Why does the EU keep Turkey out?

  • Turkey has applied for membership in the EU several times, but unlike Greece, it has never been admitted. What are the reasons that the EU has given for denying membership to this large and influential country?

    Why "unlike Greece" and not "unlike Portugal" for example?

  • yannis

    yannis Correct answer

    9 years ago

    Turkey has a population of 75+ million and if the country entered the EU today, they would be the second largest member state behind Germany. This would mean an instant shift of power in almost every EU institution, more notably the European Parliament where seats are distributed to member states according to population. Turkey would instantly become a key player in European politics and would have more influence than the traditionally core countries, France, Italy, and the UK. Even if we don't consider anything else, it's understandable that Europeans would be wary of a membership that would significantly alter the EU's political and demographic map, and Turkey's massive population is often quoted as the key political reason the country's accession process is under such heavy scrutiny.

    Furthermore Turkey is not generally considered a part of Europe. It's the spiritual successor to the Ottoman Empire, an empire that was traditionally adversarial towards Europe, and its population is predominantly Muslim, while Europe's population is overwhelmingly Christian. A very small part of the country's territory, East Thrace, is in Europe and it's application may seem unlikely to be denied on geographic grounds, like Morocco's was, but still the question of whether Turkey should be considered a European country or not has been raised multiple times. A recent example is the following statement by Nicolas Sarkozy:

    I want to say that Europe must give itself borders, that not all countries have a vocation to become members of Europe, beginning with Turkey which has no place inside the European Union.

    Enlarging Europe with no limit risks destroying European political union, and that I do not accept.

    The statement is from 2007, two years after the violent Paris riots, a time when feelings for Muslim immigrants in France and in Europe in general were generally unfavourable. While Europe has been traditionally welcoming to immigrants, in recent years there's a strong anti-immigration sentiment across all major member states, a contributing factor to the steady rise of nationalism in Europe. Germany's position in 2010 was less critical but also not particularly enthusiastic in regards to full membership:

    The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, will insist on "privileged partnership" for Turkey instead of full EU membership when she visits the country next week, according to remarks published yesterday. "There are intertwined relations between Turkey and the EU. There are 35 chapters in the [membership] talks. I am confident that 27-28 of them can be taken up and this will really mean a privileged partnership," she said was quoted as saying by the Milliyet newspaper.

    "Some issues, like institutional integration, will be left out of the scope," she told a group of Turkish reporters, before a visit to Turkey on Monday and Tuesday. Mrs Merkel stressed, however, that the European Union placed "great importance" on the need for Turkey to follow a foreign policy consistent with the bloc's stance. Germany's position that the sizeable, mainly Muslim, country is not fit for accession is backed by another EU heavyweight, France, but Ankara categorically rejects any alternatives that fall short of full membership.

    Given Turkey's predominantly Muslim population and its geographic location, the EU does not want to risk an influx of Muslim immigrants, simply put Turkey's accession would open a backdoor to Europe for immigrants from Arabic and African countries, at a time when immigration is an extremely hot issue in European countries and several countries have recently implemented anti-immigration laws that would seem extreme and unjustified a decade ago. A recent example is the decision to open detention camps for immigrants in Greece, an extremely controversial decision that in local media has been compared to Nazi Germany's detention camps. While this might seem like a local issue, we can't ignore the fact that most illegal immigrants reach Greece (and thus the EU) through Turkey.

    Moving on, there are two issues that can be blocking factors, the historically troublesome Greco-Turkish relations and Turkey's occupation of northen Cyprus. From the EC's 2005 Turkey Progress Report (page 9):

    As regards the enhanced political dialogue, relations with Greece developed positively. A series of bilateral agreements were signed and several confidence building measures adopted. A process of exploratory talks has continued. On Cyprus, over the last year Turkey has supported and continues to support the efforts of the UN Secretary General to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem. The European Council of June 2004 invited Turkey to conclude negotiations with the Commission on behalf of the Community and its 25 Member States on the adaptation of the Ankara Agreement to take account of the accession of the new Member States. The Commission expects a positive reply to the draft protocol on the necessary adaptations transmitted to Turkey in July 2004

    While Greco-Turkish relations have significantly improved in recent years, especially after the 1999 earthquakes that devastated İzmit and Athens, Greece reserves it's right to veto Turkey's membership at any time, especially since there are unresolved territorial disputes between the two countries. Greece did not intervene in the 1989 Davos proceedings, but it most certainly would have vetoed the negotiations if the EC viewed Turkey's membership favorably at the time.

    Graham's answer explain the Cyprus dispute, I'd only like to add that Cyprus can also veto Turkey's membership, and has already exercised the right once in 2006:

    Talks between Turkey and the EU over the largely Muslim country's entry to the world's biggest trading bloc headed for collapse at the first hurdle last night after Cyprus torpedoed a deal to kick-start the stalled negotiations.

    The Cyprus dispute has been a core issue in Europe - Turkey relations since 1974 but it became a blocking factor since 2004, when Cyprus joined the EU. It seems highly unlikely that Cyprus will accept Turkey's full membership without a satisfying resolution, at least in the near future.

    Don't forget about the economy of Turkey, it's very weak in comparison with the rest of the largest countries of the UE, the other problem is that Turkey is Muslim and they don't respect most of the women rights, and they try to others to take their own rules.

    **** Please keep comments focused on improving the post and try to not to turn comment threads into miniature chat rooms and debates. Thanks.

    Interesting side-note is that, geographically speaking, Cyprus has 0% territory in Europe.

    The comments on the “backdoor” for African immigrants to Europe seem entirely speculative. Do you have anything that suggests either that this is a serious impediment to the negotiations or that politicians raised it as a pretext to stall them?

    So, is the EU going to kick Italy out now that it is the front door to immigrants from Africa?

    I would also add something about the standards of human rights in the EU and the status of human rights in Turkey. This was less of an issue when you wrote the answer in 2012 when Turkey seemed on track to correct these issues, but that trend has reversed with Erdogans power grab.

    "Turkey [...] is predominantly Muslim, while Europe's population is overwhelmingly Christian". That is completely backwards, Turkey is overwhelmingly (>80%) Muslim and Europe is (barely) predominantly Christian (Germany: <60% Christians).

    This is not an answer. This post might tell why part of the European population does not want Turkey to join. But it does not explain the legal reasons that brought the talks to a standstill. Turkish institutions moved closer to the European standards, but at a certain point the Turkish government began to roll back the mechanism of checks and balances.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM