Why a European Turkey could be a long way off?
For much of the recent history of the European Union (EU), the most headline grabbing topic of discussion when it came to new members was not in the Balkans or Eastern Europe but in the bottom right of most people’s mental maps of Europe, Turkey. A land that has since the Roman Emperor Constantine turned a thriving medium sized town into the new London of his Empire seemed to straddle Europe and Asia like a mechanical bull its destiny bucking from one side of the Bosporus to the other it seems not quite sure if it was an Asian or European power or both. Until recent years the topic seemed settled Turkeys future lay in Europe, EU membership seemed to some to be the finishing line of a marathon started nearly a 100 years ago when Mustafa Ataturk turned Turkey into a modern, secular republic, even Latinising the alphabet in a bid to push Turkey towards European models he aspired towards.
In 1959 Turkey applied to join the EU’s predecessor the European Economic Community(EEC) and in 1987 Turkey finally joined the EEC. In 2005 it began the unenviable task of starting the application process for EU membership which seems to be as difficult as leaving the EU going by Brexit. With the election of Tayyip Erdogan and a party that was as for European integration in 2002 as it would later be for chipping away its own nations foundational ideals, it seemed according to most press that it would be that after a few hurdles Turkey would be waving the European Blue and Yellow in Ankara. Debates were held, and the inevitable BBC programmes made but then just like your first car things staled before breaking down completely.
Recently it has become clear that there is as much chance of Turkey joining the EU as there is of Britain joining the United States and sending MP’s to capitol hill with Angela Merkel AKA the most powerful person in Europe saying “The fact is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the EU.” This is a shift from her previous Pro-Turkish membership position and she’s not alone.
Before and since the attempted coup against Erdogan Turkey has begun to resemble less an applicant and more like an aggressor, thousands of journalists and civil servants have been imprisoned across the country along with teachers and students. Human rights groups like Amnesty International have been targeted with high profile members being arrested and Turkeys attitude towards its European neighbours hasn’t exactly been flirty. Erdogan went as far as to compare Merkel’s stance on Turkey’s EU membership to ‘Nazism’.
That was the second time in 2017 he compared German officials to Nazis. Not only has the kind of rhetoric we’d normally expect from the oval office’s Twitter feed been more prevalent but also threats of loosening border controls and allowing nations like Greece and Bulgaria to carry more of the load on the issue of refugees and migrants. The Turkish campaign in the East against Kurdish separatists the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has gathered even more criticism with the ceasefire broken by the PKK leading Erdogan to cancel peace talks and increase military activity in the region furthering the image of a Turkey as a nation still with too many problems needing resolution. Erdogan’s referendum that narrowly allocated him more powers and the ability to stay in office until 2029 have also caused concern in Brussels as Turkey looks less like a modern democratic power and more like one man’s new Ottoman Empire.
Brussels has frozen Turkish accession talks but even before all this, the obstacles Turkey faced weren’t small such as Turkeys continued support for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state unrecognised by the EU and an issue that would certainly lead to a Cypriot veto of Turkish membership. Of the 35 key policy goals that must be met to join the EU Turkey has met only one. The popularity of the idea of European Turkey amongst voters hasn’t been very high either with most people in leading EU nations such as Germany and France being against the idea even when their governments have supported membership and in case of France still do. Turks themselves also are increasingly sceptical of a future with Europe with support for accession being around only one third of the population. Erdogan in action and words seems to have cooled on the idea of EU membership saying in January “Turkey is worn out with waiting for EU accession.”
Despite all this membership hasn’t been completely been taken off the table, Turkey is still a major growing industrial power and Turkey’s powerful potion in the middle east and its role as gatekeeper with the ability to allow thousands of migrants and refugees onto EU soil means that ideas of a looser union, a sort of diet membership, with Turkey have been raised and it could be such a union that lies in store for a nation that seems to find itself increasingly unlikely to fill the gap left by a departing Britain.
By Jonathan Rhodes