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Problems of Turkey Joining the EU Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 13 October 2017

Problems of Turkey Joining the EU


In December 1999 Turkey became an official candidate for joining the EU, along with a number of other developing countries, mainly of Eastern Europe. After fundamental studies of current situation in Turkey and its future perspectives, followed by a series of negotiations between the representatives of Turkey and the EU, it became clear that it would take not less than a decade for Turkey to make necessary reformations and meet the Copenhagen criteria (a set of requirements, which must be fulfilled in order to become a member of the EU).

Certainly, there are different opinions on the issue of possible effects of Turkey joining the EU. The country has many supporters and proponents in its ardent desire to create a common future with the EU. But, at the same time, there are obvious substantial political, economic and cultural problems, which have created difficulties for Turkey on its way to the EU and can come out with unpredictable and dangerous effects on social wellbeing of European nations. Taking this into account, this work is an attempt to show that Turkey joining the EU can result in a number of negative and undesirable consequences, both for Turkey and for the European community.

Profile of Turkey

Before analyzing advantages and disadvantages of Turkey’s accession to the European Union, it has sense to study social, economic, historical and cultural background of the country. The population of Turkey exceeds 70 million people with diverse ethnic origins, and geographically its major territories are located in Asian continent. Nevertheless, geostrategic location of Turkey has principal importance, because the country controls navigation along the Bosporus and four nearby seas. Also, it is an entrance to the Middle East and Asia.

Turkey has a long and very dynamic history. The roots of Turkish nation go deep to a number of early Asian civilizations, which were united into the powerful Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. It had enormous territories throughout Western and Northern Asia, but frequent wars, as well as religious controversies, have brought to substantial territorial losses by the beginning of the 20th century. Modern history of Turkey started in 1920s, when a great Turkish military leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, won the Independence war and became a founder and the first President of Turkish Republic. With a number of Europe-oriented reformations, he set the country on the way of democratic development and westernization.

Current Turkish economy is a mix of heavy industry and traditional agriculture. Economic indexes show that the economy is quite poor (GDP is only $358.2 billion), but at the same time it is steadily developing (GDP growth rate is 5.2%). Principal industries are textile, food processing, construction, mining and electronics. Also, Turkey is an important importer of commodities from Germany, Russia, Italy, China, etc. Turkey has very advanced and up-to-date communication and transportation infrastructure, with 117 airports and 426,906 km roadways (CIA).  The greatest asset of the country is its people, as well as their highly-respectable moral values.

It is possible to name several major drawbacks, which seriously influence on the position of the EU countries toward granting Turkey an EU membership. Paul Kubicek writes in his study of the problem of Turkey’s accession to the EU: “Turkey’s supposed shortcomings are well-known: it is too big, too poor, too agricultural, too authoritarian, and, perhaps above all, too Muslim” (Kubicek, p.33). At the same time, a specialist of Institute for International Economic Studies of Stockholm University Harry Flam considers political reasons to be the most important obstacle (Flam, p. 171).

“Turkey – the EU” – political issues

According to the Copenhagen criteria, membership from political perspective requires: “… stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities” (Flam, p. 175). For some last years the political situation in the country has been changing since the Justice and Development Party came to the power.

Its leader and current Prime-Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, established joining the EU as his main political goal and directed the efforts on implementing necessary political reformations to meet the Copenhagen criteria. But the European Commission still blames Turkey in violations of minority rights and lack of control of political powers over the army.

Turkish Constitution sets the military as an exclusive guarantor of internal security and empowers it to take over the situation in cases of political instability or social crises.

In particular, in 1960, 1971 and 1980, the army has temporarily taken over the power in the country, and in 1997 it has presented the government with an ultimatum, because military leaders supposed intense islamization of governmental policies to be unconstitutional. Certainly, such crucial role of the military does not correspond to the idea of democracy, because army should be controlled by the government. Nevertheless, Turkish authorities do not accept such position, being supported by public opinion.

Another substantial political problem is minority and human rights. For decades there were serious restrictions as to such issues, as religious education, rights for communal property and others. There are not many ethnic groups in Turkey, but instead, there is a large Kurdish minority with population of about 13 million people (around 20% of country’s total population), which is concentrated in the South-Eastern regions, boarding with Iraq, Iran and Syria. Turkish government takes Kurdish nationalism as a serious threat to integrity of the country. That is why Turkish laws used to prohibit official use of Kurdish language and other expressions of their cultural identity, but recently the situation started slightly changing for better under pressure of the EU.

Finally, one of the greatest obstacles on the way to the EU is refusal of Turkish government to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, a current member of the EU. It is known that Cyprus is a point of territorial misunderstandings between Greece and Turkey, and now there are two independently ruled Republics in the country. Claiming for receiving the whole territory of the island, for some decades Turkey has been ignoring the Greek side of Cyprus. There are no any communications or other relations between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus. Therefore, as Turkey does not recognize a member of the EU (or a part of it), then the negotiations with the European community can not be held. This is the point of main diplomatic concern of the EU on Turkish issue.

Besides, Turkey will have a dangerous impact on foreign policy of the EU, bringing the borders of the European community closer to volatile Middle East, and it will affect external political affairs of the EU members more, then foreign policy of Turkey. Kirsten Hughes supports this idea, commenting on the issue with the following statement: “Turkey will impact more widely on the already complex political dynamics among member states, including among the larger member states, but Turkey alone will not determine the future political evolution of the Union” (Hughes, p. ii).

“Turkey – the EU” – economic issues

Economic factors have, probably, the biggest implication for the EU. Turkish economic achievements demonstrate steady development, but, at the same time, country’s economy remains very poor and, according to the prognosis, the situation will not be considerably improved in the nearest future. Surveys show that modern Turkish economy is only 1.9% of EU25 GDP, and with average annual growth of 5%, it would reach only 2.9% of GDP in 2015. Moreover, country’s GDP per head (at purchasing power parity) is only 27% of the EU average (CIA).

It is obvious that country with large population and such poor economy will seriously affect general economic situation of the EU. Undoubtedly, Turkey will require a lot of financial investments, budget transfers and other resources to support and stimulate country’s economic growth. In addition, taking into account poor economic opportunities of the country, EU countries will be forced to establish special privileged tariffs and discounts on export-import operations, giving up possible incomes.

A serious problem of Turkish economy, which is a point of concern of the EU specialists, is agriculture. Its contribution to GDP exceeds 14% and, at the same time, the majority of labor force (over 33%) employed in agriculture. This sounds not bad and promising, but the truth is: agriculture in Turkey needs considerable governmental support, which results in heavy taxation burden on national taxpayers. Turkey does not have a lot of arable lands, that is why cultivation and farming are very expensive. Flam underlines possible problem for the European community, saying that “the size of the Turkish agricultural sector threatens to be costly for EU taxpayers if Turkish farmers are to have the same terms as the farmers of the CCEC-8…” (Flam, p. 186).

Other disadvantages of Turkish economy include considerable regional inequality and necessity to restructure labor market. Overwhelming majority of industry is concentrated on the West and the North of the country, while Eastern parts rely more on agriculture and remain considerably underdeveloped. Turkish labor market needs to be reformatted in order to use its potential and improve low unemployment rates, especially among youth and women (which is more than 25%).

At the same time, Turkish government is undertaking some important steps on necessary reformations and improvements of country’s economic system. Some changes were recently made as to agricultural policy, as well as the efforts were directed on establishing of a number of private enterprises, including educational ones, which are experimenting with different approaches to leadership, initiative, teamwork, and responsibility

“Turkey – the EU” – religious and cultural issues

Religious issue is, probably, the most controversial among the others. With its 98% Muslim population, Turkey will be the only non-Christian community in the EU. Undoubtedly, such a huge Muslim population will contribute to the development and acceptance of multiculturalism in the Union, but in a secular society this issue is rather complex (it is possible to remember fierce conflicts between former Yugoslavia Republics).Turkey itself has a long history of serious difficulties and conflicts between religion and the state. In addition, many specialists fear that Islamic conservatism and numerous traditional restrictions will cause serious pressure on personal freedoms.

In addition, many people associate Muslim countries with terrorism and authoritarian regime, but it can not be said about Turkey. Numerous diplomats and researchers of the issue underline that despite of possible difficulties based on religious differences between the EU and Turkey, prevalence of Islam in Turkey must not become a reason for Europe to turn its back to Turkey. Kirsten Hughes comments: “At a time, when the ‘war on terror’ is creating global tension and division, and where 9/11 created a backlash experienced by many Muslims worldwide, Turkey’s relations to the EU take on a broad geopolitical significance.  A rejection of Turkey by the Union would be taken as a strong negative signal by many” (Hughes, p. 26).

Many specialists suppose, that not only religious, but other cultural differences will not bring to positive outcomes of Turkey joining the EU. They think that cultural problems may cause difficulties for Turkish population when integrating into the European community. Some years ago, the chairman of the European Convention on the Future of Europe and the former president of France, Giscard d’Estaing, said in an interview that he objected to Turkish membership because Turkey had “a different culture, a different approach, a different way of life” and because “its capital is not in Europe, 95 percent of its population is outside Europe, it is not a European country. (Flam, p.176)”

The brightest example of this idea is crowded Turkish Diaspora in Germany, which counts more than 2,5 million people and is the largest immigration community in Europe. Many Turks go to Germany in order to find better career opportunities and better-quality life. Generally, Turkish people get adapted to European life-style rather fast and, usually, express no desire to be back to their poorer homeland, but, at the same time, very frequently serious cultural disconnections take place. Turkish immigrants reject European moral norms and customs, and, unfortunately, very often their children have to stand for the consequences. About 60% Turkish schoolchildren in Germany have to leave schools without receiving the certificates (Robbins).

That is why potential migration of Turkish people to the EU is considered as a serious threat to cultural unity of Europe. Europeans remember that after accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU on the 1st of January, 2007, thousands of people from these poor countries hurried up to move to Germany, France, Italy and other developed territories to find some work and earn some money. Recent researches demonstrated that if Turkey were accepted to the EU, then about 44% of Turkish population would look for better job somewhere in Europe (Kubicek, p. 38).

“Turkey – the EU” – other issues

Demographic issues can also be taken both in favor and against Turkey joining the EU. Turkey has a good population growth rate (1,06%), but more important fact is that children below 14 cover more than 25% of the population (in Germany children are only 14% of population, in France 18%, in the UK 17,5%, in Poland 16%) (CIA). Turkish nation is very young, and such situation is quite attractive for aging European community. But, on the other hand, in case of accession, Turkey will become the largest country in the EU in terms of population; therefore, it will take a large number of seats in the European Parliament and will be an important and powerful player. That is what highly undesirable for European parliamentarians, who are aware of inflexibility and intolerance of Turkish diplomats on many crucial political and other issues.

There are many other principal matters, which remain in concern of the EU experts. They include the problems of meeting the requirements as to environmental standards, or the implementation of many democratic reformations, which were announced by the government, but still literally exist only on papers. Those are also the problems of corruption, which is especially prevalent and deep-rooted on the highest levels of public sectors. Finally, a very important problem has been noted on limitations of the freedom of expression and excessive censorship in Turkish mass media.

Nevertheless, it must be mentioned that currently there is a great number of other positive and progressive reformations and upturns taking place in the country. In particular, nowadays, educational opportunities are becoming more equal, that’s why teenagers and youth from different remote and deprived areas on the East are getting more socially mobile and reaching positions of power. Democratization, together with the increase in communication and development of the mass media, is among the key factors, which brought to a rise in awareness. The others include considerable increase in average level of education, new opportunities of modern travel, which brings many Turkish people into contact with the cultures of other nations around the world.

Impact of the EU Decision

Therefore, according to the Copenhagen criteria, a sequence of political and social changes must be made by Turkish government in order to see the door to the EU opened. But still there is no guarantee for Turkey on its accession, even a decade later. Political elites of many EU countries, including Austria, Denmark, and the Netherlands, are keeping neutral position on the issue, but it is strongly flavored with the absence of their desire to see Turkish Republic as a member of the EU.

It is necessary to say that for making its decision regarding Turkey, the EU is under certain influence of other major political power of the world, the U.S., which strongly supports Turkey joining the EU. In his research, Gerard Robbins comments the situation as the following: “In Washington’s eyes, Turkey has transformed from a Cold War bulwark against Soviet aggression into a critical “bridge” linking the industrialized Christian West to the pre-industrial Muslim East. Instead of theoretical suppositions, Europeans envision nearby Turkey as their version of Mexico–full of promise, yet mixed with concerns about culture, immigration, security and aid” (Robbins, p.17).

For some years Turkey had another important advocate of for its accession to the EU: Germany, the largest economic and social contributor to the EU, which has numerous industrial and commercial connections with Turkey. But, unfortunately for Turkey, a new Christian-Democratic government of the country, headed by Angela Merkel, is against the enlargement of the European community. In addition, now the list of the opponents of Turkey joining the EU includes France, Poland and the Great Britain, as well as Vatican and other European communities, which are opposing multiculturalism in the EU.

The important fact also is that people of the EU generally oppose Turkey joining the European community. According to the Eurobarometer survey, which took place in spring of 2006, about 48% of population in 25 countries of the EU is against Turkish membership, and about 39% support this idea. The research demonstrated that the country whose population was the most against Turkish accession to the EU was Austria (81%), and Sweden proved to be the country, which is the most in favor of this (61%). In addition, the statistic revealed that the highest support comes from the Turkish Cypriot Community (67%) and Romania (66%), and, amazingly, these countries want Turkey joining the EU more, than the Turkish population itself (54%) (Attitudes towards EU Enlargement, p. 72).


In conclusion, it is necessary to say that Turkey has a number of strong competitors on its way to the European Union. It is, first of all, Ukraine, a former Soviet Union republic, which is located between Western Europe and Russia. Currently, this country is having a lot of various problems and is sinking in numerous political misunderstandings, that’s why the chances of Turkey to join the EU earlier are, supposedly, better. There are other countries, including former republics of Yugoslavia, Albania, etc.

On this background, the majority of the specialists admit possible advantages and benefits of Turkey’s joining the EU, especially for dynamic and developing European community. Paul Kubicek summarizes his research on the problem “Turkey – the EU” with the following statement: “Turkish membership is at least another decade away and its accession is far from assured, but the very prospect of Turkish membership presents the EU with many challenges and opportunities” (Kubicek, p.32).

Nevertheless, there are more problems and uncertainties on to this issue, which can create difficulties for Turkey and the EU both on internal and on external stages. This thought is greatly summarized by Gerard Baker, who resumes that “Fear of the economic consequences of admitting millions of relatively low-paid workers into the European labor market, together with rising concern over the dilution of European identity by an alien Middle Eastern culture makes the idea of Turkish membership highly unpopular” (Baker, p.26).


·         Attitudes towards EU Enlargement. European Commission: Special Eurobarometer 255. July 2006·         Baker, Gerard. “Let’s Not Talk Turkey: Guess Who Won’t Be Joining the European Union Anytime Soon.” The Weekly Standard. Vol. 010, Issue 46 29 Aug. 2005: 26-30·         Flam, Harry. “Turkey and the EU: Politics and Economic Accession.” CESInfo Economic Studies. Vol. 50,  Jan. 2005: 171-210·         Hughes, K. Turkey and the European Union: Just Another Enlargement? Friends of Europe. The European Commission. June 2007. 7 Apr. 2007. <http://www.friendsofeurope.org/pdfs/TurkeyandtheEuropeanUnion-WorkingPaperFoE.pdf.>·         Kubicek, Paul. “Turkish Accession to the European Union: Challenges and Opportunities.” World Affairs. Vol. 3 Fall 2005: 32-41·         Robbins, Gerald. “Germans Are Talking Turkey; The European Union Is In No Rush to Expand Into Anatolia.” The Weekly Standard. Vol. 010, Issue 44 2 Aug. 2006: 16-17 ·         Turkey. Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook. 15 Mar. 2007. 7 Apr. 2007. <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/tu.html>.


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