TURKEY: Turkey and the EU: An Awkward Candidate for EU Membership?/The EU & Turkey: A Glittering Prize or a Millstone?

By Gunter, Michael M. | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview
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TURKEY: Turkey and the EU: An Awkward Candidate for EU Membership?/The EU & Turkey: A Glittering Prize or a Millstone?


Gunter, Michael M., The Middle East Journal


Turkey and the EU: An Awkward Candidate for EU Membership? by Harun Arikan. Aldershot, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2003. xiii + 222 pages. Table. Bibl. to p. 236. Index to p. 256. $99.

The EU & Turkey: A Glittering Prize or a Millstone? ed. by Michael Lake. London, UK: Federal Trust for Education and Research, 2005. 180 pages. $72.50 cloth; $29.95 paper.

Reviewed by Michael M. Gunter

Whether or not Turkey joins the European Union (EU) promises to be one of the most significant questions of contemporary international politics. Turkish EU membership would put the lie to the clash of civilizations thesis by offering the Muslim world an attractive moderate model of prosperity and cooperation with the West, help solve Turkey's longstanding Kurdish problem, and give the EU better access to the gas and oil supplies of the Middle East, among numerous other possible advantages. On the other hand, Turkey's EU skeptics argue that Turkey's population is too poor, too large, and too Muslim for the EU. These two studies do an excellent job of analyzing why Turkey eventually should be admitted into the EU, but point out the many problems along the way.

Harun Arikan argues repeatedly that Turkey has been treated differently from other EU applicants such as the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs). He terms this alternative policy for Turkey a "containment strategy, designed to delay indefinitely the prospect of membership while anchoring Turkey in the European structure through ... close relations" (p. 2). The author specifically illustrates this containment policy with examples involving human rights, the Kurdish problem and minority issues, economic strategies and developments such as the EU-Turkish Customs Union that went into effect in 1996, Greek-Turkish relations, and security aspects. He argues, for example, that the popular belief that Turkey's political and human rights problems warrant its different treatment, "in fact ... cannot explain why similar political issues in the CEECs [dealing with the Gypsies in Romania and Russian-speakers in Estonia and Latvia] have attracted an entirely different response on the part of the EU" (p. 111). (One might ask, however, whether these minority problems in the CEECs are really comparable to the much larger Kurdish problem in Turkey.)

Nevertheless, Arikan concludes that as a result of treating Turkey differently from other applicants, "the EU has been less effective than it should have been in influencing the development of Turkey's internal policy and also in influencing the settlement of the disagreements between Greece and Turkey" (p. 250). Treating Turkey equally would have been more effective in solving the many outstanding problems because the real promise of EU membership would have given Turkey a greater incentive to reform. "This may explain why democratization efforts have been more successful in these candidate countries than in Turkey" (p. 246). Arikan also maintains that once Turkey finally was offered a specific date for accession talks to begin, much greater progress on all the outstanding issues occurred. "The decisive factor behind these developments has been the prospect of Turkey's EU membership, which was not previously on offer" (p. 247).

Even the accession talks that finally began on October 3, 2005, however, do not imply that the EU has offered a firm membership commitment because these talks are "open-ended ... outcomes of which cannot be guaranteed before hand" (p. 252). Thus, in effect, the EU's containment policy continues and "generate[s] some doubts about what kind of membership the EU would offer for Turkey at the end" (p. 238).

The detailed examples Arikan gives of the EU's unique enlargement policy toward Turkey are for the most part persuasive and demand close consideration.

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