Academic journal article Ethics & International Affairs

Expanding Europe: The Ethics of EU-Turkey Relations

Academic journal article Ethics & International Affairs

Expanding Europe: The Ethics of EU-Turkey Relations

Article excerpt

The possible future European Union (EU) membership of Turkey has be come one of the most hotly debated topics both in the EU and within Turkey itself. It is true that previous EU enlargements have also attracted the attention of the wider public, but this time the arguments are exchanged with a great deal more heat and fervor. Many of these arguments are couched in terms of self-interest: "Turkey will flood us with cheap labor migrants," claim opponents within the EU, whereas advocates of Turkish membership cite strategic security interests in bringing a predominantly Muslim state from the broader Middle East into the fold.

Nonetheless, underlying this debate are competing principles of international ethics. It is too easy simply to dismiss those citing a concern for European values (whatever these may be) or the capacity of the EU to function properly as being merely self-interested actors trying to defend their economic or political position. On the contrary, their concerns go to the heart of the core questions of international ethics: Do we have responsibilities that go beyond our immediate political community? Are there different values that require different political orders? If so, where can we draw borders and how can we defend these borders in order to defend our values?

The Turkish case is of particular interest in relation to these questions because it highlights the problems of applying principles of a world of states to one in which this order is increasingly transcended and processes of "de-bordering" and "re-bordering" are taking place. At least in Europe, the EU is the main example of this change. The debates about Turkish membership are conducted in such a heated fashion not least because of the challenge that the integration process poses to our traditional understandings of the main principles on which the international order is founded. In this context, the demands for public participation in decision-making do not go (or at least no longer go easily) hand in hand with the demands for international justice.

It is this conundrum that requires us to look beyond the established lines of communitarianism and cosmopolitanism in their various forms when addressing the future of Turkey-EU relations from an ethical viewpoint. The principles I put forward in this essay as an alternative build on both Habermasian and what one may refer to as "postmodern" ethics, two strands of argumentation that, despite their differences, have more in common than is often acknowledged. Both share a commitment to take on responsibility toward the "Other" beyond our own community; to foster a plurality of viewpoints and reject totalitarianisms; and to take a skeptical attitude toward any simplistic "either/or" rendition of international politics. These principles lead to an endorsement of membership negotiations between Turkey and the EU, but not to an unqualified endorsement of Turkish membership.


From the viewpoint of international ethics, there are two main arguments against Turkish EU membership. The first one is broadly value-based and applies a narrow and closed conception of communitarianism; the second one questions the capacity of the EU to take on Turkey as a member and worries about the survival of the achieved political order.

The value-based argument presupposes that: (1) the predominance of different values is distributed on a geographical basis; (2) such value differences matter to communities, so they are worth preserving; and (3) the difference between Turkey and the present EU member states is sufficiently greater than that among member states, so it is justifiable to treat Turkey differently and to deny membership. The simple reference to Turkey being a Muslim country runs into great difficulties here. Leaving aside the theological question of whether there are values intrinsic to Islam that stand fundamentally opposed to "Christian" values, this argument ignores the presence of strong Muslim communities in the EU, and it runs against the history of secularism in most EU member states, which would disallow religion as a criterion for eligibility to participate in political life. …

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