We’ve already looked at the tricky question of EU enlargement on Debating Europe (see here and here), but most of our focus was on Eastern Europe and the Balkan states. Today, we’ll be looking specifically at the controversial issue of Turkish EU membership. With Cyprus due to take over the rotating EU Presidency on 1st July (and with large deposits of natural gas recently discovered off the Cypriot coast) are Turkish-EU relations set to be sorely tested in 2012?
For a basic introduction to some of the issues related to Turkish membership of the EU, see our infobox here.
Recently, we spoke to German Green Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Franziska Keller, a member of the delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). The EU-Turkey JPC is composed of an equal number of MEPs and Members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, and it meets twice a year in Turkey and the EU. We asked Franziska Keller for her reaction to a comment from Ari on Debating Europe suggesting there could be “some grey area between [non-membership] and full EU membership” as a possible solution to an issue that has been dragging on for decades.
Well, at the moment Turkey is already in a sort of ‘grey area’. The problem is, what rights do they have in such a relationship? For instance, Turkey is part of a customs union with the EU, must apply the EU’s common external tariff to third countries and has to adopt a large part of the Acquis Communautaire [i.e. EU law]. Turkey complies with the rules, yet has no formal say in the law-making process. You can see that such a ‘privileged partnership’ is not to Turkey’s advantage as a permanent solution.
We also spoke to German Liberal MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and a founding member of the German-Turkish Foundation. We had a comment from Nikolai arguing that the EU needs to start communicating more clearly on this issue. Nikolai argues that “Clearly stated SMART targets, openly and repeatedly declared to the general public of Turkey… will keep expectation levels realistic whilst keeping momentum should the public be behind the policies advocated.” What did Lambsdorff think of Nikolai’s comment?
Well, I would ask Nikolai what does he mean by such ‘targets’? Are these just benchmarks? Policies that need to be implemented by Turkey? Or are they clear target dates on a roadmap to accession? In terms of policies, yes, I would agree that communication has not been very good. But for target dates, I’m strongly opposed to this approach. It would only increase pressure to rush the process and risk raising false expectations.
There is clearly no political consensus on this issue. As Nikolai points out, there is waning enthusiasm in Turkey for membership. However, I think it’s important not to look at Turkey exclusively through the lens of accession, but more broadly look at how we can cooperate in foreign policy, energy policy and other areas.
We’ve had a couple of comments sent in about the question of Cyprus. Sotiris, for example, sent in a comment arguing that Turkey cannot be a member of the EU as long as the question of Cyprus is unresolved.
The number of sticking points is much larger than just the issue of Cyprus. Of course, I don’t see a solution anytime soon for the Cyprus issue, which is maybe a lack of imagination on my part, but it’s difficult to be more positive. As well as Cyprus, though, there is the particularly bad situation of human rights in Turkey; more journalists are in prison there than any other country, including China. There is also a political culture not conducive to pluralism, though I hope that constitutional reforms improve the situation. Then, of course, the final sticking point is that only 20% of EU citizens are in favour of Turkish membership. Therefore, we’d have to have a dramatic shift in public opinion.
Finally, we spoke to Nevin Öztop from Turkish LGBT organisation Kaos GL. We caught up with Öztop when she was being presented with the award for her organisation’s work by Solidar at their Silver Rose Awards ceremony in March. We received a comment earlier from Sam criticising MEPs for not doing enough to support LGBT rights in Hungary, so we asked Öztop what the EU can do to support human rights (including LGBT rights) in Turkey without being seen to interfere too much with Turkish sovereignty.
What do YOU think? Should Turkey join the European Union? Or could there be a ‘grey area’ of half-membership that satisfies all parties? Do you think Turkey will still want to join if it is left waiting for too long? Are you confident that the major sticking-points to Turkish EU membership can be resolved? Or do we need to consider an alternative? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.