Does Turkey Belong In the European Union?

Global Politician, NY
Feb 2, 2005

Does Turkey Belong In the European Union?


By Antero Leitzinger
Turkey applied for membership in the EEC as early as in 1970s, when
she had been indisputably and for a long time a democratic market
economy, one of the founding members of the Council of Europe, and a
country with a decent record on human rights, compared with the
military dictatorships of Greece, Spain and Portugal, let alone the
countries of Eastern Europe. The upheavals of Southern Europe in the
mid-1970s, the intensified internal political situation of Turkey,
and the military regime of early 1980s, as well as the surprising
membership of Greece in the Western European community sidelined
Turkey for two extra decades to wait for acceptance.

Finally during Finland’s chairman period in 1999, Turkey was finally
accepted as an applicant country for the European Union. This
encouraged Turkey to make legal reforms, which have been carried out
for three years now, despite the hard economic crisis. Guerrilla war
in the Kurdish districts is past now, and on 30th Nov. 2002, even the
last province was officially returned to normalcy. The PKK has
abolished itself, and the death penalty of the PKK leader Abdullah
Öcalan has been changed into life imprisonment. Turkey’s prisons have
been reformed according to the EU norms, lots of inmates have been
amnestied, and previously used parts of the criminal law have been
overruled. In allowing media and school teaching in Kurdish
languages, Turkey has exceeded France and Sweden in the progression
of her minority policy.

However, Turkey has traditionally had dedicated enemies in Europe. As
early as in 1800s, conservative Christian and idealist liberal civil
movements, acting on behalf of the Christian minorities of the
Balkans, were organising lecture and newspaper campaigns and
demonstrations against Turkey. The ancient Greece was adored under
the banners of philhellenism (1821), and medieval myths were revived
by telling horror stories of the “Bulgarian atrocities” (1876). The
propaganda war culminated in the after-play of the First World War in
1920s, but was again revived from 1965 onwards, on the initiative of
third generation Armenian emigrants of France and America, who were
inspired and directed by Soviet Armenia.

Nowadays it is hard to believe that Turkey could anyhow get released
from the constant criticism by human rights organisations, since
criticising Turkey has become the lifeline of many of them. For many
international human rights organisations, regular campaigns against
Turkey have become the most successful kind of activity, and Turkish
illegal immigrants willingly participate them in order to base their
asylum applications. International organisations, researchers and
media outlets are using Turkish extremist groups as their sources,
but the credibility and relevance of the information they provide is
very low. For this reason, the criticism against Turkey often repeats
echoes from years away. In its latest issue, Der Spiegel (50/9th Dec.
2002) added to its article on Turkey a picture of a Kurdish
demonstration from 1992.

Turkish asylum seekers still refer to the destruction and evacuation
of frontier villages in mid-1990s. Although repatriation of these
villages has been started, the Human Rights Watch report predicts the
return to fail, because it would be too late without EU support (i.e.
many who have moved to cities, are reluctant to return to the

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (28th Nov. 2002) tells that torture became more
common in Turkey during the short military reign of 1980s. After that
the government tried to get rid of the phenomenon by sending the
cruel policemen from cities to the countryside, which, however,
spread the problem especially to the Kurdish districts. Accusing the
policemen was made difficult by a law that demanded acceptance of the
superior to rise a court case. The fact that many trials were taking
more than five years caused that many accusations became obsolete.
The new government has suggested a legal reform that would correct
these problems, and enable overruling existing verdicts on political

Against this background we have to understand the interest of the
Turks in the question, whether they are Europeans in the others’
eyes, or if they fall outside Europe already in principle. When the
Westernisation that has prevailed in Turkey for 80 years becomes
questioned by other Europeans, the nationalist and pan-Islamic
alternatives become stronger. Same kind of development was
experienced already in early 1900s, when the originally liberal Young
Turks changed into ferocious nationalists and rushed into the First
World War. In today’s Turkey, many people think that if the EU will
turn her back to Turkey, Turkey must turn towards Arab countries,
Iran, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. In co-operation with Pakistan,
Turkey could develop her own nuclear weapon. The successful military
co-operation between Turkey and Israel would be endangered. The
300-year rivalry between Turkey and Russia over the borderlands would

Turkey is a bit poorer than Romania, when the GNP per capita is
compared, but the reason is the very rapid growth of Turkish
population. It is estimated that after 10 years there will be 90
million inhabitants in Turkey, more than in Germany. In one way or
another, that will compensate the shrinking population of Europe and
Russia. Chronic inflation plagues the Turkish economy, but economic
growth has been strong for a long time, and there is plenty of
potential. Unemployment (8,5 %) is lower than in most of the
countries of Eastern Europe, and industrialisation is more developed
than in Bulgaria and Romania. (Der Spiegel, 50/9th Dec. 2002)

Political Islamisation of Turkey would influence Europe especially
through the 2,5 million Turkish-originating immigrants residing in
Germany. It is hard to imagine how the EU could isolate herself from
Turkey and the Middle East. The EU can, however, choose, whether she
will passively surrender to be a side theatre of the problems of the
Middle East and the whole Islamic world, or whether it takes an
active initiative to support moderate Muslims and Turkey in her
relations to her neighbours.

It is expected that the attitude towards Turkey, the Turks, Muslims
and foreigners in general, will become a hot election issue in the
election of the German state of Hessen in February. Both radical
right and radical left oppose the EU membership of Turkey. The
present red-green government has tried to balance between the views
and the former Bundeskanzler Helmut Kohl had a Turkish
daughter-in-law. Compared to these, future seems more controversial.
Already half million of the German Turks have German citizenship, and
their votes for the left and for the Greens was decisive in favour of
the present government in last national election.

Antero Leitzinger is a political historian and a researcher for the
Finnish Directorate of Immigration. He wrote several books on Turkey,
the Middle East and the Caucasus.