Turkey and the EU: The journey is the reward

Since almost 18 years now, Turkey is trying to enter the European Union.
No other country has been on the “waiting list” of candidates for so long.
Considering the fact that Turkey works as a bridge between the so called Muslim world, the Middle East and the West, the importance and global influence of the country is enormous.
In order to enter the EU 35 chapters need to be opened, processed and finalized by a candidate-country.
Turkey and the EU could open 14 so far of which only one is finalized.

Public opinions of the accession of Turkey to the EU are very diversified.
The strongest opposition comes from current EU-members such as Germany, France and Austria who state clearly that Turkey does not meet EU-criteria.
On the other hand the main advocates are made up of Sweden, the Netherlands, England and the United States.
The greatest division and confusion however is to be found within Turkey itself.
The Turkish population had not agreed once on a clear and majoritarian opinion since the debates of entering the EU started in 1996 with the completion of the transition stages, the Customs Union.
Also the Turkish government is highly discussed, led by its major actors Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey and Egeman Bagis, the Minister for European Union and chief negotiator.
Especially topics like Human Rights, the Rights of Women and Freedom of Speech are still crucial in Turkey while they are fundamentally important for the EU-policy.
Stefan Füle, the European Comissioner for Enlargement, describes the EU trustful according to positive negotiations with Turkey in the framework of accession although he also admits that ‘there is frustration on both sides’ seeing the length of the process.
After hearing the main advocates and opponents the key question still is not answered:euTurkey-

Is it the EU who cannot cope with controversial Turkey or is it Turkey that is just not ready to join the EU?
What decisive arguments are there in both theories and who can profit at the end?

In order to gain a more authentic discussion I interviewed the 24-year old Turkish woman Hilal Yildiz. She and her famlily live in the centre of Istanbul in Bakirkoy.
After graduating from high school in Istanbul she started studying the history and language of Spain. Despite her interest in Spain, her roots are Turkish and she believes in her Muslim religion.
At the same time she is unhappy about the current state of her country and the direction to which politics are driving. In the Interview taken at the 1.12.2013 in Madrid Hilal revealed the reasons of her views and gave insights to the thoughts of the Turkish community referring to the EU.

‘Public opinion is heavily divided due to a corrupt government, false promises and a lack of education’ Hilal answered to my opening question of how she sees the relation of the Turkish population to the actual government.
By referring these problems to the EU-accession, she added that the range of advocates and opponents could not be greater in the Turkish society.
In fact U.S. surveys show distinctive changes in the Turkish views according to the membership of the EU: While in year 2004 74% of the Turkish population were in favor of the accession the percentage went down to 43% this year. Furthermore only 20% of the EU-members support the entering of Turkey.
Hilal came up with a couple of reasons for this change. She explained that on the one hand Turkish mentality has developed and strives for a Turkey that is modern based on more democratic policies concerning Human Rights and Freedom of Speech.
‘However..’ she continued ‘..a big part of the population is strongly identity-based and deeply anchored the islamic religion. Therefore a Turkish statesman would be cautious by adapting european values without weighing out the costs and benefits.’
Even more after being left alone in the dark by the EU for so long, the Turkish people feel insulted and fooled, declared Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.
These statements gain validity by another survey published in the Turkish press, that says there is ony 25 % of Turkey that still believes that Turkey will enter the EU.

Seeing this debate from a socio-economical point of view Turkey’s minister for European Union Bagis says the main barricades in EU-Turkey relation are ‘prejudices of Turkey being too poor and too Muslim’. He contradicts these prejudices by declaring that Turkey’s economical growth with 6 % p.a. exceeds the growth of other EU-states.
Furthermore social progress could be achieved. Especially in the last years reforms were established and the violation of Human Rights declined according to Amnesty International.

But the world is in disarray once again in June this year when the violent forces of the Turkish police attack protesters as well as unarmed civilians in Taksim Place.
‘It has been a situation of pure chaos and fear for months.                                                                                                   images
Normally the uniform of a police ofiicer gives you a secure feeling. In Taksim Place it was the other way around.’, Hilal described.
Minister Bagis justifies the forces with the necessity of certain violence presence in order to stop violent protesters.

Purely economically one might suggest the accession of Turkey to the EU is a win-win situation. Turkey has enormous water resources as well as energy reserves which would be of high value for the EU. Likewise Turkey gains trading benefits seeing that the EU is Turkey’s biggest trading partner.
‘There is more to it’ Hilal interrupted me. She explains that Turkey survived the financial crisis with outstanding stability in comparison to many European countries. ‘Therefore it would not only be a cultural loss by loosing the Turkish Lira but also a risky step seeing countries like Greece and Spain suffering throughout the Euro-Crisis.’, Hilal said.

Focusing on the cultural aspects the EU-accession of Turkey would connect the mostly Christian Europe with the Muslim World.
While advocates like U.S. President Obama claim that the EU would finally show face and accept the islamic religion as a whole by letting Turkey enter the EU, critics say that that the values behind Christianity and Islam are just too different.
Hilal who is a convinced muslim, living temporarily in Spain and studying its history, has personal experience of what is meant by the adaption of these two religion. ‘Respect and tolerance are the keywords in this matter’ she said by adding that she thinks that neither the EU nor Turkey lacks of this adaption.
‘The problem lies in the political system of Turkey which is much more affected by Islamic values than a European state by Christian values.’, she added.

Posting my final question to Hilal if Turkey should enter the EU in her point of view, she did not hesitate at all by saying ‘No, not under these circumstances.’
‘Neither Turkey is ready to join nor is the EU ready to handle Turkey at the moment.’
After recapturing the great amount of scepsis mostly among EU-countries but also within Turkey itself, Hilal’s conclusions show substance.

Nevertheless thindexe continuity of peaceful negotiations towards an accession is of high value not only for both parties, but also for the whole world, especially for the Muslim world.
While the EU strengthens the important relation to Turkey and the Muslim World, Turkey’s reforms are making it a better country. At least this is a point on which all advocates and opponents agree.
An agreement between the EU and Turkey has just been reached last week about easing on the visa policy for the Turkish and the Turkish responsibilities according to refugees. Also minister Erdogan plans a visit to the EU in Brussels in January 2014, the first time after three years. However the final decision about Turkey entering the EU is a matter of the future.

Conclusionally especially these recent events create a positive outlook for the future on EU-Turkey relations and despite the date and time of a final EU-accession, the common path is the right one.

By Karina Lüth


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