Turkey’s Accession Problems to the European Union: Islam and the Territorial Disputes


The start of the negotiations for Turkey’s accession to the EU presents a vast reservoir of information but also unresolved issues on the Turkish-EU relations.

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The Cyprus issue is the most significant which may affect the entire process of accession. The disputes over the Aegean Sea and the Armenian issue also affect the talks. Internal ones include the Kurdish minority rights, the trial of Abdullah Ocalan, and the Muslim issue. All these are interesting topic for discussion, intriguing yet worthy of scrutiny before a conclusion or recommendations could be attained.

There are many challenges in Turkey’s accession, including external and internal ones. Nevertheless, Turkey has separated its internal security challenges from the external ones, for example Kurdish separatism from Islamic fundamentalism. The Muslim issue is, as mentioned, more of historical than religious, although various opinion from scholars are presented in the literature and discussed outright.

Turkey’s case is unique because of the various controversial issues that have to be resolved. A special kind of membership is not commendable however, since this will be opposed by most member countries.

Doubts and misconceptions have penetrated in the minds of commentators including those of Turkish citizens who have expressed their dissatisfaction and unwillingness to be a part of the EU. This was revealed in some surveys conducted inside Turkey.

Relevant issues are presented in this paper objectively and without any inclination for a favorable outcome for Turkey or for skeptics inside and outside the country.

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A comment from the former French Giscard d’Estaing stated that should Turkey be admitted to the European Union, it would be the end of the Union. He reasoned out that the political, cultural and geographic vision of Europe would be altered significantly by admitting into the Union a country with a predominantly Muslim population and was geographically at the edge of the European continent.

Turkey’s accession to the European Union is considered the most controversial because it has been opposed by member states and has provoked substantial debate. Turkey is a country with a strong aspiration to be part of Western institutions, particularly the European. It has wanted to consolidate its secular republic and maintain territorial integrity.

Difficult negotiations are seen ahead because of Turkey’s large Muslim population, and with a political system that is far from European standards added with a relatively backward economy (MacLennan 20).

There are also a number of common beliefs that are considered opposite to what Turkey and Europe are seen by the member countries. Some beliefs, or remarks, that tend to malign the issues facing the EU and Turkey are: the EU is a “Christian club” while Turkey is a Muslim country”; the EU as a “political and economic union”, a “democratic union”, and Turkey is a ‘secular country’, and is implicitly culturally Asian and not European. Giscard d’Estaing’s discourse then suggested that it is impossible to join together the EU which is a union of European countries and Turkey which is geographically “not” in Europe, nor is European culturally. (Negrine et al. 49)

Another remark is that Turkey’s membership to the EU will damage the “Europeanness” and that the concept of Europe will no longer exist (Özcan and Bal 15).

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The controversy, debate and opposition of Turkey’s accession to the EU are due to various causes that may range from utilitarian considerations to cultural concerns on the part of the Europeans. Turkey is seen as a poor and very populated country that it might destabilize the EU as an economic entity. Moreover, it has been featured as the ‘other’ in Europe (Negrine et al 51).

Turkey is also perceived as “too undemocratic, too illiberal and too culturally different” (Aksoy 470). Other issues include democratization and human rights (Rumford 379).

The negotiations process is a significant event for the European Union as a regional grouping. It is one proof that the European Union is a success as an organization and its political system can be a model for all the others even with such diverse cultures as Europe. But troubles and problems over candidate countries are diverse and unique as the cultures, Turkey for example. Many Europeans think that the entry of Turkey will be like a new siege against Vienna or that Europe will succumb to a foreign invasion. However, for Turkey it is a great step forward in its quest for modernization and Westernisation. Europe on the other hand may demand a price. Some Turks think that this price could mean the reconquest of Constantinople which the Ottomans conquered in the fifteenth century. (MacLennan 21)

Turkey has been a full and equal member of several US- and Europe-led international and regional institutions, but this one the EU membership, has challenged Turkey with much difficulty. It became a member of the European Economic Community in 1963, and also into a customs union with the Community in 1995, but this did not give any meaning to the Turkish quest to become an EU member. In 1999, after years of strained relations, it was given official candidate status with a prospect of being given a status lesser than full membership. (Aksoy 470)

Problems on Turkey’s accession into the EU are categorized as internal and external. Turkey has to reframe its foreign policy, reconciling the different dynamics to resolve internal and external issues. Since Turkey is geographically at the edge of Europe, doubts persist about whether Turkey belongs in Europe. A complex and difficult historical background defines the Turkish-European relationship; whilst Europe has tried to define itself as different from others culturally and politically, and the European context and meaning to the eyes of the world have changed over the last 500 years or more (Delanty, 1995, qtd. in Negrine et al. 50).

Turkey is perceived as an outsider in the European community (Robins, 1996: 65; see also Kushner, 1999; Neumann, 1999, qtd. in Negrine et al. 51). Even if it has succeeded in establishing itself as a Westernised and a modernized society, the Europeans still regard Turkey as not authentically of the West.

Since the time of Kemal Atatürk, Turkey always had the intention to be a part of Europe. Turkey was committed to the areas of Westernisation and modernisation in order to reach this level of existence. However, it can be said that Europe and Turkey are historically linked to be separate.

Nora Seni (qtd. in Negrine et al. 51) would say: “Turkish-European relations can be understood as ‘recurring neurosis’, a ‘monotonously self-repeating ‘drama’ that can never change’, with the structure of the discourse – of desire and rejection – established in the 1850s.”


Sensitive issues have to be resolved for the EU-Turkey relationship to progress, and these include the issue on the Republic of Cyprus, the unresolved Aegean dispute with Greece, Kurdish minority rights, religious freedom and pressures from the EU member countries over relations with Armenia, and the issue of Islam – the ‘Muslim face’ of Turkey.

These issues could further fuel nationalist sentiments and civil-military tension. However the problems enumerated could delay the process of Turkey’s accession, but not stop it.


The methodology used in this dissertation consists of an analysis of the literature on Turkey’s quest to be a part of the European Union. The issues involved are Islam and territorial disputes. These factors influence the current course of Turkey’s accession to the European Union. The literature can be sourced from the library, online library, journals, periodicals and the internet.

From the vast literature, the next step is to focus on the analysis of the studies and researches of various authors and experts to arrive at a possible conclusion and recommendation.


Turkey applied for membership in 1987, and in 2001 this gained momentum when the European Council announced an Accession Partnership, declaring a clearer road map to continue its walk on the course of the EU membership.

Turkey expressed its desire for EU membership by presenting its own National Program on 19 March 2001, to which the European political circles did not feel satisfied with Turkey’s response to the EU’s call for political reforms. Their opinion was that the National Program fell short of meeting the EU demands on the following points:

  1. The Cyprus issue
  2. The cultural and linguistic rights of the minorities (mainly the Kurds)
  3. The military’s role in the Turkish political system. (Uslu 49)

The European Council summit in Göteborg in June 2001 stated that Turkey’s National Program needed to be reformed in a number of areas such as human rights and treatment of the minorities. Following this, the Turkish National Assembly enacted 34 amendments to the Turkish constitution, a clear demonstration of Turkish sincerity and willingness to meeting the requirements of the EU membership. EU authorities were still not impressed, saying Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy have to be changed. One of the EU demands was the control of the military over political system. Turkey’s civilian government should hold the reins of power and not the military.

In 2002, the Turkish parliament enacted laws meeting the Copenhagen criteria, and also established the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Developments came up and relations started to deteriorate. Turkish authorities believed that they have met the conditions set by the EU for accession, and therefore deserved to obtain a timetable for the start of accession talks. (Uslu 50)

There have been three standpoints on the Turkish accession: in Turkey, in the EU or at the negotiating table in Brussels. Each is represented with a particular bias. From the Turkish standpoint, there are accusations of unreasonable requirements and “double standards” against the EU, the French closure acquis communautaire, and the use of referendum, which have all made a negative impact on Turkish elites and population. (Volten 10)

The culture of negotiation is different in Turkey and in the EU which may be a cause for misunderstanding. Already there is a political stalemate occurring which threatens the process of the talks.

In the world stage, there is the question of whether the EU will still be able to maintain its status as an economic superpower. In the multi-polar world order, Turkey and the EU face comparable and common challenges, and the EU should define itself, its identity, on this context. The EU can also extend its political clout with the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) as its back up, and with a strengthened military capability to display its prowess as a strong Union. The EU also has a role and responsibility in the volatile region of the Caucasus and the Middle East, which is plagued with terrorism and trafficking, which has a link with Turkey (Volten 11).

Moreover, EU’s identity seems not so clear. The member states have different cultures and characteristics. France and the UK, both having had a tradition of military power as part of their foreign policy, are hardly comparable with that of Germany or the Nordic countries. The EU has a security plan and concept which is to strengthen the military capabilities of a European Army of 60,000, even if this is not yet fully operational but could be on the way of full implementation. The EU longs to have a military capability of its own. (Volten 12)

The EU’s prospect of a military build-up is committed to political-strategic rather than military-strategic considerations (Volten 12). EU considers peace rather than war as a main policy of the member states. It also maintains a “soft power” policy, which is characterised by diplomacy and negotiation to attract political and socio-economic system. The EU promotes “effective multilateralism” founded on governance and cooperation (Volten 12).

As a whole, it can be said that Turkey could be considered an asset for the EU in the political global role. Turkey’s geopolitical position and military capabilities could be one of the possible considerations for the EU’s approach to Turkey’s membership. However, there are antagonistic views on these contentions. The French may have a different stance, while London and Washington think that Turkish membership might weaken the EU. But Turkey thinks that its membership can make a stronger Europe. The Turks have presented their geopolitical and military weight in the negotiations. This approach is called the Realist one, although it may be somewhat outdated. (Volten 12)

The geopolitical and strategic issues both favor the EU and Turkey in the latter’s membership bid. Short term gains and self-motivated interests should not influence the actors in the negotiations, rather perceptions should focus on the usefulness of integration and the role that the EU and Turkey can play in the emerging world order.

Historical Background

Turkey’s state formation can be traced back to the nineteenth century. During the last century of the Ottoman Empire, there were reformists in the government of Istanbul and others in the military, political, legal and economic fields. This led to the beginnings of modern state formation. (Altunışık & Tür 1)

Mustafa Kemal was the founding father and first president of the Republic of Turkey. He instituted a rational government although it was not a fully functional democracy. Kemal set his goals to set up a coherent and economically functional society, but poverty and illiteracy prevailed. The Muslim population of Anatolia started to decline, and women were outnumbering the men with an acute shortage of skilled labour when Muslim peasants tried to replace Christian tradesmen and craftsmen. (Mango 18)

Mustafa Kemal made the needed reforms. These reforms were the introduction of a secular government untrammeled by religious dogma, the emancipation of women, the introduction of the Latin alphabet, the adoption of the common era with its calendar and universally accepted days of rest, and the use of everyday Turkish language instead of the Mandarin Ottoman language. He banned the fez and discouraged the veil on women. He imposed the introduction of surnames and chose for himself the surname of Atatürk. (Mango 18)

Atatürk’s reforms were built on a premise which was widely shared in his day – that there was only one universal civilization which represented ‘the material and moral progress of humanity’. Atatürk wanted all his people – and not just a small educated elite – to join the mainstream of this single civilization and contribute to it. He described the civilization which he wanted his people to share as ‘contemporary’ or ‘modern’, rather than European or Western, but he knew where it was centred. (Mango 18)

Atatürk’s motto on peace for his country and the world had two components. Inside Turkey, the orderly implementation of the reforms was paramount. Abroad, a few simple principles had to be observed for the sake of peaceful order: non-aggression, non-interference, and collective action in defence of the international order established by treaty. He entered into alliances and treaties with neighbours and supported sanctions against invaders of countries. These principles are still applied by Atatürk’s successors to the present time. (Mango 18)

Turkish foreign policy is contained in a vast and growing literature describing the exploits and principles of Atatürk and the Turkish Republic. However, political rulers and diplomats following this noble man also made their own legacy, making sure that Turkey could develop in peace and use its resources to uplift the quality of life of the Turkish people. The Ottoman Empire was used to wars in its existence and survived them; now the Turkish Republic is beginning to enjoy the peace that war has brought. This achievement survived the Second World War. Atatürk’s chief lieutenant and successor was Ismet Inönü. (Mango 18)

The Establishment of Modern Turkey

Turkey survived history by not being colonized by any country. It has exercised a certain amount of autonomy and formed a local intelligentsia, the Ottoman intelligentsia, which was influential to historical Turkey (Kazancigil 1986: 132-3, qtd. in Faucompret and Konings 3). The intelligentsia was middle-class oriented but didn’t know about law, checks and balances, political rights, the free press and the way to govern a country.

The Ottoman scholars had the notion that a modern state could come into being only if it had a sound democratic and industrial basis. They knew the principles of modern political and economic thought. Modern Turkey’s first generation of leaders was raised in schools set up by the Ottomans and they were taught how to rule a modern state. (Faucompret and Konings 3).

Mustafa Kemal was a product of the Ottoman intelligentsia. He combined a splendid intellect with a far-sighted vision and shrewd diplomatic skills. In the aftermath of the First World War, he started to unite his people. He succeeded in enticing the army and public opinion against the unjust Treaty of Sèvres. When the Greeks occupied Smyrna, Turkey declared war on Greece.

Turkey recovered Eastern Thrace and several Aegean islands, the Smyrna district and some portions of the internationalized Zone of the Straits. This remained demilitarized and subject for international convention. But Turkey renounced Arab territories. Turkey declared itself ready to protect its minorities, but there was no supervision of this (Zürcher 1997: 170). The remainder of the Greek orthodox population of Anatolia was exchanged against the Muslims from Greece. The League of Nations tried to soften the impact of this human tragedy. (Faucompret and Konings 4)

The Republic of Turkey that replaced the monarchy was established in 1923. The decentralization and self-rule that had been typical of the Ottoman Empire were abolished. (Faucompret and Konings 4).

Atatürk imposed upon Turkey the following principles:

  • The abolishment of the sultanate and caliphate.
  • Government control of religion and not the other way around, thus it has to be removed from public life.
  • The interest of the people had to be the main concern of the ruling party.
  • The state had to be distinct from the person of the leader, and there had to be cooperation between the private and the public sector.
  • The state had to be pre-eminent in the economic field and it had to be continuously adapted to the requests of modernization.
  • There had to be national solidarity, and the interests of the whole nation had to be put before those of any group or class. (Faucompret and Konings 4)

The concept of national sovereignty that inspired modern Turkey was no different from that of nineteenth-century Europe. Many new European states saw the light. Nations felt united because of common race, religion, language, culture, geography and economic interests. Leaders like Cavour in Piemont or Bismarck in Prussia, and intellectual movements like the Burschenschaften in Germany or the Carbonari in Italy, encouraged the rise of nations against oppressors. This was also the case in Turkey.

Turkish nationalism opposed the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, the surrender of territory in the Balkans and the Middle East, and the attempts of the Kurds and Armenians to separate or carve out on Ottoman territory (The Economist 2007c, qtd. in Faucompret and Konings 4).

Is Islam an issue?

Many inside Turkey would rather reframe this question as “Why is Islam an issue?”

The alarmist view regarding the deluge of Muslims in Europe is simply that, alarmist. According to statistics provided by Jenkins (2007, qtd. in Tziampiris), there was a Muslim population consisting of 4.6%, i.e. of the 34 European states taken together. This means there were only 28.2 million Muslims out of Europe’s total population of 521 million. Europe is not being overrun by Muslims or Islam. France carries with it some 8.3% of Muslims (Jenkins, 2007), said to be the largest percentage.

There are references to Muslims that suggest that Islam is somehow monolithic and imply connections with extremism. This is far from the truth; there are antagonistic views and variations. Muslims in Europe do not share the same theology or politics nor do they have identical backgrounds.

“In effect, referring to Europe’s Muslim population is an oversimplification unless one is willing to accept a very loose (and subsequently less meaningful) standard of categorization” (Jenkins, 2007, pp. 18-19, qtd. in Tziampiris 71).

Islam does not play a role in the decision whether to accept Turkey into the EU. But there are doubts and rounds for debate on this, Turkey being a majority Muslim country. On the other hand, the Copenhagen criterion during the Dutch presidency of the EU stipulates that accession negotiations can commence if a state has a stable democracy and a constitutional state that guarantees the rule of law, human rights and the rights of minorities (Zürcher and van der Linden 5). These are grounds for accession, and no mention of religion. Turkey qualifies by that.

The issue of Turkey being a predominantly Muslim country therefore is not ground for disqualification. What should be looked at are the practices: culture, law, human rights, etc., with is according to the EU criteria and grounds for accession.

The Muslim issue did not play a role when it was granted a candidate-member status in 1999. However, the September 11 attacks became a forefront issue. Concerns by member states about Islam and Muslims have increased considerably. There are doubts on the Islamic character of the Turks. Because of this, there are now objections to membership particularly on issues of cultural and religious grounds, even if religion is not a part of the EU values (Zürcher and van der Linden 5).

Zürcher and van der Linden have this remark:

The Union has defined itself as a system of values and actions based on the basic principles of freedom and democracy, as well as recognition of human rights, fundamental liberties and the rule of law. The freedom of thought, conscience and religion forms an integral part of these basic rights, as does the respect afforded by the Union to cultural and religious diversity (6).

The church and the state should have separate areas of responsibility. Since the Union has this distinct principle of political and civil rights, there has to be a separation between the church and the state, and the freedom of religion and conscience.

“Freedom of religion and conscience means that religious believers (including members of minority churches), atheists and apostates face no restrictions in the exercise of their rights. It is precisely in this area that people harbour doubts about Islam.” (Zürcher and van der Linden 6)

The situation of the autonomy of church and state among EU members is considered diverse. All member states are formally secular and recognise freedom of religion, but they do not always remain neutral toward religious denominations. This being the case, some states have a state church while others do not. Some states also have privileged denominations. Those states which have state church also recognize and offer equal treatment to other churches. However, in Europe there are variations pertaining to the question of church and state. The Turkish experience on this issue has to meet some minimum conditions.

Can Turkish Islam stand in the way of the country’s accession?

According to the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (also identified by the Dutch initials, the WRR), there are no such influences on the Turkish Islam that would negatively affect EU values. The Turkish state is constitutionally protected against religious influences. Turkey’s principle of church and state can be linked to that of France. France’s laicism provided the model for the Republic of Turkey’s constitution.

Political Islam on the other hand became more visible with the coming into power of the Islamic Welfare Party in 1996, albeit within a coalition. The result of these internal security challenges was a greater degree of authoritarianism.

The military’s intervention in ousting the Islamic Welfare Party in 1997 was referred to as a ‘soft coup’. Throughout this period, Turkey was extremely sensitive to EU criticism of how it handled the internal conflict between the PKK and the Turkish military. Turkey has to reconcile external and internally policy challenges. But it became very difficult for Turkey.

Situations seemed to improve upon the dissolution of the Islamic Welfare Party and capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. Then EU decided at its Helsinki Summit to announce Turkey as a candidate country (Gordon & Taspinar, 2006: 60, qtd. in Aybet 542).

General Hilmi Ozkok made a speech setting the parameters of strategic and political priorities for Turkish foreign policy and such other matters as the EU accession, Cyprus, internal security, the Armenian issue, and relations with Greece. An emphasis of the speech was on the treaties and obligations towards the Turkish-Cypriot population. (Aybet 542)

The relations between the Islamic world and the EU will bear the greatest impact of Turkey’s EU membership. The countries in the Middle East are no strangers to Turkey; their relations are quite good. These countries are Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, to name a few. Turkey has become influential to the Muslim world. Its importance to the Islamic world is self-evident. (Laçiner 24)

Turkey has interpreted Islam in a distinct way, emphasising tolerance. The Ottoman state had to fight the challenges faced by modernity and religion. The Ottoman intelligentsia distinctly defined democracy and religion and multiculturalism way before other Muslims did.

The Ottomans knew how the parliamentary form of government. They debated on democracy and other ways of governance, including legislation and the many debates in the government. They also knew the ways of checks and balances and practiced them.

Religion in some of the countries of the Middle East was bent on war. Nationalism and religion seemed to be mixed, motives were not so clear, meaning national struggles and Islamic struggles could not be distinguished. Therefore religion could be used for political causes. (Laçiner 26)

One example is the Turkish War of Liberation: religion was used as an important motivation. The Turkish Army was successful in saving the nation, but religion was not apart from the ideologies espoused at that time, including that of the Army. Clerics had a part in the war, in fact they announced that to partake in the war was a holy action on the part of the Muslims.

The war involved the religious and non religious making it an ‘earthly war’, with different sectors participating such as the leftist, secular, and liberal. These groups were aware they had something to do with the war, one way or the other.

The Israeli question came up again, and the Arabs were there with the question on land purchases and arms. Nevertheless, the United States supported the Israelis. And this went on up to 1990s, heightened by human rights violations. The Arabs then questioned the United States because they felt that it seemed the Israelis were not covered by the international law.

From the start, Turkey was a proud nation. Its people never felt a sense of inferiority, although they reasoned out that the EU had some double standards in its dealings with accession countries. The public and private sectors felt a strong sense of self-confidence in their relations with the West.

There is in the Turkish populace a sense of mission and goal as they put their fate in the EU to grant their long dream of Westernisation and be a part of the European Union.

However, Greece is already a part of the European Union, and hence Turkey feels the EU is siding with its member. Turkey feels that the question of the Aegean island and the Cyprus issue could not be resolved so easily without the EU siding with Greece. Yet Turkey wants to go on with the negotiations. There is however the opposition coming in from the internal challenges, that public opinion seems to diverge from not proceeding on with the negotiations.

Turkish Islam may not be exactly the same with the rest of the Muslim world. The Turks wanted to confront mundane problems in a different way. The government wanted to answer the many problems of the Turks in the most practical way and not on the way of religion, although religion has some answers to man’s questions.

Territorial Disputes

Turkey’s long standing goal of entering the EU took a new turn with the accession negotiations in October 2005. The opening of the accession negotiations was hailed as a success by both the EU policymakers and the Turkish government. However, there have been pressures coming in from the political forces inside Turkey, and also external factors such as the issue of Cyprus, the Armenian issue and the Aegean dispute with Greece. Other external factors include the Kurdish minority rights and the call for retrial of PCC leader Abdullah Ocalan. (Aybet 530)

Some other provisions that the EU might possibly impose are the long transition periods, derogations, and other aspects of freedom of movement, structural policies and agriculture. One of the open ended options is a ‘privileged partnership’, i.e. when negotiations fail.

There are costs to Turkey’s accession to the EU, and commentators say these could surpass benefits. Already there has been a drop in interest in EU membership as shown from public opinion polls, and from outbursts of unrest from civil and military sectors. The military is in support of the EU accession, but the issue of Cyprus and Kurdish minority rights lingers on. (Aybet 530)

The Republic of Cyprus

The highly politicized issue of Cyprus is the most significant in the talks. It is considered by many as a hindrance although there is some headway in the negotiations. Members of the elite and the skeptics say that more pressing issues such as economic instability should be given more attention than the traditional military-dominant security concerns. (Aybet 531)

The link between the Cyprus issue and Turkey’s accession to the EU has become more pronounced since both Cyprus and Turkey became candidates for EU membership (Suvarierol 55).

Cyprus is linked to Turkey historically. It is an ancient Ottoman territory and so there is a sense of national solidarity towards the Turkish Cypriots, similar to that felt towards other Turkish populations previously under Ottoman rule. Turkish presence on the island symbolizes and guarantees the upholding of Turkish interests, which is predominantly of strategic value. (Suvarierol 56)

This problem on Cyprus was the main reason preventing them from constructing cooperative and peaceful relations, despite negotiating attempts under the UN auspices and the high level of international concessions on the elements necessary for such a diplomatic settlement. Both the EU and the USA wanted to keep Turkey and Greece within the Western Alliance so that they were careful not to show favour to one party or another. (Arikan 149)

Nevertheless, the EU’s policy has been shaped, to some extent, by the Greek presence, and Greece has used its EU membership as leverage in its broader negotiations with Turkey. The EU has found it hard to pursue a balanced policy in relation to the Cyprus issue because of the presence of Greece which takes part in the decision-making process of the EU.

There is the psychological characteristic of the Cyprus issue among Greeks and Turks because it is inherited from history. This constitutes an obstacle to finding a rational solution: both sides see a compromise or concession as an injury to national pride. (Arikan 149)

During the negotiations, a screening has been introduced that involves both explaining their contentions – the EU explaining its stand to Turkey and Turkey explaining its laws to the EU. The negotiations on science and research took some attention. The Austrian presidency made a last minute objection to the EU leaders. The Republic of Cyprus objected on the first chapter of the negotiations, demanding that Turkey recognize the Republic of Cyprus under the EU customs protocol, and allow its ships and planes to dock in Turkish ports. The issue then of recognition was postponed, although this was not resolved. (Aybet 531)

The Finnish Presidency reminded Turkey that the deadline for recognizing the Republic of Cyprus would be before the end of the year. The Turkish position maintains that as long as EU aid is being blocked to Northern Cyprus, Turkey will refuse to extend the customs protocol to the Republic of Cyprus. This reinforces the long-held Turkish view that since the Greek-Cypriot south rejected the Annan Plan in a referendum held in 2004, while the Turkish northern part of the island accepted it, Turkey should not be expected to make any further compromises on the Cyprus issue (EurActiv, 2006, qtd. in Aybet 533).

UN efforts to solve the fallout after the rejection of the Annan Plan by Greek Cypriots were making little headway until the mission of UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari to Cyprus in July 2006, which secured an agreement to resume talks on both sides. The talks are to proceed on technical issues dealing with the day-to-day lives of people on both sides of the island, acting as a confidence building exercise, and the other substantive issues.

However, what the UN-sponsored talks can achieve is linked to a wider set of complex issues, including Turkey’s ongoing negotiations with the EU, Greek–Turkish relations, and relations between the USA and the EU.

The EU seemed like acting as the primary party to the dispute because Cyprus is now part of it, but its role remains minimal only confined to Turkey’s accession process and the blocking of aid to Northern Cyprus (Beriker & Eralp, 2005, qtd. in Aybet 533).

A comprehensive settlement will eradicate the objections of the Republic of Cyprus to Turkey’s accession process. The Republic can have the opportunity to manoeuvre with its veto power at the opening and closing of the negotiations on Turkey’s accession. A comprehensive settlement with Cyprus will eliminate one major obstacle to Turkey’s accession.

However, the impact of the Cyprus issue on internal dynamics in Turkey will not simultaneously evaporate with the resolution of the Cyprus problem by a UN-led peace plan. Tensions are likely to ensue when reconciling the priorities of the Turkish General Staff with those of the Turkish government, especially if Turkey comes under pressure to withdraw its troops from the island. The military has framed the Cyprus issue within a national security context. (Aybet 533)

The Cyprus issue has a ‘spill-over effect’ into the other areas of disputes, including sovereignty claims over the Aegean Sea and minority problems. The Cyprus problem between Turkey and Greece has an impact on their respective populations, making their relationship so volatile and more susceptible to conflict (Aybat, 1995, p. 162, qtd. in Arikan 150).

Additionally, Cyprus has a historical significance for Turkey. The Turks have that sense of national solidarity towards the Turkish Cypriots. Cyprus is perceived as a dagger aimed at Turkey. This is because Cyprus’s geographic position, some 40 nautical miles away from the Anatolian coasts, is a threat to Turkey’s naval maneuverability. (Suvarierol 56)

Another concern is that the loss of Cyprus to Greece, Turkey’s historical enemy, signifies a threat against Turkish interests: the Anatolian coasts would be encircled by a string of Greek islands, and the balance of forces between the two countries would be destroyed. This is of great importance to Turkey, a strategic bastion that needs to be preserved at all costs. Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, a staunch hardliner on the Cyprus issue claimed in 1998 that Cyprus is indispensable to Turkish strategic interests that Turkey would not withdraw its troops even if there were not a single Turkish Cypriot living on the island. (Suvarierol 56)

What this means is that the rights of Turkey over Cyprus are non-negotiable. Cyprus is the first territory won against the enemy, the first contemporary victory of the Turkish and the first expression of the determination of Turkey to protect its interests and to display publicly its strategic priorities. (Suvarierol 57)

Cyprus accession worried the Republic of Turkey. The Greek presence in the EU already prevented the amelioration of relations between Turkey and Europe, and now the Greeks would obtain a second veto against Turkey, in addition to their own. (Suvarierol 57)

Turkey insisted that the Cypriot application should not be accepted by the EU. Turkey then sought the advice of experts on international law, namely Maurice H. Mendelson and Christian Heinze. Turkey wanted these experts to convince Europe and the rest of the international community that the Greek Cypriot application was against principles of international law, which the EU respects and promotes.

Mendelson’s contention then pointed to Article 185 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus that says, “The integral or partial union of Cyprus with any other State is excluded”, arguing that it was the intention of the treaties that established the Republic of Cyprus to prevent the possibility of giving Greece or Turkey a more favorable economic position on the island which would unify Cyprus with Greece.

The Constitution of the Republic of Turkey states that both the President and the Vice President have the right to veto on any law wherein the country would enter into an alliance, or a law concerning foreign affairs. This meant that the president and the vice president have a veto right on the accession of Cyprus to organizations of which only one of these two states was a member, and that is including the EU. Mendelson made a conclusion that the Greek Cypriot administration did not have the right to apply for membership to the EU nor could it become a member as long as Turkey remained outside the EU. (Suvarierol 58)

These arguments however did not persuade the EU. Turkey could also be perceived as hypocritical in her own sense of upholding international law when she alone could not abide by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on Cyprus.

Turkey did not want to involve the EU over the Cyprus issue, but the EU wanted to resolve the Cyprus problem. When the EU announced Turkey’s candidacy, it was hoped that this would contribute to the resolution of the Cyprus problem. They hoped that Turkey, as one of the major actors in Cyprus, would tone down or modify its position. However, Turkish officials tend to separate the Cyprus problem from the issue of Turkey’s EU membership. (Suvarierol 61).

Disputes with Greece

The unresolved disputes with Greece are categorized under five headings:

  1. “Dispute over territorial waters
  2. Continental shelf delimitation
  3. Demilitarization of the islands
  4. Disputed islets, and
  5. Flight Information Region” (Aybet 534).

The Greeks sought membership in the 1970s, and Turkey followed suit but made a genuine desire to become a member only in 1987. However, political elites and parties inside Turkey remained hesitant in supporting EU membership.

From the five categories, Greece insists that the continental shelf delimitation is the only area subject for discussion; the rest should be referred to the International Court of Justice. Turkey insists that all five issues of the Aegean dispute should be discussed in a bilateral forum.

However, the two countries have focused their rapprochement on areas that included ‘soft’ security and cultural exchanges. Both sides have continued to have positive discussions on the Aegean disputes, although the issue is still unresolved (Aybet 535).

Nevertheless, the unresolved disputes between Greece and Turkey could be brought to the International Court of Justice for settlement, as embodied in the Presidency Conclusions 2004. Should the matter on the Aegean disputes come to fore again, there will certainly be a need to set up special mechanisms between Greece and Turkey to avoid further tension on both sides.

Existing confidence building measures between Turkish-Greek relationships that have been initiated by NATO Secretary General Javier Solana in 1997 are insufficient to fulfill the task. The Turkish Parliament has issued a statement (which has not been retracted since 1995) that extension by Greece of its territorial waters to 12 miles would constitute a casus belli (right to go to war) for Turkey. There are debates over this issue because Bulent Arinc, the leader of the Turkish Parliament, said that the decision was not constitutionally binding in that it was only contained in a signed declaration by the deputy heads of each party but was not put to a vote. (Aybet 535)

Greece and Turkey’s relations with the EU have been driven by their efforts to call one another to account and their hostility with one another. Greece feared Turkey would use its accession with the EU to its disadvantage, in order to gain more concessions or favor. Greece’s traditional concern over Turkey constituted an important element in the decision of the Greek government in 1959 to negotiate an association agreement with the EU and apply for full membership in June 1975 (Christakis, 1993, p. 20, qtd. in Arikan 147).

Greece has seen to it that Turkey’s accession to the EU should depend upon their own settlement of disputes. But Turkey has opposed Greece’s view on the grounds that the issues between parties are bilateral in character and the EU should not meddle in their affair. The Greek-Turkish conflict has become an issue in the EU-Turkey relations.

‘The Greek objections which have sought to link the feasibility of Turkish membership with the settlement of the Cyprus and of the Aegean Sea issues have gained particular importance, as far as the question of Turkey’s membership is concerned.’ (Arikan 147)

Greece has the power to modify the EU’s policy but it has effectively implemented EU’s containment policy for Turkey as this requires a close relationship with Turkey to be maintained.

Arikan says:

Greece has been fully effective over the issue of Turkish membership due to the convergence between the linkage politics of Greece, which have sought to link the feasibility of Turkish membership with the settlement of the Cyprus and of Aegean Sea issues, and the objective of the EU’s containment policy of delaying Turkish membership (148).

The issue of territorial waters

Sovereignty issues with Greece have become complicated and this involved the Aegean Sea. The continental shelf issue is the most important. Greece has claimed that the islands and islets are entitled to have their own continental shelves, and bases her argument on the regulations of the 1958 and 1982 Conventions on the Law of the Sea.

The Convention provides that “islands can be the basis for the calculation of both continental shelf rights and a standard 12-mile limit for territorial seas”. This provides legal support for Greece in that it enlarges its sovereignty to the entire Aegean seabed. Given that there are more than 2000 Greek islands and other geographical formations in the Aegean Sea, this could be translated to gains for Greece if the regulations were applied to all islands in the Aegean Sea (Wilson, 1979, qtd. in Arikan 150).

Turkey counters that the Aegean Sea has some sui-generis special features, meaning they are unique, this body of water is a semi-enclosed sea with islands and islet rocks which should not have their own continental shelves because the geographical formations are not continuously connected with the Greek mainland due to the intervening international waters. Turkey did not sign the 1958 and 1982 Conventions of the Sea because of her claims that the provisions of the Convention should not be applied to the Aegean Sea: “…granting shelf rights to islands would preclude them from shelf rights in the Aegean” (Arikan 150).

Greece has the right to extend 12 miles under the provision of the 1982 International Conventions on the Law of the Sea. Greece has used the Convention to exert pressure on Turkey and assert her right on the extension of her territorial waters from six to twelve miles. Turkey has a counter argument, basing her right on the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne which could be interpreted as balancing the benefits on countries through the limitation of coastal maritime jurisdictions, making the Aegean available for both countries. (Arikan 150)

Turkey also uses Article 300 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea which states that: “…littoral states shall not use their rights to the detriment of their neighbours in abusive manner” (Arikan 151).

Also, the Law of the Sea should not be applied to the islands, according to Turkey, declaring that the Greek extension of both the continental shelf and Greek territorial waters would be a casus bellie. (Arikan 151)

Greece and Turkey both agree to solutions to their territorial disputes but disagree on how to agree. Greece wants to bring the matter to the International Court of Justice but Turkey says that this should be a matter for the two countries to resolve without going to the Court. Nevertheless, Greece has brought the matter to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1976 but the Court ruled in 1978 that it lacked jurisdiction to deal with the issue in the absence of Turkey, meaning the two should come to Court together. (Arikan 151)

The Armenian issue

The Armenian issue is another stumbling block to Turkey’s EU accession. The Armenian issue is not included in the negotiations, but this has become a contending issue as more EU states recognize the Armenian ‘genocide’ of World War I.

Turkey has said that although many Armenians lost their lives in the events of 1915, it was not a planned genocide, considering that many Turks and residents of Anatolia also perished at the time. The Turkish government has asked for the creation of a commission composed of historians to discreetly investigate the matter. The United States supported this suggestion but the Armenian president received it with lukewarm attitude, demanding an unequivocal acceptance on the part of Turkey. (Aybet 536)

The Armenian issue is still a matter to be resolved considering the wider regional implications. Turkey has still to resolve its relationship with Azerbaijan and the border with Armenia which has been closed since 1993.

There are no signs that Turkey will open its border with Armenia because this would exacerbate the border problem with Azerbaijan, including the nationalist demands within Turkey (Barkey & Taspina, qtd. in Aybet 536).

Armenia is one of the countries in the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), and a border dispute between an EU candidate and an ENP country could prove problematic in the implementation of EU policies.

Internal Repercussions

Nationalist tendencies have been fuelled by the more sensitive issues of Cyprus, Kurdish minority rights, Northern Iraq and external pressures over the Armenian genocide. There are also anti-EU sentiments inside Turkey.

There is the lack of an overall strategic vision on the part of Turkey after it was granted the candidate status. Unemployment still remains and economic progress is long overdue. Turkey’s economy had worsened according to a study by the Turkish research group SONAR in April 2005. The survey found that 61% of the participants interviewed revealed that the economy had worsened, and 68% said negatively of their quality of life in the next two years.

In early 2005, a series of conflicts between extremist nationalists and Kurds occurred in Trabzon, Sakarya and Mersin, but they were small, sporadic outbursts that were quickly contained.

A survey asked the participants regarding the unrest, and 73% said that they believed they were deliberately provoked by nationalist extremists, separatist movements or ‘external’ interveners. The consequence of this unrest was a joint reaction from the government, the presidency and the general staff, who called for nationwide calm in separate statements (Yetkin, 2005b, qtd. in Aybet 536).

Perhaps it was a reflection of these trying times in the run-up to the start of negotiations, and the growing awareness of the complexity of the issues linked to Turkey’s EU membership, that led to a cooling in public interest towards the EU. According to the Transatlantic Trends survey, popular support for the EU dropped from 85% to 63% in the two years preceding 2005.

Another survey by the newspaper Milliyet in October 2005 found that 40% doubted that Turkey would gain the status of a full member. Another factor that could exacerbate the already latent nationalist tensions is the European Court of Human Right’s (ECHR) decision of May 2005 calling for a retrial of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who was captured, tried and imprisoned in 1999. (Aybet 537)

The reforms that have taken place in the Turkish judicial system now allow for a retrial of legal cases that have been challenged by the ECHR. This alignment to EU law saw the release in June 2004 of four Kurdish members of Parliament who had been imprisoned, among them activist Leyla Zana. When the ECHR ruled that Ocalan had not been tried by an ‘independent and impartial tribunal’, there were concerns that this might lead to a new wave of nationalist backlashes in Turkey (Aybet 537).

Disenchantment with the EU can be further fuelled by the criticisms expressed in the European Commission’s draft progress report of 2006, which includes comments on the deterioration of conditions in the southeast of the country, where there has been a revival of clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces.

The USA’s reluctance to assist Turkey in any way in its attempts to deal with the PKK presence in the vacuum left in northern Iraq following the US-led invasion of 2003 is another factor that feeds into nationalist tendencies, fuelled by a general suspicion of the motives of the ‘West’.

This is not simply confined to nationalist circles but spread widely among all sectors of the state and society, as a suspicion of ‘Western’ motives to disintegrate the country as under the conditions of the Treaty of Sèvres of 1919, which carved up the Ottoman Empire (Gordon & Taspinar, 2006: 58, 65, qtd in Aybet 537)

Between Exclusion and Inclusion

Problems involving the political scene also haunt the EU. The EU constitution was rejected by both the French and Dutch referenda leaving a cloud of uncertainty over the EU’s accepting of new member states.

Khan and Yabuz (qtd. in Aybet 537) argue that “European sentiments over the cultural debate surrounding Turkey’s inclusion in Europe, which were candidly voiced around the time of the EU’s Copenhagen Summit in 2002, have since then not been vocalized in such vociferous terms but nevertheless remain latent”.

There are those who favor ‘privileged partnership’ for Turkey, and this was one approach left open as a possibility in the negotiating framework in October 2005.

However, commentators have pointed out that ‘it is not the responsibility of a candidate for membership to undertake action to safeguard or improve the Union’s absorption capacity’.

This was seen as an escape clause for the EU. During the Luxembourg Summit of 1997, Turkey’s chances were blurred and some analysts had said that Turkey and the EU should develop other parameters other than acceptance and rejection (Buzan & Diez, 1999: 52, qtd. in Aybet 539).

The December 2004 decision to open accession talks was met with such euphoria in Turkey and in EU circles, which put Turkey to the eyes of the world.

If the media treatment of the December summit was just ‘window dressing’ to present Turkey as the West’s benign face looking towards the East, the impact of Turkey cooling towards the EU as negotiations get tougher could undo the EU’s efforts to avoid looking like a ‘Christian club’.

Furthermore, it could set off an unsalvageable deterioration of relations between Turkey and the EU, leading to an inward-looking Turkey becoming more isolated from the West and possibly seeking stronger ties with the East. In fact, some analysts have recently speculated that if the EU fails to absorb Turkey as a full member, Turkey may turn towards a closer partnership with Russia (Hill & Taspinar, 2006; Grant, 2006). The increasing pace of Turkey’s rapprochement with Syria since the AKP came to power is another indication of the AKP government’s inclination towards the Islamic world and its Middle Eastern neighbours. The closeness between Damascus and Ankara following the US intervention in Iraq stems from shared concerns about the establishment of a Kurdish state in the region (Altunısık & Tür, 2006: 241, qtd. in Aybet 539).

Some European leaders have called for a other options if accession negotiations with Turkey should collapse. But there seems to be no ‘Plan B’, and it may be too late to initiate one after the progress Turkey has made in its political and legal reforms.

It is undeniable that Turkey has made considerable progress in implementing political and judicial reforms induced by the EU accession process. These include the adoption of a new civil and penal code, abolition of the death penalty, the abolishment of the State Security Courts, adoption of a new press law and the lifting of the state of emergency in the southeast.

Within the negotiating framework, as each chapter is concluded Turkey will come closer to fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria and adopting the EU acquis. A derailment of the negotiations after some headway has been made could result in Turkey disengaging further from the West. Perhaps an EU with a ‘Variable Geometry’ could provide a possible way out of such an impasse. This might allow countries to pick and choose what part of the EU structures and policies they would want to be associated with – an EU à la carte. But, as far as Turkey is concerned, it is more ‘likely to be offered a fixed menu with no dessert’ (Taspinar, 2005, qtd. in Aybet 540).

After the derailment of the constitution following the Dutch and French referenda in 2005, it is unlikely that there will be any dramatic alterations to current EU structures and their functions. Enlargement has always meant full membership in all EU institutions once a candidate country successfully completes the EU criteria and concludes the negotiations of each chapter under the negotiating framework. It is hard to envisage enlargement as meaning anything else, as something that might involve taking on board some EU rules and regulations but not others. An opt-out for some EU measures has been possible for existing members, but not for future ones.

New Discourses in Turkish Foreign Policy

Since coming to power in 2002, the AKP government has set some goals, i.e. securing a date for the accession negotiations with the EU, and focusing on the country’s economy or act against the financial crisis of 2001. It has made headway in implementing judicial and political reforms to meet the criteria of the EU.

However, since securing a date for the opening of accession negotiations in December 2004, the government seems to have found itself in a policy vacuum. There is no overall long-term strategy for Turkish foreign policy, and the lack of this has exacerbated difficulties faced since December 2004 as Turkey comes to terms with controversial issues linked to the bumpy road to the EU gates.

Turkey has sought to deal with a changing world, its foreign policy priorities, embedded in a traditionalist security outlook dating from the Cold War, have become increasingly challenged. The essence of this challenge is the need for Turkey to reconcile its domestic sensitivities with its foreign policy priorities. In the attempt to do this, Turkish foreign policy is going through a transformation from a traditionally ‘compartmentalized’ foreign policy to a more comprehensive and flexible one. (Aybet 541)

Turkish foreign policy during the Cold War dealt with separate issue based compartments, such as the ‘water’ issue with Syria, the ‘Aegean’ matter with Greece, Turkey–EU relations and Turkey–Israel relations. While each compartment was analysed and implemented as a separate agenda, there was no Turkish grand strategy linking the separate issues together. One of the reasons for the evolution of such a compartmentalized foreign policy was the particularities faced by Turkey during the Cold War period.

This was a period that required Turkey to keep its regional policies separate from Alliance politics and collective defence against the Soviet Union. Throughout this period, Turkey successfully managed to separate its relations with Middle Eastern countries from East–West relations and regional confrontations. This was a practical way of dealing with the delicate and ever-changing political map of the Middle East, as well as Turkey’s policy as a NATO country within the region (Aybet, 1994: 14–16, qtd. in Aybet 541).

The 1990s, however, saw Turkey pursuing a more active regional foreign policy. The underlying impetus for this was the interest Turkey had in carving out a role for itself as a regional power in the vacuum left by the collapse of communism. This in turn created a new compartmentalization of Turkish foreign policy, one based not on issues but on regions.

The new approach begins with the Turkish decision to stand by the USA in the 1990–91 Gulf War, which amalgamated Turkey’s Alliance politics with its Middle Eastern policies, leading it to pursue a much more active foreign policy in the region. This development was followed by various regional initiatives, such as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Zone and the Balkan Peace Force, along with the establishment of special relationships between Turkey and the Central Asian states, whereby Turkey actively promoted itself not only as a model but as a regional power (Özcan & Kut, 1999, qtd. in Aybet 541).

However, the same period also saw a re-evaluation of national security priorities inside Turkey. In the National Security Policy documents of the period, Russia and Greece were removed from the top of the list of threat perceptions and replaced with internal security threats, such as political insurgency in 1992 and Islamic fundamentalism in 1997.

This showed that national security priorities were no longer solely defined in terms of external military confrontation but increasingly as internal security matters. Kurdish separatism became a pronounced internal security concern, as clashes with the PKK insurgency in the southeast, which had begun in 1984, continued well into the 1990s resulting in a death toll of 35,000. (Aybet 541)

The military side

The military has a different outlook from the government on the EU accession. While supportive of the government in the run-up to the EU Council’s December 2004 decision, the military has been quite realistic about the challenges Turkey will face with regard to reforms. The military is opposed to the government’s stand on the Kurdish separatism and minority rights and the future of Cyprus.

The military might give up on the EU membership if it sees it as too costly, but the military has supported the country’s Westernization goals, as seen in its support of the EU reform process. Reforms induced by the EU could cause the military to stick to its centre of power within the sectors of civil society until it has seen that the EU has something good for the country (Aydinli, Ozcan & Akyaz, 2006 cited in Aybet 543).

The Turkish accession case therefore is unique because of the military’s role in the Turkish state and the support that it got from the public (Uzgel, 2004: 313, qtd. in Aybet 543).

Thus, the military’s unique position within the Turkish state and society, coupled with its geostrategic position as a policy determinant, are key factors in the Turkish view of exceptionalism, which is reflected in the civilian–military elite discourse on national security. In this sense, Turkey’s ‘geopolitical location determines its foreign policy choices’ (Bilgin, 2005: 186, qtd. in Aybet 543).

However, exceptionalism is not confined to this sector but is also common in the general public. A survey showed that public support for the use of military force is significantly higher in Turkey than in other European countries. (Aybet 543)

It also indicated that 71% of Turkey’s population thought that bypassing the United Nations would be justified if it were in the country’s vital interests, in contrast to 44% in Europe. While Turkey’s military/security agenda is very much compatible with modernization plans within NATO, the security requirements dictating the wider agenda of the formation of Turkish forces are somewhat different from those of the average EU member-state. (Aybet 544)

While most EU states view asymmetric threats as the only type of threat they face in today’s security environment, Turkey has its own particular security requirements. Symmetric threats – such as threats to Turkey’s integrity arising from issues related to water supplies in the region, or the threat of weapons of mass destruction, which could lead to large-scale regional conflict – are listed at the top of Turkish security priorities. However, a recent National Security Policy Document approved by the NSC included asymmetric threats for the very first time in its threat assessment. Such threats were specified as internal security threats, international terrorism, drug-trafficking, illegal migration and human-trafficking. (Aybet 544)

These shifts in thinking in relation to threat assessment, geographical determinism and Turkey’s overall strategic culture can be attributed to what Bilgin refers to as the emerging debate between Euro-sceptics and pro-EU actors. While the Euro-sceptics are predominantly traditionalists from the civilian–military elite, the pro-EU actors are mainly civil society organizations and nongovernmental actors.

Euro-sceptics warn about the effects of EU accession on traditional security concerns, determined by geostrategic considerations and a ‘fear of abandonment and fear of loss of territory’ (Bilgin, 2005: 194–195, qtd. in Aybet 545). This represents a projection of the ‘Sèvres syndrome’ onto the EU and the changes that will be inevitably brought on by the political reform process it induces.

On the other hand, pro-EU actors have called for a rethinking of Turkey’s strategic culture, moving away from a military dominant security definition towards one based more on economic and human resources.

These pro-EU actors have advocated a reduction in military expenditure and more investment in human resources and education. The strongest sector for pro-EU support is located within the business community– most notably TUSIAD (the Turkish Industrialists’ and businessmen’s Association) – and other sectors of a newly emerging Turkish bourgeoisie, who support liberal policies and economic and political reform because of their wider links to the global political economy. (Aybet 545).

The EU Citizen Attitudes to Turkey’s Bid

As Turkey is instituting reforms in the hopes of a definite entry date into the EU, it appears that this will be halted by the EU citizens themselves (McLaren 252).

At the early stage of the process of Turkey’s access, there was already strong opposition from the member countries. In 1986, a poll was conducted and asked respondents the question:

“Supposing Turkey asked to be admitted as a member country of the European Community (Common Market). What would be your opinion?”

Twenty percent of the EC citizens were in favour and 30% while the rest of the public was indifferent. France measured the greatest opposition to the Turkish accession and followed by Greece. Since the late 1990s, overall opposition was at 47%, and compared with other countries that were official candidates for EU membership before 2004, opposition to Turkey’s accession has been the strongest. (McLaren 253)

Explaining Opposition to Turkish Membership of the EU

Figure above shows the levels of opposition to Turkey’s candidacy by EU member states.

An explanation to the EU citizens’ opposition to a candidate country is a rational egocentric argument: “that EU citizens perceive European integration through the lenses of how integration will affect them personally” (McLaren 255).

Many of the reasons are said to be economic or financial because opponents of the integration said that it has caused them some financial harm. The economic policies adopted in the EU can cause free movement of labour and capital, or that business can move from one to another of the EU member states. In other words, when Turkey joins the EU, there would be some “economic movement” and those who are weakest in the EU market – with low incomes and who perform manual labour – should be the most fearful of Turkey’s joining the EU.

An argument is that when Turkey becomes a full EU member, businesses in current EU member states will be encouraged to move to Turkey to seek lower costs in the form of lower wages. But another argument is that EU citizens feel that poor, unskilled Turks would migrate to the EU to find work. Moreover, farmers are most likely to oppose Turkish candidacy because Turkish agricultural sector is large with approximately 50% of all employment in the country and approximately 15% of GDP and exports (McLaren 256).

What is EU membership to Turkey?

It can be said that it means a fortune for Turkey. The EU is a fulfillment of some countries’ dream of progress and development in the midst of globalisation and new technology. Generally speaking, good governance and modernity surround the EU, or are parts of the EU.

Ever since the formation of the European Economic Community, there has been a long list of candidates for entry. And these candidates are not mainly European; Morocco for example has applied for candidacy arguing that not being a part of the European continent should not be a reason for being denied membership.

Turkey has strong grounds for membership. Its goals are coherent with the political nature of its state as a secular republic that is part of the Western world. Its quest for membership is in accordance with the dream of the Turkish founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a devoted Europeanist who used all his power since 1923 for Turkey to be anchored in Europe, and that the West would recognize Turkey as part of it, in the context of the political, economic and cultural points of views. (MacLennan 21)

Turkey, being a member of the NATO, played an important role in Western defence. Turkey is no stranger to European institutions and Western organizations and could even boast of older relationship with these organizations than many other present EU members.

Turkish long aim for membership could be a culmination to the long march towards Europe, more than the economic and political benefits. Oxford historian Timothy Garton Ash (2005, qtd. in MacLennan 22) said that the continent of Europe was divided between the West that has Europe that no longer really believes in it and the East that believes in Europe because it bears the aspirations of its people. Turkey believes in Europe that symbolizes all its aspirations, same as the countries of Greece, Spain and Portugal in the 1960s and 70s and the Communist countries in the 1980s.

Other significant benefits Turkey may gain in joining the EU:

  1. Joining the EU is one of Turkey’s goals and parameters of Turkish foreign policy. Turkish accession will ensure the secular structure of the Turkish domestic system. (Uslu 44)
  2. Globalization calls for interdependence among states, and Turkey has to join one of these groupings as a necessity enforced by the new world order.
  3. Turkey will not be isolated from the international arena, and will be secure from the troubles and conflicts in its neighbourhood.
  4. Turkey’s EU membership will prevent a collapse of the Turco-Greek balance in the Aegean, and Turkish failure will work to the advantage of Greece. (Uslu 44)
  5. Turkey needs the help of the EU in terms of aid and financial assistance for economic development.
  6. Turkey needs EU help to reform its domestic system particularly its democratic institutions. (Uslu 46)

Further, a European Turkey can lead to stability and peace in the EU and can be more influential and powerful in the regional and global politics.

Human Rights issue

In 2002, Turkey was in a political crisis but was ended only by the general elections of November 3, 2002. The 77-year-old Prime Minister, Bülent Ecevit, was in a prolonged sickness, while the deputy premier and five other ministers were resigning, and there were widespread predictions that the three-party coalition government was losing control, and that Turkey would soon have its general elections. (Hale 107)

In the context of the EU’s prerequisite for the start of accession negotiations, agreements occurred on the completion of political reforms. But two ruling parties namely, Ecevit’s Democratic Left Party (Democratik Sol Parti-DSP) and the Motherland Party (Anavatan Partisi – ANAP), led by Mesut Yilmaz, said they were fully prepared to enact the required laws for human rights improvements. But this was blocked by the third coalition partner, the Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi – MHP), led by Devlet Bahceli. The process of preparing Turkey for eventual accession seemed to reach an impasse when Ecevit refused to dismantle his government by excluding the MHP. (Hale 107)

The four crucial areas of reform which are top of the agenda on the subject of human rights as required by the EU are:

  1. Freedom of expression and association and of political parties;
  2. Treatment of ethnic minorities as regards cultural rights;
  3. Abolition of the death penalty;
  4. The reduction of the political role of the military. (Hale 107)

Other list contents stipulated by the EU include the elimination of torture by the police and security forces, the improvement of prison conditions and the rights of civil associations, and enhancement of the functioning and efficiency of the judiciary. (Hale 107-108)

The main instrument for advancing the reforms on human rights was the Council of Europe, which established the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 1953. This was set up as the main instrument for enforcing the European Convention on Human Rights. When the EU started its program of enlargement into Eastern Europe, respect for human rights was made a sine qua non for applicant countries.

The European Council was emphatic in stating some of the rules on the observance of basic human rights and other minority issues (Hale 108).

Then in Luxembourg in December 1997, the Council decided that “compliance with the Copenhagen political criteria is a prerequisite for the opening of any accession negotiations” (Hale 108).

The European Council declared Turkey a candidate in December 1999.

It was emphasized in that meeting announcement that Turkey would have to meet the political criteria before accession negotiations could start. (Hale 108)

The EU Commission in November 2000 then announced the issuance of Accession partnership Document (APD) for Turkey. In 2001 the Turkish parliament began to effect these commitments by passing 34 amendments to the Constitution, emphasizing on the freedoms of expression, organization and assembly, the use of minority languages, the partial abolition of the death penalty, and the role of military in politics. This was followed up to January to March 2002, passing amendments to the Penal Code and other legislation affecting the freedom of expression and the press, the activities of the associations, the closure of political parties and the prevention of torture. (Hale 109)

Opposition to reforms of the human rights regime came from the MHP, i.e. within Ecevit’s government. It regarded any constitutional liberalization, particularly on the Kurdish issue, as an insult to those who had died during the long struggle against the militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Allowing cultural rights to the Kurds was regarded as a serious threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity by the ultranationalists. (Hale 109)

The MHP supported Turkey’s application for EU accession but there was no point in making the “concessions” as the EU would not admit Turkey in the long run.

Another opposition party, the True Path Party (Doğru Yol Partisi – DYP) supported EU accession but asked a government pledge for general elections. In June 2001, the pro-Islamist Virtue Party was closed down by the Constitutional Court for engaging in “activities contrary to the principle of the secular republic” (Hale 109).

Other parties were committed to achieving Turkish accession to the EU and their leaders supported human rights reforms.

The Turkish Constitution state that everyone has the right to “freedom of communication,” “freedom of residence and movement,” “freedom of conscience, religious belief and conviction,” “freedom of thought and opinion” and “the right to disseminate his thoughts and opinions.”

Other provisions on freedom of expression and association, and of political parties include the following:

  • Article 28 which provides that “the press is free and shall not be censored”;
  • Article 33 states that “everyone has the right to form associations without prior permission”;
  • Article 34 confirms the “right to hold peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission.

Some opposition to these rights are the provisions of the original text of the Constitution that was enacted during the military regime of 1980-83 which stipulated quite severe restrictions on the actual exercise of these rights.

An example of severe restrictions on the freedom of expression is found in the original texts of Articles 13 and 14 which states:

Fundamental rights and freedoms may be restricted by law, in conformity with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, with the aim of safeguarding the indivisible integrity of the State with its territory and nation, national sovereignty, the Republic, national security…”

This provision is truly antagonistic to the prerequisites of the EU on freedom of expression and other human rights that should be observed by governments on their citizenry.

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which both the EU and the Turkish government refer, states: “everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers” (Hale 113).


Turkey has expressed her willingness to be part of the EU, to be a member of a Union that is a part of the aspirations of the people and of its found father, Kemal Atatürk. But there are prerequisites to this a candidate member’s accession, added with the opposition by member states and the issues that have been raised even at the start of the accession process.

Turkey and the EU should realize that their interests, especially in the region including the Middle Eastern Region, are not so divergent that they have to focus on one agenda (Rumford 297). This could be successfully accomplished if they are in a single grouping such as the EU.

The start of the negotiations can tell us that there have been numerous issues that have to be resolved. Some of these are highly sensitive political issues, and the most significant is the Cyprus issue. Cyprus is a two-part island: the Greek Cyprus and the Turkish Cyprus, each is fighting to be a part of the European Union.

The Aegean dispute with Greece and the Armenian issue are also pressing issues that provide a great challenge for Turkey and the EU. Already, the EU feels it is a part of the process of resolving the issues since Cyprus is already a part of it. Greece too is exerting pressure on the EU and on the latter’s decisions vis-à-vis Cyprus and Turkish accession.

Most of the issues have historical links to Turkey, for example the Kurdish minority rights. An inclination to this issue is granting cultural rights which Turkey’s population even opposes. This has to be resolved considering the historical background and delicate issue of the matter. Another is the issue of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan which the International Court of Justice has ordered for a retrial. Turkey has to reconcile the internal and external challenges.

As said before, Turkey’s case is unique, but the country is willing to resolve all the issues in order to be granted a membership status.

An opposition is from the member countries that have a great influence in the decision making process of the EU. The French referendum resulted into an opposition to Turkey.

Turkey expressed its desire for membership when it presented the National Program but was opposed by the political circles within the EU on the issues of the Republic of Cyprus, the Kurds’ minority rights, the military’s role in the Turkish political system, the Aegean issue, and so on.

The culture of negotiation is different in Turkey and in the EU which may be a cause for misunderstanding. Already there is a political stalemate occurring which threatens the process of the talks.

Turkey’s EU application will sky-rocket if the ongoing accession process succeeds in Turkey’s adoption of the prerequisites for such membership.

EU’s identity seems not so clear. The member states have different cultures and characteristics. Turkey could be considered an asset for the EU in the political global role. Turkey’s geopolitical position and military capabilities could be one of the possible considerations for the EU’s approach to Turkey’s membership. However, there are antagonistic views on these contentions. The French may have a different stance, while London and Washington think that Turkish membership might weaken the EU. But Turkey thinks that its membership can make a stronger Europe. The Turks have presented their geopolitical and military weight in the negotiations.

Moreover, this is a great challenge for all actors in the Turkish-EU relations. All EU accession negotiations have been successful, and this one may disprove some doubts. Turkey has proven its willingness to fulfill all EU accession requirements.

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