Turkey and the European Union

The report presents a brief history of modern-day Turkey discusses the role of the army in the country. The report briefly traces Turkey’s attempts to enter the European Union and the problems it faces in achieving this goal. The report also compares the views in support of and against Turkey’s candidature in the European Union. The report finally presents the stance of some European Union states in this regard.

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Modern-day Turkey was the center of the Ottoman Empire which started emerging as a world power towards the close of the thirteenth century. The Ottoman Turks, originating from the steppes of Central Asia, made the empire one of the mightiest in the world. The Ottoman Empire was the only Islamic power in the heart of Europe for about six hundred years. Expanding the frontiers of their empire, the Ottoman Sultans stretched the borders into south-eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Thus, at its zenith, the Ottoman Turks ruled over an empire that straddled three continents.

If the rise of the Ottoman Empire was meteoric, its decline was equally sudden. A huge empire was difficult to administer and the weak successors of the Ottoman rulers caused the empire to crumble from within. The empire which once inspired awe and terror in the hearts of the neighboring rulers now became the ‘sick man of Europe’. The end of the First World War witnessed the defeat of Turkey which had sided with Italy. The Allied Forces, which had emerged victorious, were bent upon the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. In the internal struggle that ensued, the Turkish Revolutionaries led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk emerged victorious, which laid the foundations of the modern Turkish state. Ataturk later introduced several social and political reforms which brought Turkey closer to Europe. In 1928 the clause retaining Islam as state religion was removed from the constitution, formally leading to the secularization of Turkey.

Historically, Turkey’s military establishment has wielded immense powers. The military views itself as the guardian of secular values in Turkey and has ousted four governments since 1960. In 2007, the army had raised concerns regarding the Islamic roots of the ruling party, claiming that its members threatened the secular system of the country.

In 1952, turkey joined NATO and in 1959, it applied for associate membership in the European Economic Commission (EEC), the association of the world’s wealthiest and most successful trading bloc, now called the European Union (EU). Turkey applied for full membership of the bloc in 1987 and was confirmed a candidate by December 1999. However, it was not up till October 2005, when negotiations regarding the accession of Turkey to the EU began. In recent years, Turkey seems determined to acquire membership in the European Union. Turkey’s ambassador to Britain has termed EU membership as Turkey’s ‘biggest project’ (“EU is Biggest Project of Turkey”).

However, after about a year, the EU suspended the talks in eight out of the total of thirty-five policy areas due to several issues. Foremost amongst the hurdles is the Cypriot issue: the EU demands that Turkey must open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus, which became an EU member in 2004. Turkey, on the other hand, argues that it will only do so after the EU takes steps to end the economic and political isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community. The EU also alleges that Turkey has slowed its efforts to bring the country’s laws at par with the European standards. In addition to the suspension of talks in eight policy areas, the EU also decided that no progress will be made in the remaining areas until Turkey opens its ports and airports for Cypriot ships and aircraft (“Turkey’s EU entry talks”).

Those against Turkey’s membership in the EU argue that despite the strong presence of the secularists in the country, Turkey is not culturally European. Some states in Europe believe that once Turkey is a part of the union, the wave of Turkish immigrants to other European countries will be unstoppable. This matter appears graver given the fact that the population of the country is on the rise. Several European countries against Turkey’s membership argue that an expanded bloc will prevent the group from gaining strength. Moreover, because of its huge size, Turkey will be able to exercise immense powers within the union. Analysts are also skeptical that because of its poverty, Turkey will be an economic burden for the EU. In the stand-off between Turkey and the EU over this issue, religious shades can also be witnessed: Jacques Delors, a former president of the European Commission once remarked that the EU was a “Christian club” (“Turkey gets back on the EU track”). Some argue that this view is still held by the Christian Democratic Party of Germany. In present times when the world is facing the threat of global terrorism, what is creating even more apprehensions for some European politicians is the fact that the inclusion of Turkey into the EU will mean that the bloc will have to share borders with Iraq, Iran, and Syria.

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Supporters of Turkey’s membership in the EU believe that its inclusion will establish a bond between the Muslim world and the West. In 2006, the British foreign secretary predicted that the “EU nations risk driving Christians and Muslims apart if Turkey is not brought into the fold”. Some political analysts are optimistic that once it becomes a member of the EU, Turkey will help stabilize the volatile region beyond its southern and eastern borders. Turkey’s young and well-educated population can help counter Europe’s problems of aging and declining human capital. Becoming a member of the EU will be a great stride in Turkey’s struggle in becoming a modern state, which forms the foundations of the country. Getting access to the EU’s single market and freedom to travel within the bloc are major incentives for the Turkish state. For the Kurds residing in Turkey, forming about 20% of the country’s population membership of the EU will mean that their rights will not be violated (“Turkey’s EU entry talks”).

In the European community Cyprus, Austria, France, and Denmark are specifically unresponsive to this issue. Germany, too, is opposed to full membership of Turkey. On the other hand, the UK, the Scandinavian countries, and the states which joined the bloc in 2004 are generally in favor of Turkey’s candidature.

Works Cited

“EU is Biggest Project of Turkey.”  2008. Turkish Weekly. Web.

“Straw urges Turkey EU membership.” 2005. BBC News. Web.

“Turkey’s EU bid runs into trouble.” 2008. BBC News. Web.

“Turkey’s EU entry talks.” 2006. BBC News. Web.

“Turkey gets back on the EU track.” 2007. BBC News. Web.

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