Application of Turkey to EU


Since its creation, the European Union has been enlarged six times during which it has accommodated twenty one new members. Today there are three candidate states that await membership – Turkey, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia[1]. The most significant of those is Turkey whose candidacy has created more controversy than any other. Since Turkey’s first membership application in 1987, it has sparked numerous debates on whether it belongs in the European Union, back then the European Community. This paper argues that Turkey should not be granted membership in the bloc. Several aspects have been taken into account such as its geographical position, economic state, vast population and cultural incompatibility, that render Turkey unfit to join the union. Moreover, the public opinion in both the EU and Turkey is assessed as important factor that reflects the attitudes towards the admission.

Background information

As already mentioned, Turkey made its first effort to join the European Community in 1987, when its application was rejected because of its economical and political situation and poor relations with Greece due to the Cyprus conflict. In 1999, however, candidate status was granted and in 2001 The EU Council of Ministers adopted EU-Turkey Accession Partnership[2]. In 2002, the Copenhagen European Council resolved that if the European Council in December 2004, on the basis of a report from the Commission, decides that Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria, theEU would open accession negotiations with Turkey[3]. Consequently, in December 2004 the European Council decided to open official negotiations[4].

Geographical and demographical aspects

Although official negotiations have started, Turkey is not a part of Europe, therefore should not be part of the European Union. Only some 3% of its territory is on the Old continent, the bulk of its territory is in Asia[5]. This trivial fact is often overlooked as not as important in the debate for Turkey’s membership. However, as a regional organization the EU should have some borders, and if it plans to expand outside Europe it should at least change its name, maybe to a World Union or Eurasian Union. Also in the event of Turkey’s admission, it might become a precedent that would inspire other countries outside Europe to demand membership as well. Another aspect of the territorial location of Turkey is that, if it is admitted, the EU’s external neighbors will be states like Iran, Iraq and Syria, all of which are marked by internal crisis and/or have account of terrorist groups operating in theirs territories. This might have serious security implications for the bloc, as dangerous elements might enter the union through its Turkish border.

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Even if the territorial aspect is ignored, Turkey’s vast population cannot be overlooked so easily. With its close to seventy-six million people[6], if admitted, Turkey will be the second country in population after Germany. According to birth rate projections by 2020 it would surpass Germany in population[7]. The latter prediction means that Turkey would have most delegates in the European parliament resulting in the paradox that the most unrepresentative country for the union would have most seats in its parliament.

Another major problem associated with Turkey’s population is emigration. With many Western European countries having a substantial Turkish minorities already, the admission of Turkey would mean opening the floodgates to further immigration from a large and poor country[8]. This perspective poses several problems: first, the cheap labor that would flow from Turkey would undermine the employment of native Europeans; second, the problem of the integration of the Turkish minorities, present nowadays, will be invigorated further; and last but not least the previous two will further fuel the already present in many countries antagonism against the Turks[9]. Those are the most obvious problems that emigration from an EU Turkey will bring. However, since Turkey is nothing like the rest of the members in many aspects, there might be other, not so evident problems that might arise with the flow of Turks in the EU countries.

Economical and political aspects

The country’s economical state, even with its positive GDP growth rates[10] is still falling behind in comparison to most EU member states. In fact, according to Pevehouse and Goldstein, if admitted Turkey would be the poorest state in the organization, even if the newest members from East Europe are taken into consideration[11]. Moreover, Turkey has very high debt to income ratio, twice as high as any other member[12], which indicates that big part of the income of the population goes to paying debts, instead of on covering costs of living.

In political aspect, the emerging tensions between secularists and the Islamic government might have implications for the EU. The Turkish government is currently investigating Ergenekon, which according to prosecutors ” has committed dozens of terrorist acts and ultimately sought to topple Turkey’s Islamic-inspired government.”[13] The secularists, however, have their own point of view on the matter. According to Aysel Celikel, former justice minister, Egrenekon “has become a larger project in which the investigation is being used as a tool to sweep across civic society and cleanse Turkey of all secular opponents”[14]. With the political situation growing more unstable, there is ground for the radicalization of both sides. This should be a warning sign for the European Union that Turkey may not have the political steadiness to join the bloc. Also Turkey’s unsatisfactory policy towards its Kurdish minority and the conflict of Cyprus indicate that it is not suitable for membership in the union.

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Cultural aspect and public opinion

Apart from the more tangible characteristics of Turkey and the European Union, the massive gap between their cultural identities is a significant reason why Turkey does not belong in the organization. According to a 2006 Eurobarometer “a clear majority of about 60% support the view that Turkey’s cultural differences with those of EU members are so large as to impede its membership”[15]. The fact is, that what makes the EU what it is, beside its economical and political aspects, is the common European identity of its members. Turkey does not fit this profile. As member of the Prodi’s European Commission Franz Fischler put it: “Turkey is a sui generis society, far more oriental than European”[16].

Turkey’s double standard in human rights reflects its different values. Turkey is a member of the Organization of the Islamic conference (OIC), which on the 5 of August adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDRHI)[17], a document based on the Shari’ah law. It can be seen as an equivalent to the UN Declaration on Human Rights (UNDHR). However, there are some significant inconsistencies between the UNDHR and the CDRHI, especially in rights of women, right to expression and education and freedom of religion[18]. The drafting of the CDHRI creates a double standard by implying that rights of Muslims are incompatible with the concept of human rights embodied in the UNDHR. The CDRHI implicitly promotes the division between Muslims and people of other religions. As a member of the OIC, Turkey does not belong to the European Union, that adheres to the UNDHR.

The view that Turkey is not European is also supported by the overwhelming opposition to Turkey’s admission. According to the results from the latest Eurobarometer conducted in spring 2008, in the EU 27 bloc only 31 per cents of the respondents agree, and 55 per cent disagree[19] with the integration of Turkey, making it the least supported country. Moreover, Turkey is the candidate with most steady opposition compared to other previous applicants, as evident from the results from four consecutive Eurobarometer surveys from 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002[20]. Resistance to Turkey varies around 47-48%, whereas the country that is second in opposition, Romania has a result around 42-43%[21]. The strong opposition against Turkey’s membership is a clear sign that Europeans do not want it in the EU, and in the event of a referendum on the matter, the public opinion might be the only thing that would ultimately block Turkey’s integration.

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What is even more interesting is that support for the membership in Turkey itself is dropping compared to previous years. A study of the German Marshall Fund indicates that “the ratio of Turks who see membership in the EU as a “good thing” fell from 73 percent in 2004 to 54 percent in 2006″ [22]. In 2008, the support is even lower – below 50 per cent[23]. It turns out that Turk majority is also against the integration of Turkey.


In conclusion, Turkey should not be accepted in the European Union, because its values in regard to human rights are incompatible with those of the bloc. The cultural gap between Europe and Turkey is undeniable. Moreover, public opinion marks the strongest opposition against Turkey compared to other applicants. Turkey’s territorial location vast population, its economic and political situation will bring more problems than benefits.

  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  6., OECD statistical profile, Turkey
  7., OECD population projections 2009-2020, data for Turkey and Germany compared
  8. Joshua S. Goldstein and Jon C. Pevehouse, International Relations (New York: Longman, 2009), 238
  9. See outcomes of Eurobarometers further in the text
  10., OECD statistical profile, Turkey
  11. Joshua S. Goldstein and Jon C. Pevehouse, International Relations (New York: Longman, 2009), 238
  12. Ibid.
  13. Dan Bilefsky. ” Subversion trial haunts Turkey; Vast case defines division between secularists and Muslim-inspired party”. The International Herald Tribune. 13 Nov 2009
  14. Ibid
  15. Standard Eurobarometer 66. National Report: Executive Summary: Turkey.
    European Commission. Fall 2006, p. 4.
  16. Senem Aydin Duzgit. Seeking Kant in the EU’s relations with Turkey. (Istanbul: TESEV
    Publications), 4.
  18. Comparison between the UNDHR and CDHRI.
  19. Standard Eurobarometer 69. Values of Europeans, Questions QA44.8 – QA
    44.12. European Commission, November 2008.
  20. Lauren McLaren. “Explaining opposition to Turkish membership of the EU”. European Union Politics (Sage publications, 2007), 253.
  21. Ibid.
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