In terms of nationalist rhetoric, Turkey likes to present itself as ‘the bridge between East and West’ or, more recently, ‘the centre of the Turkic world’. Whether that is true or not, Turkey is certainly at the periphery of the Western world and has had less room for manoeuvre since the fall of the Soviet Union, owing to its financial dependence on Western countries and the global domination of the United States. Thus, the prediction made by Samuel Huntington that Turkey was going to redefine itself as a part of the Turkic world after the fall of the Soviet Union has clearly been proved false. 1In fact, ever since the 1920s the discourse of the Turkish elite has been based on the Europeanization of Turkey as a means to gaining entry to the ‘civilized world’. 2Full membership of the European Union (EU) would be the culmination of this process, leading to integration with Turkey’s Western neighbours but only at the price of a profound political and social change, which could be described as a new Tanzimat. 3That is why the relationship with the EU is a central problem for the self-definition of the Turks and maybe the most important issue on the Turkish political agenda at the present time. 4
For very differing reasons, Turkish membership could also be decisive for the EU. Turkey will have between 80 and 90 million citizens in less than a generation and will be the most populous country in Europe, excluding the Russian Federation. If Turkey were to be a full member, the EU would acquire a Middle Eastern dimension and external borders with Iraq, Iran and Syria. Moreover, Turkish membership would be a clear sign for Israel, Morocco and maybe some Caucasian states to apply for membership of the EU. The key question here concerns the frontiers of the EU. Since Europe is not a geographical but a political concept, there are no criteria to define ‘objectively’ what it constitutes. In addition, the cost of this new accession for the EU would exceed by far that of all earlier enlargements.
However, in spite of the importance of what is at stake for both sides, there is no clear European strategy, meaning an attempt to define a European interest in the realist tradition. The EU is nevertheless becoming a major actor in Turkey by inspiring a coherent project of in-depth reform