Crossing over? Turkey and the European Union

Article excerpt

In its quest for full membership in the European Union, the Republic of Turkey has traveled a long and arduous road. Having been an associate member of the European Union since 1963, Turkey became a candidate to be a full EU member in 1999. Finally, on October 3, 2005, the European Union started accession talks with Turkey. Despite much headway, however, the end of the road has not yet come. Indeed, it may still be far too early for Turks to begin celebrating.

Such skepticism is warranted by long-standing resistance within the European Union to a Turkish member state. Points of contention include Turkey's geographic boundaries, economic instability, cultural and religious differences with the rest of Europe, questionable human rights record, and high population growth (by approximately 2015 Turkey, if made an EU member, would be the largest EU state). The overwhelming majority of European citizens oppose membership, according to a European Commission poll two years ago, which showed that only 35 percent of Europeans support Turkey's bid.

The most outspoken critic on a state level, and the only country in the European Union to take a firm stance against membership, is Austria, which has long advocated a "privileged partnership" status for Turkey rather than full membership. It was Austria's continuing opposition that seemed likely to stall the opening of accession talks past the scheduled date, Austria recently took over control of the EU presidency from Great Britain and might use the office to influence the outcome of the talks.

Several other key voices in the European community oppose membership. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, a likely candidate for the French presidency in 2007, has opposed a Turkish member state. So has Angela Merkel, who took over as German chancellor in November 2005 and believes that "Turkey does not fit into the EU because it is culturally different." With current and future leaders of Europe standing in stark opposition to the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union, it seems unlikely that the accession talks will proceed either smoothly or quickly.

The issue of Turkey's EU membership is a contentious one within Turkey itself, albeit not to the degree it is in other European countries. While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to work toward the ultimate goal of EU membership, conflict between various feuding parties has hindered his efforts. …