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SHOULD TURKEY JOIN THE EU?

THE ANTI TURKISH STANCE OF THE FRENCH UMP AND GERMAN CDU/CSU

Marcel H. VAN HERPEN

Director, The Cicero Foundation

Recently the biggest French government party, the UMP, has taken the official position that Turkey should not be offered the perspective of EU membership during the Brussels European Council meeting of December 2004. With this position the UMP joins the German opposition parties CDU and CSU that have taken identical positions. The reasons invoked by adversaries of Turkish EU membership are manifold. Let us mention some of them:

  • Turkey is not a European country
  • Turkey, as an Islamic country, does not fit into 'Christian' Europe
  • Turkey is too poor
  • Turkish membership will lead to a massive influx of new migrants
  • Turkey is not a fully fledged democracy
  • Turkey is too big
  • Turkish membership will stop further integration

How valid are these arguments? That the bigger part of Turkey is situated in Asia can be verified with a simple glance at the map. But this is only a formal argument. In fact Turkey has been an important geopolitical player on the European chessboard for more than six centuries. First was it considered as a threat, against which Luther wrote his pamphlet "On War Against the Turk". But these times have evolved: the last half century Turkey was a close European ally in NATO.

Turkey is, of course, an Islamic country. So are Albania and Bosnia that are on the list to join the EU. Turkish Islam is not only known to be moderate and tolerant (when the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 they went to Amsterdam and… Constantinople), but since Atatürk's reforms it is also banned from the public sphere. Turkey is, as France, and maybe even more than Germany (where the state still collects the Kirchensteuer - the church tax), a secular state. It is telling that the 'Islamic' party in power is one of the most modernising and pro-European parties in recent Turkish history.

Turkey, of course, is relatively poor. In 2002 its GDP per capita was 2600 US dollars, which was only 53 percent of Poland, one of the poorest new member states. Turkish EU membership, however, will certainly boost its economic development, as has been the case in other poor acceding countries, such as Portugal, Spain and Ireland (Ireland has now the third highest GDP per capita in the EU!).
The argument that Turkish membership will lead to a massive influx of migrants is often used in connection with the last one. A poor country, so goes the argument, will export its population. One may, however, expect that the push and pull factors that determine migratory flows will diminish with economic development. People prefer to stay in their country, and even in their region, if they can earn there a decent living. This is not different for Turks.

Turkey is, indeed, not yet a fully fledged democracy. But in a recent past this was also the case for present EU member states as Spain, Portugal, and Greece. And it was equally the case for the eight (out of ten) new member states with a communist past. Together with the GDR, which was absorbed by the Federal Republic, that makes 12 out of 25 member states that had problems with their democratic credentials. This is, of course, not a reason to take this argument not seriously: Turkey still has to implement many of its new laws and - especially - has to bring once and for all the military under civilian, political control. The prospect of EU membership will be a strong incentive to strengthen democracy and to make the necessary changes.

Is Turkey too big? Turkey will, indeed, be the second biggest member country after Germany as regards population and could even become the biggest one in the near future. In 1850 some Americans found California too big to be integrated as a new state into the Union. It happened nevertheless and it was beneficial for the Californians, as well as for their fellow Americans. As California did with America, Turkey will do with the EU: it will give the EU a continental dimension and an immediate presence in one of the world's pivotal regions.
Comes, finally, the argument that Turkish membership will hinder further integration and will fundamentally change the EU from a political project into a simple free trade zone. There is, however, no reason to believe that such a development will take place. Until now every enlargement has led to a deepening of integration. This not because of some automatic functionalist spillover, but for the simple reason that the system otherwise would not work. It is not clear why this would change with the entrance of Turkey.

The real question that has to be asked is if there are not some hidden reasons for the UMP and the CDU/CSU to oppose Turkish membership. Turkey may, indeed, be too big: not for being integrated, but as a potential power factor. In the 1960s De Gaulle vetoed twice British membership, because the entrance of Britain would change the existing power balance in the Europan Community. Recently France and Germany were forced to open their duopoly to include Britain into a Directory of the Big Three. With the entrance of Turkey a new important player would appear. Do the UMP and the CDU/CSU fear that a Turkish membership would further dilute the Franco-German dominance over the EU and strengthen 'New Europe' versus 'Old Europe'?

Paris, 1 May 2004



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