Turkey and the "New Europe": A Bridge Waiting to Be Built

By Balcer, Adam; Zalewski, Piotr | Insight Turkey, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Turkey and the "New Europe": A Bridge Waiting to Be Built


Balcer, Adam, Zalewski, Piotr, Insight Turkey


The past twelve months in particular have seen intensified cooperation among the post-communist countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007. These include the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), the countries of Central Europe: the Visegrad Group (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary), as well as Slovenia and the Balkans (Bulgaria, Romania). Owing in no small part to their shared experience under communism, the EU-10 members share a broad commonality of interests. There are, of course, differences on some foreign policy issues, as well as a handful of bilateral disputes. With the launch of a series of mini-summits on areas of common concern--initiated by Poland, the largest member of the group--cooperation between the EU-10 has recently acquired a quasi-institutional dimension. Thanks to the mini-summits, consensus has been achieved on issues such as EU climate change legislation, the Eastern Partnership, and steps to tackle the current economic crisis. Support for further EU enlargement--including Turkey's accession--is another issue where the post-communist countries' interests and policies are aligned. On this issue, however, the EU-10 have not yet managed to articulate a common stance vis-a-vis their European partners.

Characteristics of the new EU members

By means of alliances and coalitions, small states have the potential to play a greater role within the EU than one would expect given their population and economic clout. The principle of unanimity rules the day in Brussels when it comes to voting on issues of key importance: for better or worse, a single country is sometimes all it takes to block a key decision. In instances where qualified majority voting does take place, the small states' voting power is more (symbolically and quantitatively) than just a factor of their population. (1) Small states also benefit from the EU's rotating presidency, which gives countries at the helm, regardless of their size, significant sway over the Union's decision-making. Between 2010 and 2019 a total of twenty member states will enjoy six-month stints atop the EU Presidency. Eight of them will come from the ranks of the new member states; this includes the back-to-back Hungarian and Polish presidencies of the European Union in 2011.

The EU-10 includes two large countries (Poland and Romania are the Union's 6th and 7th most populous member states, respectively), three medium-sized countries (8-10 million) and five small ones (2-5 million). The combined population of these 10 countries--over 100 million--is more than 20% of the EU total. Although their combined economic output is 12% of the EU's cumulative GDP, members of the EU-10 have experienced exponentially higher growth over the past decade than the "old" member states. Poland, the EU's best performer during the current economic downturn, is the only member state not to have entered recession in 2009. As their share in the EU's GDP stands to increase significantly, the new members will transform from being net beneficiaries to being net contributors to the EU budget. As a result, their position within the EU will strengthen further.

The new EU members have proven adept at working closely with Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Finland, with whom they share a number of interests --and who, though not among the biggest member states, enjoy a strong position in the EU. The Eastern Partnership, initiated by Poland and Sweden, is a case in point. Sweden and Finland also share the EU-10's support for further EU enlargement.

Historical legacy: Turkey's ties with the new members

The unique historical links that bind Turkey and some of the new member states (particularly Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania) are the bedrock on which future relations can be built. Though the experience of confrontation with the Ottoman enemy is a prominent feature of these countries' historiographies, the tradition of coexistence--on a scale unseen in Western Europe after the sixteenth century--is just as important. …

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