Turkey in Europe

European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Mango, A. (2000), "Turkey in Europe", European Business Review, Vol. 12 No. 3. https://doi.org/10.1108/ebr.2000.05412cab.010



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Turkey in Europe

Andrew Mango

Keywords Turkey, Europe, European Union

Hazhir Teimourian's article on Turkey's new relationship with the European Union is short on fact and long on error. I shall deal with his whoppers later, as it is far more important to make clear the terms of the offer made to Turkey by the Council of Ministers of the European Union at its summit meeting in Helsinki on 10 December 1999, and accepted by Turkey after the EU emissary Javier Solana had flown to Ankara to explain them.

The agreement between the EU and Turkey provides that Turkey should be given immediately the official status of a candidate for full membership on a par with other candidates and should benefit from the terms of an accession partnership. However, a date for the beginning of membership negotiations will be fixed only when the EU is satisfied that Turkey has met the so-called Copenhagen criteria - the rules of conduct on human rights, the settlement of international disputes, and other matters, which EU members are meant to apply. The state of the Turkey economy was not seen as an obstacle to the beginning of membership negotiations, as the Turkish economy is stronger and the GNP per cap. is higher than is the case in most other candidate countries. For the record, GNP per cap. in Turkey in 1998 was $3,255 in absolute terms, or approximately $6,9000 in purchasing power parities (PPP's, a more meaningful measure of the standard of living).

Teimourian's claim that "the largely Kurdish east (of Turkey) has been deliberately starved of investment" is false. An estimated $3.2billion are being invested in the South-East Anatolia Development programme (known by its Turkish acronym GAP), which involves the construction of 22 dams, two massive tunnels to draw water for irrigation from the Tigris and the Euphrates, and 19 hydroelectric stations. The Turkish treasury spends much more in the Kurdish region than it receives from it in tax revenue. What has held back the region is not lack of investment, but the terrorist campaign of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has targeted construction sites, schools and material and social infrastructure generally. Happily this campaign appears now to have been largely defeated.

Teimourian tries to make our flesh creep at the prospect of an imminent invasion of Europe by millions of Turkish workers. He claims that the right to free movement of labour may be extended to Ankara by stealth "as usual", even before admission. We can rest assured that there is no such danger. In fact, Brussels had promised (under the 1970 additional protocol to the 1963 association agreement) to remove all restrictions on the free movement of labour between Turkey and the EC (as it was then) by 1 December 1986. But it has reneged on this promise, and has no intention of carrying it out by stealth or otherwise until the proper stage is reached. When will that be?

First, Turkey must meet the Copenhagen criteria. Then membership negotiations will begin. As in the case of other new entrants, the terms will provide for transitional adjustment periods of varying length before Turkey can begin to enjoy the full benefits of membership. In the case of free movement of labour, the adjustment period is bound to be long. Even if one accepts the optimistic assumption that the EU will have completed its internal reforms and will be in a position to welcome new members at the end of the year 2002, Turkey will not be of their number. The ruling coalition in Turkey, led by the centre-left prime minister Bu¬lent Ecevit, hopes to complete internal reforms and thus satisfy the Copenhagen criteria in the lifetime of the present parliament. This was elected by the free vote (of Turkish citizens, of Turkish, Kurdish and any number of other origins) in April 1999, and its mandate will expire in April 2004. That is the earliest likely date for the beginning of membership negotiations, if all goes well. The negotiations themselves will take several years; then the agreement will have to be ratified by all European parliaments; then adjustment periods will begin in difficult areas. I would thus be surprised if Turkish workers could gain free entry to Europe before 20 years are passed. And let us remember that free circulation of labour was to have occurred at the end of 1986, that Turkey has been an associate member of the EC, and therefore, eligible for full membership since 1963, and that a customs union between the EU and Turkey has been in operation since 1996.

By the time the free circulation of labour comes on the agenda, the internal structure of the EU, the demographic picture and the state of the Turkish economy will all have changed. Again for the record, the net rate of increase of the Turkish population has not risen, as Teimourian believes. According to OECD figures, it decreased from 2.1 per cent in 1978/9 to 1.7 per cent in 1995/6. Teimourian's reference to "several million clandestine residents, insurgents and outlaws" is pure fantasy. Demographers expect Turkey's population to stabilise at between 80 and 90 million people. If the Turkish economy maintains the annual rate of growth of 4.4 per cent which, according to OECD figures, it achieved in the decade 1986-1996, this increased population will be better off than people living in Turkey today.

Roughly half of Turkey's foreign trade is conducted with the European Union. According to the latest figures (for the first ten months of 1999), Middle Eastern countries account for only 8 per cent of Turkey's exports and 5 per cent of imports. This is one reason why Turkey's customs union with the EU makes sense, whereas a union with the Middle East, advocated by Teimourian, does not. Another reason is that the countries of the Middle East are totally incapable of forming any kind of union. Moreover, they want Turkey as their leader as little as Turkey wants to lead them. Turkey's trade with and involvement in the Middle East will increase in step with its integration with Europe. The same is true of Turkey's relations with the ex-Soviet republics, including the Turkic republics. Already European (and other foreign) corporations are using Turkey as the base of their operations in the countries further east. The trend will continue.

The EU is not soft-headed on enlargement. The present customs union with Turkey suits it well, since Turkey is a useful trading partner, which has so far cost the EU virtually nothing in subsidies (in contrast with Greece which has received more than $4 billion in net transfers every year since its accession). Why then has the EU reversed the attitude which it adopted at its Luxembourg summit when it refused to include Turkey in the list of candidates? Why was Javier Solana despatched post-haste to Ankara to persuade Turkey to accept the EU offer of candidate status?

Pace Teimourian, it was not because Turkey threatened to withdraw facilities from Allied aircraft patrolling northern Iraq or, even more fantastically, threatened to flood Europe with illegal immigrants. No such threats were made, and none were needed to show EU where its interests lay. One reason for the change in EU attitude was economic. It wanted to have a share in the growth expected in the Turkish economy. But geopolitical considerations were probably more important.

Ever since the beginning of the Cold War, Turkey has guarded the south-eastern marches of Europe. The end of the Cold War has widened the area of potential instability to the territories formerly controlled by the Warsaw Pact. With all its weaknesses and imperfections, Turkey is the most stable country in the vast area stretching from Austria to China. Today, its troops and police are serving in Bosnia and Kosovo. With US help, it promises to become a conduit for westward export of the hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian basin. It supports the Middle East peace process. But the EU and Turkey share overwhelmingly the same interests. "Fortress Europe" will be much stronger if Turkey lies within its walls. So will the wider Western community, which is why the US administration has consistently helped Turkey's progress towards EU membership.

Again, with all its imperfections, Turkey is a democratic and secular country. True, it has had periods of military rule, but these have been shorter than in Greece. Teimourian is wrong when he presents Turkish society as one divided between "a secular, but corrupt and authoritarian elite that lives under the thumb of the army, and an alienated, sulking, despairing majority that sees no alternative either to Islamist regression or Kurdish independence". In the last elections on 18 April, 1999, the Islamists received 15 per cent of the total vote, the Kurdish nationalists less than 5 per cent. Even the PKK no longer demands Kurdish independence. On the other hand, the parties making up Blent Ecevit's coalition government are supported by 53 per cent of the electorate.

Why did the Ecevit government (and not "the army generals", as Teimourian claims) find the Helsinki package acceptable after hearing Solana's explanations? First and foremost, because EU membership is the logical culmination of Turkey's development, not only since the establishment of the secular republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatu¬rk, but since the Ottoman reforms of the nineteenth century. It would be an exaggeration to say that all Turks consider themselves as Europeans. But most of them do see their future in Europe. Liberals want it in order to enjoy the freedoms they see practised in Europe. Teimourian piles absurdity on error when he claims that the Turkish constitution specifies a category of "crimes of thought" or, even more fantastically, that torture is routine for motoring offences. But human rights are violated in Turkey more frequently than in EU countries, and Turkish liberals believe that integration with Europe will help cure the evil. Kurds in Turkey are among the most active advocates of Turkey's EU membership for the same reason. Even Islamists believe that Turkish secularism would become less restrictive if Turkey became part of the EU.

None of this means that Turkey's progress towards EU membership will be rapid, easy or risk-free. Both parties have weighed the pros and cons of membership for a long time. In the 1970s Ecevit had misgivings about Europe which he saw as a rich men's club. In 1997, the EU refused candidate status to Turkey. The decision to go ahead with Turkey's candidacy was not taken lightly by either side; nor did the USA recommend it for insubstantial reasons. Now, after much deliberation, all the parties concerned have decided that their interests would benefit.

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