The prolonged attempt to join the EU: The struggle of Turkey

Although some countries do not consider Turkey as part of Europe, the fact is that Turkey is a European country and at the same time a Middle Eastern country

By Halima Mo’alim Adan

The path of westernization

The first westernization attempt dates back to the Ottoman era when modern-day Turkey was the base and the heart of the Ottoman Empire- one of the largest Islamic empires throughout history. At the beginning of the late 18th century, the empire continued to face challenges trying to wade off foreign attempts to invade and occupy its land and in response to the challenges, the empire began to make some internal reforms known as Tanzimat reforms (reorganization).

The process of modernizing the empire began with the announcement and the declaration of New order (Nizam Cedid) which was followed by several reform decrees. The reform first started with the army and at the end of the Tanzimat period (reorganization), the empire’s army was professionalized and modernized according to the Western European Armies Model. These reforms produced the formation of institutions which were in line with European values and principles. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish Republic was established in 1923 under the rule of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; founder of Republic of Turkey who continued the bath of westernization through social, economic and political reforms which were a clear sign for the country’s desire to become westernized.

Multi-party democracy

Even after the death of Atatürk; Ismet Inonu who succeeded Mustafa Kemal followed the same trail and put Europeanization process under the country’s top priority. At that time, the Republic People’s Party (RPP) was the only legal party but due to the internal and external pressures, Ismet encouraged and enabled the establishment of the first opposition party (Democratic Party-DP) 1946. Ismet is regarded as the champion of Democracy although he was defeated during the first competitive and multi-party election in Turkey 1950. Positive changes brought by the Democratic Party include the encouragement of private enterprises, technology and importation of foreign goods.

However, these reforms were withered down by the Democratic Party’s aversion to criticisms so they began to silence everyone who seemed to be critical of the government and its politics and this led to the first coup in Turkey 1960. The Democrat Party’s policies were viewed as a threat to the Kemalist idea of the republic. Afterwards, the country experienced numerous problems and several military interventions. Turkey entered a period of continuous coups and military rule which further deepened the rejection of the military’s involvement in politics and clash between left and right-wing parties.

If Turkey becomes an EU full member, it will be a shift of EU institutional history, the largest Muslim populated country, the first Middle Eastern country to become an EU member et al

The 1983 general elections however ushered in a new political phase in Turkey under Turgut Özal’s regime- one of the periods of Turkish Foreign policy activation. The vision of Turgut was based on making Turkey a decisive regional power. He began to balance the westernization process by taking into account both western and eastern values. Unfortunately again, Turkey faced a crisis on democracy 1997 when the Welfare Party was forced to resign due to religious issues and demands from the people to separate the state from religious affairs. As a result, the country’s situation further deteriorated and experienced democratic breakdowns; restrictions on civil and political rights, political violence and closures of political parties.

The second wave of Turkey’s foreign policy activation came up in early 2000 when the Justice and Development Party “AKP” received the most votes in the parliament seats. The party launched many reforms which pushed the country again close to a democratic direction.

Close to two decades later, many believe the country is facing yet another threat on its democratic course following the transition from parliamentary to a presidential system.

Turkey and the European Union

Turkey-EU relations have a long history in which some writers have characterized as “A history as old as the Roman treaty”. It was two years after the treaty was signed when Turkey first attempted to seek close economic cooperation with European countries. Turkey applied an association agreement for the European Economic Community in 1959 for the purpose of seeking cooperation with EEC. This was followed by the signature of association agreement in 1963 known as the Ankara Agreement with Customs Union as the main factor. The agreement ensured free movement of goods without restrictions for the EEC member countries. Turkey signed the Ankara Treaty in 1963 for association with the European Economic Community. Later in 1987 Turkey applied for full membership of the EEC and in 1996 Turkey joined the Customs Union.

In 1999 during the Helsinki Summit, Turkey was recognized as an EU candidate country. But the most important year for Turkey-EU relations was in 2005 when the dream of accession to the EU became a realistic goal; the accession talks were officially opened for Turkey. Many have seen this year as the end of a prolonged attempt for Turkey to join EU but unfortunately, the accession process faced so many ups and downs and turned into a never-ending nightmare due to the EU’s hypocrisy.

What prevents Turkey from joining the EU?

Turkey’s EU accession talks have frozen several times due to EU’s continuous accusation of Turkey for non-compliance with its standards. This is despite Turkey’s long-standing relationship with EU founding countries and all the efforts by Turkey to harmonize both its foreign and domestic policies to be in line with EU laws and regulations. The EU itself supports and cooperates with the Turkish government on many aspects but when it comes to the accession they just hold back! Is it because Turkey did not put in the required efforts to meet EU conditions? Or all these justifications (Cyprus issue, Human Rights records, Terrorism laws and etc.)? It is noteworthy that no other country in the history of the EU seeking membership has been put on hold as Turkey.

Why is the EU ignoring Turkey’s struggle for membership? People cite Cyprus issue as a barrier for Turkey on not becoming EU member. It is true that Turkey has a problem with Cyprus, and one of the EU requirements is that if a country has a problem with another country it cannot join the EU. In regard to this point; Greece-Cyprus had the same issue, having problem with Turkey and knowing that they were always the ones who pushed back all the settlement attempts and negotiations. Despite all the odds, they were rewarded an EU membership.

It is also true that Cyprus is a stumbling block and had already blocked some chapters to be discussed. Worth noting, Turkey’s accession talks didn’t face any insurmountable difficulties until Cyprus assumed the presidency of the EU but the fact is that Cyprus plays a little role in the issue.

There are a number of factors which can be or are a hindrance to Turkey’s accession to EU which are the Population, Religion, and Geographic location of Turkey. If Turkey becomes an EU full member, it will be a shift of EU institutional history, the largest Muslim populated country, the first Middle Eastern country to become an EU member et al. Isn’t that strange?

Although some countries do not consider Turkey as part of Europe, the fact is that Turkey is a European country and at the same time a Middle Eastern country. In addition to that, Turkey has the largest Muslim population while EU member states are predominantly Christian.

On the other hand; the population of Turkey is 80+ million and if it joins the EU, it will be the second largest member state after Germany or may be the first in a few decades. A shift of power seems to occur, knowing that the seats of the European Parliament are distributed according to the country’s population size. This would lead Turkey to have more influence on European politics compared to the core countries. So Turkey’s accession to the European Union’s denial can be either its geographic location or its large Muslim population that will actually alter the EU’s political and demographic map.

The writer is a student at Istanbul Aydin University pursuing an MA in Political Science and International Relations

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