Main Costs and Benefits of Turkish Accession to the European Union

By Canan, Fuat | Insight Turkey, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Main Costs and Benefits of Turkish Accession to the European Union


Canan, Fuat, Insight Turkey


This paper focuses on examining what sort of costs and benefits are involved in Turkey's accession process into the European Union (EU) by addressing related discussions in Turkey and aims at reflecting a general Turkish cost-benefit motivation perspective. From European perspective, Turkey-EU debates are to a large extent based on costs of Turkish accession, whereas in Turkey, EU-Turkey discourse is to a large extent dominated by benefits of accession. Secondly, as can be observed from public opinion polls held in Turkey, Turkish people do not really know how the EU would affect their lives. They lack a cost-benefit analysis of EU accession even in its simplest form and are not well informed about possible consequences of accession. A more open debate would be helpful in addressing the real costs and benefits of EU membership.

A Short History of EU-Turkey Relations

The adoption process of western values, institutions, and principles goes back to the Tanzimat (reform) period around late 1830s in Ottoman Empire. Westernization process accelerated when the independent Turkish Republic was established in 1923, with the adoption of European norms and standards. Turkey became clearly anchored in the western system of states by joining many international organizations soon after World War II ended. Turkey became one of the founding members of United Nations in 1945, a member of the Council of Europe in 1949, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952 and the founding member of the OECD in 1960. Being accepted as part of Europe on the one hand signifies the state elite's century-old dream and on the other hand it stands as Turkey's main foreign policy objective.

The Greek application for associate membership to then European Economic Community threatened to isolate Turkey politically and first prompted Turkish foreign minister Fatin Rustu Zorlu and then Prime Minister Adnan Menderes to follow suit less than a month later. (1) Without having an extensive public debate around the issue, Turkey applied for an association agreement with the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1959. Four years after Turkey's application, Ankara Treaty was signed between EEC and Turkey in 1963. Ankara Treaty committed both sides to a step-by-step establishment of a customs union. Prospect of membership was expressed as a long-term goal. Article 28 of the Association Agreement reads:

"As soon as the operation of this Agreement has advanced far enough to justify envisaging full acceptance of Turkey of the obligations arising out of the Treaty establishing the Community, the Contracting Parties shall examine the possibility of the accession of Turkey to the Community."

According to Calis, it was a successful agreement, as Ankara was able to persuade Brussels to consider Turkey's eventual membership to Community and to sign an agreement documenting it. (2) Calis also feels a strong correlation between Turkey's westernization process and the 1959 Turkish application to the Community. (3)

After the entry into force of the Additional Protocol in 1972, mutual relations between the EEC and Turkey stagnated throughout the 1970s and 80s. When the Greek Junta declared the whole island of Cyprus to be part of Greece, it directly provoked a Turkish military intervention in 1974 to protect Turkish community on the island. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit unilaterally froze the Ankara Treaty in 1978, invoking its self-protection clause. Following the coup d'etat in Turkey, in 1980, the European Parliament suspended the Association in 1982.

As democratically-elected government led by Prime Minister Turgut Ozal took power in Turkey in 1983, Turkey made its application for full membership in the EC in 1987. As foreseen in 1963 Association Agreement, the Customs Union agreement was signed between Turkey and the EU in 1995 and was put into effect starting from 1996.

When the EU launched its historical enlargement process in 1997, Turkey had the longest standing application on the table with an Association Agreement.

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