Will Turkey ever join the EU?

By Emma Brooks

Turkey is desperately trying to become a member state of the EU, whilst other members (such as France and Germany) are desperately trying to prevent it from doing so. So what exactly is the big debate about? One could first point to the more obvious reason that Turkey still has a long way to go before it completes all the chapters of the accession program set out by the EU for candidate countries. Until it has done so, it will not be able to be considered fully for membership. And yet, Turkey has been a candidate to the EU for ten years now. It would be justifiable to ask what exactly is taking so long: are they simply stalling negotiations so as to delay Turkey’s accession to the EU? Or is Turkey genuinely not complying with the reforms requested and therefore stalling its own accession?

The problem with criticizing Turkey’s compliance with EU rules, is the recent accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU. At the time, they had not completed all of the necessary reforms and yet were still accepted as members. The argument was that they were fragile states, and needed the protection of EU membership, rather than being left to their own devices on the fringe of the EU border. But nevertheless, a lot of people still feel that they became members too soon and that they are causing difficulties today. On this basis alone, the EU will sooner or later no longer be able to refuse membership to Turkey.

Amongst other reasons why member states could be opposed to Turkey’s accession to the EU, one could cite cultural differences. Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, whilst the rest of the EU is predominantly Christian. What would it entail for a Muslim country to join the EU as a fully fledged member? People sometimes forget that the EU is not only an economic and political unity, but also a cultural one, which is why the presence of such differences between one member state and 26 others could be a difficulty. Geographically speaking too, Turkey is closer to the Middle East than it is to Europe, which makes one wonder why it does not try to seek alliances there.

It could be argued that there are plenty of Turks and other Muslims already living in Europe who are perfectly well integrated and are doing well. This is a fair and justifiable point, but the difference is that these are individuals, who for the most part have grown up or lived for a long time in the EU, and so have integrated the culture and lifestyle of the country in which they have taken up residence. This is completely different to having a country and the entirety of its population accede to membership of the EU.

Both sides have a perfectly reasonable argument. On the one hand, Turkey is geographically far away, culturally and religiously different, and has yet to prove it is capable of complying with EU rules. On the other hand, Romania and Bulgaria were allowed accession to the EU before they were ready, and one could say that Turkey’s proximity to Iraq and Iran make it safer to have it “in” the EU rather than “out”.

So what are the consequences for the EU? If the EU were to grant membership to Turkey then it might risk unnecessary internal strife and upheaval. It also means it is extending its borders much further than ever before, making it much harder to define the limits of said borders. But if the EU were to deny access to Turkey, the consequences could be even worse. After ten years or more of negotiations, finally saying no would be a huge blow to Turkey-EU relations as well as to the EU’s relations with other Muslim countries. It would also take a huge toll on the EU’s credibility, which it already has difficulty maintaining at the best of times. Lastly, it could cause a polemic within the international community, and the last thing the EU needs is to make things worse for itself.

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