Is Turkey on the Menu?: Turkish-EU Relations

Is Turkey on the Menu?
Turkey’s Economic and Political Viability of becoming part of the European Union

Turkey is a uniquely situated country having one foot in Europe but at the same time being the passage way into Central Asia and the Middle East. Turkey has been the bridge between the all three areas therefore giving it a crucial geostrategic standing and gaining attention from big powers. “For the last half century, Turkey’s geopolitical outlook has been shaped by its military alliance with the West” (Wilkens 3). Turkey was once the great Ottoman Empire controlling Southeast Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. It could be seen as the Muslim successor to the Byzantine and Roman Empires from the previous era. Constantinople, which is now Istanbul, was the ruling capital of the empire which conquered many areas in the region and amassed wealth and status. With the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and its final dissolution in 1922 the modern state of Turkey was born. This modern state went along with an aggressive modernization, specifically westernization, movement that was spearheaded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, or Father of the Turks. However, previous to Ataturk’s westernization movement whose goal was to become closer to Europe and in fact part of that continent, Turkey had always been involved in the European political scene. The Ottoman Empire was recognized as a member of the concert of Europe at the end of the Crimean War in 1856. When the Organization of European Cooperation, the Council of Europe, and NATO were established in the years following the World War II Turkey was treated without question part of Europe (Mango 88). The question that we must ask, however, at the present in 2007 is will Turkey ever become part of the European Union? Is Turkey, a young and Islamic majority country, politically and economically viable to become “European”? Is the Turkish economy and political atmosphere really more volatile than those of other Eastern European countries that have been accepted into the EU such as Romania and Bulgaria, or is this distance that the EU is setting with Turkey due to xenophobia within a “Christian Club”?

“Since its creation in 1923, Turkey has undergone a steady process of economic, political and social transformation. The transition from a largely undeveloped, multiethnic empire to a modern-nation state was an enormous task” (Wilkens 53). Turkey’s vision under Ataturk had always been about secularization in order to enter into Europe and out of the Middle Eastern sphere. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was a hugely influential figure in reshaping the Muslim-Turkish mindset and setting its path towards fierce prescriptions towards modernization. He wanted economic development, seeing it as the only way in which to get respect and recognition and eventually into the Western world. Ataturk introduced western inspired modes of government such as a new constitution adapted with European laws and jurisprudence. He implemented import substitution and in the founding of state enterprises and state banks. There was the transfer of Islamic courts and Islamic canon law to secular law and the adoption of the Swiss Civil Court. Ataturk wanted the people and culture to modernize so much that he changed the Turkish dressing to encourage western attire such as suits instead of the robes and fez. Women stopped wearing the veil and were also granted the same rights as men, including the right to vote. He also stopped the outlawing of producing alcohol. Literacy increased under Ataturk since he abolished the Arabic script for the Latin equivalents, which made it much easier for people to learn to read and write. Modern Turkey still holds Ataturk in extremely high regard, through his vision and prowess there were many institutional reforms and moves towards a democratic country all with the goal in mind of becoming European.

Hagia Sophia, also known as The Blue Mosque. In Istanbul

Turkey has always been linked to European affairs and has been a part of Western alliances. They served in a strong alliance with America and Europe as a part of NATO in order to help combat Soviet and Communist encroachment during the Cold War. They were the only Muslim country in NATO and entered in 1952, its location near waterways and as a bulwark that would prevent Soviets to reach other Middle Eastern regions made them important in the fight of ideologies. The Truman Doctrine which set American (Western) foreign policy that was set on containing the spread of Communism was specifically directed towards Greece and Turkey. Truman promised economic and financial aids for the country. This helped Turkey to resist Soviet pressure from the Dardanelles; they were given $4 million in support of the region. As a member of NATO and other European organizations they would like to receive the full benefits of being a part of Europe. Turkey has been discussing integration with the European Community (now European Union) since 1963. In 1964 the Ankara Agreement established Turkey as a part of the European Economic Community. This opened their markets up to European imports however gives them declining terms of trade with setting preferential tariff deals with countries outside of Europe. “Ankara stresses that the EU should embrace full Turkish membership because of the country’s strategic position between Europe and Asia and to send a signal to other Muslim societies, such as those of North Africa, that the EU will include Muslim societies that are secular and democratic” (Conference Report 1). Turkey has been a member of the OECD since 1961. In 1987, Turkey made another bid to enter into the European Community (EC), they believed that full membership would strengthen democratic institutions and would facilitate worldwide integration into the free-market economy (Mango 90). The EC declined the application and said that eligibility for membership could be set at another date. In the 1990s, Turkish-EU relations had achieved a customs union so that Turkey was able to receive the same tariff treatment as the other fifteen EU members. The open markets to European goods scared some small and medium sized businesses who felt threatened and moved towards a pro-Islamic welfare party. Turkey does however, see a customs union with the EU as a step towards full membership. At the present, many membership talks between the EU and Turkey have been a long process of postponement, meanwhile in 2004 fifteen Eastern European countries have been included into the EU, many with similar or worse economic standings. In January 2007, Bulgaria and Romania have also joined Europe, two countries with poorer economics than Turkey. In 2002 the Copenhagen European Council did acknowledge Turkish progress but said much still remained. European negotiations for accession finally began in 2005 but it is believed that a strict surveillance of Turkey’s economic and political status will be looked over, EU members believe it will take 10 years before Turkey gains full membership and the earliest date may be in 2015. Countries such as Austria and Germany are opposed to full membership and are proposing a privileged partnership or less than full membership. One must really access if Turkey is ready for European accession or if the difficulties that they are encountering is more based on an elitist and racial sentiment in which Europe feels uncomfortable and unwilling to include a Muslim country into their predominantly Christian white ranks.

Turkey’s goal ever since its foundation on October 1923 had been towards modernization, secularization and to fully integrate into the Western world as a European country. “Closer relations with the United States and Western Europe became central to the new republic’s self-definition” (Wilkens 18). It was important that Ataturk cultivate a Turkish identity as opposed to an Islamic one. Turkey has also made amends with Israel, one of the only Muslim countries that does legitimize the country but having direct dealings and trade with them, this shows the forward looking and western leaning stance that Turkey is taking. “The Turkish military signed a landmark agreement allowing Israeli jets to train in Turkish airspace” (Wilkens 43). They also have a bilateral trade accord and Turkey has purchased 200 missiles from Israel. Turkey and Israel engage in joint naval operations in the Mediterranean and they are building a new bilateral arms-supply relationship in addition to sharing intelligence. Another area in which Turkey is improving and could see large gains in revenue is in new oil pipelines. Turkey plans to build an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean. Estimates show that the Caspian oil fields could contain more than 3.3 billion barrels of oil reserves. This could prime Turkey to stand as a rival to the Persian Gulf and enable them to acquire FDI and multinational interest. If Turkey was able to manifest the large amounts of oil purported to be in the Caspian Sea then they would be accepted into the EU with open arms, but as of now they still have to work extremely hard in order to prove their worth.

Of all the Middle Eastern-Muslim countries Turkey has built their country on the distinction between Turkish nationalism and Islam. They have been trying to improve the democratic road instilling a free press, multiparty system and relatively free elections and trade unions. A problem within the political sector is with the military sector interfering in political parties and the intolerance of minority rights and the human rights abuses, Turkey is still striving to achieve western standards. In the 1980s there was a military coup which installed Prime Minister Ozal, a businessman and former World Bank official. The years of PM Ozal did lead to prosperity since he opened the Turkish economy to international competition. Turkey saw increased foreign investment, tourism and a more opened Turkish society. This led to the creation of a new class of businessmen. From 1989 to 1992, Ozal also tried to alleviate the Kurdish problem, the Kurds are a minority group within Turkey who are ethnically and linguistically different and seek their own state. Ozal launched Turkey’s official bid for membership in the EU, during his administration Turkey became more forward thinking and tolerant, showing EU that the country was making significant strides. However, with Ozal’s death Turkey was left with a divided party system which was a step backwards for the EU admissions process. Protest groups such as Islamic and pro-Kurdish parties sprung up. “The combination of a weak coalition government and difficulty economic and political problems set the stage for increased polarization and militarization in the 1990s. European criticism was centered on the fact that the army played a critical role in Turkey’s development and implementation of policy. The continuing role of the military is a democratic blemish in their government. Some observers believe that the military’s role is critical to protecting Turkish democracy from dangerous extremism. This extremism worries Europeans who are leery of over religiosity and the acceptance of such a large Muslim state into the Union, the accession of Turkey would make the “Christian Club” feel very vulnerable. There have been showdown between generals and pro-Islamic welfare parties, this is a hindrance to EU accession and acceptance, Europe does not like the heavy involvement of the military yet with them civilian politicians may be ousted by radical Islamic groups, these two choices are both undesirable in European eyes.

Turkey has been trying to improve all conditions within society in order to effectively modernize and gain positive attention from the West, they have specifically tried to make changes in their economic status in order to improve the country’s welfare. PM Turgut Ozal hoped that “Turkey should become part of Europe, but that it should become one of the top 10 or 15 leading countries in the world” (Mango 89). Ozal saw EC membership important because it would encourage FDI into Turkey and promote a more successful market economy, Turkey was given membership eligibility however no firm date was set on when membership negotiations and entry would occur. Turkey has been marked with having high inflation rates however, the private sector has continued to prosper, and this has led to the wide income gap within the country that needs to be bridged. In the 1980s Turkey was facing dire economic circumstances with high inflation, shortages, and labor unrest due to unemployment. Aims that the government put in place in order to turn around the economy was centered on macroeconomic stabilization, reforms towards liberalization, and an emphasis on the role of export. “Turkey’s present 1980 economic policy focused on foreign trade, export promotion, and liberalization of imports” (Baysan 10). Turkey was looking to have an outward oriented trade strategy based on comparative advantage (Baysan 10). Export growth would establish Turkey’s international credit worthiness and was essential to improve the balance of payment situation. “Exporters receive the right to import raw materials and intermediate inputs duty free” (Baysan 13). This would make producing goods cheaper for manufacturers within Turkey so that their exports would have some degree of competitiveness when sold on the international markets. Manufactured exports grew to about 44 percent annually from 1980 to 1985. Large export markets were in textiles, leather goods, chemicals, iron, steel products, electric goods, and transportation equipment. Textiles are the most important followed by the iron and steel industries. “Exports to Middle Eastern countries jumped from $400 million in 1979 to $3.2 billion in 1985” (Baysan 24). A rise in exports, tourism, and remittances from Turks in Europe combined with foreign investment allowed Turkey to deal with its foreign debt. “As a result of rapid export growth, the trade deficit declined from $4.5 billion in 1980 to $3 billion range in recent years, the unrest account deficit fell below $1.5 billion from $3.4 billion in 1980” (Baysan 24).

As Turkey grows through exports, private investment has become more important. Turkey’s FDI policy became more liberal under PM Ozal in order to attract the cash inflow that was needed in order to build the country. There were 100 percent foreign ownership possibilities for foreign investors in all sectors, customs duties exemptions and other tax incentives. Ozal’s liberal open door FDI policy brought foreign technology that increased productivity and international competitiveness and gave a link to world economics and openness. There has been steady growth between 1981 and 1991 and the Turkish economy has been growing at the average rate of 5.1 percent and up to 7.3 percent in 1993. In the 1980s the growth of the tourism industry attracted millions of foreign visitors’ earnings. However, Turkey must be vigilant about their political situation that often leads to fragmentation and coalitions within the government because political instability does not reassure investors who could quickly pull out their investments in the country. This occurred when $70 billion of Turkish capital left the country to be invested in the West in 1995, FDO had declined 63 percent. By 1996 the Turkish lira had depreciated 65 percent against the US dollar compared toe the 35 percent in 1995. Investors dumped liras for dollars and Euros, this was the result of deregulations which allowed investors to take out their investments in order to put them into safer markets. In the face of setbacks and difficulties with pressing accession with the Europeans, Turkey is optimistic about keeping alignments with the West and improving their state of affairs, economically, politically, and through social and human rights. Turkey has built a banking system, a capital market for bonds and stocks, and an unorganized money market. Turkey has 33 commercial banks that are privately owned and two private development banks. Turkey is trying to eliminate restrictions and establish sound legal bases in order to encourage capital inflow, they are also mindful of unstable political policy making since multinational firms with FDI are risk conscious and selective. Despite inflation and certain economic failures Turkey’s per capita GDP places it among the upper middle income countries. They have a higher minimum wage than Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, all accepted EU states.

Each time Turkey applies for membership into the EU, the Europeans set certain goals that still must be left to be accomplished by Turkey. Central to the changes that Europe wants is on human rights fronts, the amelioration of the Kurdish problem, the resolution of the Greek-Turkish divide over Cyprus, and with the containment of the growth of Islamic militancy within the government. The Kurdish problem stems from the ethnically different minority living in Turkey’s southeastern border who are denied certain rights by the Turkish Republic. This led the Militant Kurdish group the Kurdistan Worker’s Party to engage in a military offensive against the Turkish army in southeast Turkey. This was due to the defeat of Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf war which gave Iraqi Kurds control of the area, the PKK acquired modern weapons and started to act like an army. The PKK’s aim was to destroy the territorial integrity of the Turkish state this led Turkey to launch a military incursion across the border into Iraq to try and destroy the PKK havens there in 1995. The PKK says however, that they are not looking for an independent state but for full cultural, political, and human rights recognition of the Kurds in Turkey (Wilkens). The Kurdish problem stems from the fact that Turkey has been based on the idea of patriotism and Turkish nationalism, everyone must consider themselves Turk. Gradually, changes have been made in order to appease the Kurdish community, they are now allowed to speak their own Kurdish dialects and with the EU’s insistence they “granted the Kurds the right to have education and broadcasting in Kurdish before Turkey would be considered for accession talks for membership to the EU” (Ahmad 166). In 1992 Prime Minister Demirel said that they recognized the Kurdish reality. He proposed a change from Ataturk’s statement “Happy is he who calls himself a Turk” to “Happy is he who calls himself a citizen of Turkey.”

Not only has Turkey been trying to improve infrastructure and roads in order to be more in line with European standards schooling is also becoming important so that the population’s literacy rate will have increased to Western standards. However, Turkey’s human rights records are debatable and is a large source of contention for the EU. Their past and present practices differentiate their society from Europe making it difficult for Turkey to even think of accession unless they make changes. “Little progress has been achieved in reversing the widespread use of torture and other systematic human rights violations” (Wilkens 63). This is against European beliefs. Turkey has an anti-Terror law which has broad and ambiguous definitions of terror making the law seem all encompassing for government to exterminate dissent leading Europe to accuse Turkey of being undemocratic. At Europe’s insistence as a prerequisite to entering the EU Turkey has abolished the death penalty. There has since been the abolition of capital punishment, crackdowns on torture and more human rights given to the Kurdish population in order to instill more transparency and equality within the government and social structure.

The Islamic revival in Turkey that has founded the Welfare Party has gained support from voters who are disgruntled such as the ethnic Kurds and the underclass. This is a source of worry for Europeans who are skeptical about any type of religious fervency within the state or government. However, Turkey has a history of being very secular and Western leaning especially in comparison to its other Middle Eastern counterparts. This makes the country a key asset in fighting Islamic radicalism that has sprouted with more force in other countries. Prime Minister Erbakan in fact, enforced constitutional bans of Islamic dress codes, closed media organs that followed an anti-secular line, and regulates the enrollment in Islamic schools (Wilkens 7). The inclusion of Turkey into Europe would improve their trade and ameliorate unemployment problems bringing the country towards an even greater Western stance making the country a perfect counterbalance in the Muslim world, also able to influence the other countries towards similar policies of trade, secularization, and moderate Islam.

With all the concessions that Turkey has made and with all of the rounds of negotiations and applications to enter into Europe will they ever be accepted or will Europe remain the untouchable fortress of white Christians? Europe undoubtedly needs a younger generation, they are a quickly dwindling society unable to produce enough children and younger workers to sustain the generous welfare states that some countries within the EU have created. The population of Europe is getting older, some of the oldest populations are in Germany, Italy, and Spain, and working women are not willing to halt careers in order to have more children. This is putting a burden on the workers of today who are supporting those who get social security retirement funds. There are less workers in the economy in which to extract taxes and support the growing old. If Turkey was able to accede into the EU, they would become the largest EU state with the youngest population. Europe needs these new, young people ready to work, but are they ready to handle a Muslim ethnic group into their continent? It seems that throughout the years of negotiations for accession, Europeans have set new goals that Turkey must achieve, the EU says that Turkey’s level of industrialization and economic development are below Europe’s average. The EU says that they fall short of democratic credentials due to intolerance of minority rights and human rights violations. Turkey has worked hard on all of these fronts in order to appease Europe. On December 13, 1997 the biannual EU summit in Luxembourg showed that the EU had eleven countries in line for membership, however Turkey was not one of them. “The list of EU candidates included several former Eastern-bloc states with political and economic shortcomings disputably as severe as Turkey’s” (Wilkens 22). Turkey came out of the Luxembourg summit resentful and angry and abandoned by those they felt were friends with the same ideological track as them. However, xenophobic attitudes could be the reason that Turkey has still not been let into the elite club meanwhile Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Latvia are all fully part of the EU but have worse economic statuses than Turkey. Europe is scared to include Turkey and become imploded with Muslims due to the country’s 70 million population. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said “Europe is a cultural and not a geographical continent. Its culture gives it a common identity. In this sense, Turkey always represented another continent throughout history, in permanent contrast with Europe. It would be a loss to subsume culture under the economy.” This illustrates the cultural separatism that Europe feels and the fear to include a Muslim society, xenophobic feelings is what drives Europe from excluding Turkey and not any economic defaults that they may have. If it is racism that is driving Europe’s inclusion policy then the negotiation rounds dealing with Turkey’s accession may be extended for the next couple of centuries.

Although fortress Europe has tried to keep Turkey out, they are inextricably linked. Almost 2.5 million Turkish workers are visible in Europe with large concentrations in Germany, France, Holland, and Belgium and there are 25,000 Turks in European universities. Turkey’s main trading partner is with the EU consisting of 59 percent in exports and 52 percent of imports. In 1993, 45 percent of Turkey’s foreign trade was carried with EU states, Germany being the largest trading partner. Turkish tourism sees the largest amount of tourists coming from Europe and the majority of FDI comes from Europe. “Turkey will continue to be a partner of the advanced industrialized nations of the world, particularly the West. It shares the West’s interest in stable, democratic world order, to which the growing energies of its people can contribute” (Mango 133). It is up to Europe to realize Turkey’s potential as a newly industrializing economy with a young labor force and its geopolitical importance in serving as a bridge between the East and the West. Turkey’s inclusion could serve as a model of Islam entering and being accepted in the Western world through secular, democratic, and economic reforms. It would be the successful moderate Muslim archetype which could influence the rest of the Muslim world, this possibility makes Turkey a crucial component in the fight against militant Islamism that has been spreading within the Middle East, through visible acceptance of the West it would prove that democratic and economic reforms are acknowledged and racial divides and ideas of cultural superiority is not what is still driving Europe (and America) today. However, it still remains to be seen, after all the economic and social changes that Turkey has and will be making in order to gain acceptance, will Fortress Europe ever open up it’s gates for a Muslim peoples?

Turkish Flag

Ancient Library at Ephesus

Whirling Dervishes

Beautiful City on the Bosphorus

Bibliography: Wilkens, Katherine A. Turkey Today: Troubled Ally’s Search for Identity. Foreign Policy Association. New York, 1998.

Mango, Andrew. Turkey: The Challenge of a New Role. The Center for Strategic and International Studies. Westport, CT, 1994.

Ahmad, Feroz. Turkey: The Quest for Identity. Oneworld Publications. England, 2003.

Harris, George S. Turkey: Coping with Crisis. Westview Press. Boulder, Colorado, 1985.

Nas, Tevfik f, and Mehmet Odekon. Liberalization and the Turkish Economy. Greenwood Press. New York, 1988.

Aricanli, Tosun. The Political Economy of Turkey. St. Martin’s Press. New York, 1990.