suggests Turkey will gain out of accession at the expense of Europe.

Medieval intolerance against European democratic values and traditions, by Islamic extremists who have settled in the EU, has not endeared Moslem settlers to the indigenous inhabitants of Europe. In the EU, there are estimated 3m Turks working in Europe, mostly in Germany. It is expected, with accession, a further 1.8m Turkish workers are expected to move to Germany alone. Such a prospect is not welcomed by much of the German public, due to the failure of much of the existing Turkish community to integrate into mainstream society.

To sum up, for Europe, for its foreign policy and strategic ambitions there is a case for Turkey’s accession. In terms of providing a new source of labour, the case is doubtful, since the existing mechanisms for importing labour to supply European business work well enough. As for the accession bringing economic benefits to Europe, the case is not proven. On fundamental matters, unless EU reforms its constitution, in particular voting rights and on policy-making and implementation are achieved, the disruption caused by Ankara’s accession, means that the case for the status quo in Brussels relations should be maintained. The strongest case against Turkey’s accession is Europe’s experience of the failure of Moslem immigrants to integrate and share in mainstream European democratic traditions and values. Overall, one is forced to conclude that there appears to be little advantage in Brussels continuing with negotiations to let Turkey join as a new member of the European Union.

by Nicholas Newman - Monday, 09 October 2006



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