The Geopolitics of Support for Turkey's EU Accession: A View from Lithuania

By Bagdonas, Azuolas | Insight Turkey, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview
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The Geopolitics of Support for Turkey's EU Accession: A View from Lithuania


Bagdonas, Azuolas, Insight Turkey


To join the European Union (EU), Turkey in time needs to overcome two obstacles. First, it needs to continue fulfilling the requirements of the Copenhagen criteria, i.e., the formal political, institutional, and economic conditions for membership. While sustaining the commitment to meet these requirements may be challenging, the second obstacle obtaining the agreement of all and each of the member states to Turkey's accession--may prove to be even harder to overcome. In the calculations of the political elites of certain European countries, a number of perceived obstacles to Turkey's accession seem to outweigh the obvious benefits of Turkey's membership. There are worries about the political and economic impact of accepting such a large country, as well as concerns regarding changes in the formal and informal decision making procedures in the EU.

Scholars and, especially, the media tend to focus on the position of key EU states, such as Germany and France, and not without a good reason--their stance is likely to be of critical importance to the success of Turkey's membership bid. However, the views of smaller states, which numerically constitute the majority in the EU, should not be altogether ignored for several reasons. First of all, in case of enlargement, each EU member state has a single vote, regardless of the size of their population and economy. Second, Turkey's ability to convert its appeal into strategic leverage in the accession negotiations also depends on the formation of a strong coalition inside the EU in favor of its membership. (1) Since in the absence of such a coalition, Turkey has less chance to successfully use its geostrategic location as a bargaining chip or to engage in effective rhetorical actions, the position of small countries becomes more important in the accession process. (2)

In this context, Lithuania's continuous and unwavering support for Turkey's EU membership provides an interesting case that gives a perspective on some of the factors at play in the most consequential instance of EU enlargement. This article analyses the background of this support, suggesting that the main determinants of Lithuanian-Turkish relations are conditioned by circumstances that have less to do with the European integration than with the EU's external relations. Lithuania's interest in having Turkey in the EU stems from the country's commitment to Atlanticism, as well as from the perceived potential benefits in terms of reducing Russia's influence in the EU. In support of this argument, the first part will discuss the factors that combine to make Turkey's accession an issue of foreign policy, relatively isolated from swings in domestic public opinion and internal political competition. The second part will explain the dominant foreign policy concerns of Lithuania, forming the background within which this particular issue is viewed. Finally, the third part will provide an analysis of some of the key elements of strategic thinking behind Lithuania's support for Turkey's accession.

Support for Turkey--not an Issue of Domestic Politics

Since joining the EU in 2004, Lithuania has consistently supported Turkey's EU bid. Official statements to that purpose have been made by various high level state officials during each of more than ten bilateral meetings that took place since 2004. The official position adopted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and reiterated by different ministers of foreign affairs, diplomats, as well as chairmen of the parliament and presidents, is that Turkey is entitled to full membership so long as it meets the Copenhagen criteria. On several occasions, various ministers went beyond the passive rhetoric to actively promote Turkey's inclusion. For example, in January 2011, minister of foreign affairs A. Azubalis coauthored an open letter emphasizing Turkey's "vital strategic and economic importance," followed by another co-authored letter in June 2012 calling for a "new impulse" in the accession process.

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