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Turkey Not So Hot On EU Membership

from the November 27, 2012 eNews issue

Money still talks, both in Turkey and in Spain. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy spoke warmly with Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently, encouraging Ankara to endure and fulfill the necessary requirements to gain full European Union membership. Spain and Turkey are tied economically, and Turkey provides Spain with a major market for its products. Spain therefore has an incentive to welcome Turkey into a relationship of freer trade.

France, on the other hand, has long resisted Turkey's full membership in the EU, chagrined over Turkey's refusal to admit to genocide of Armenians in 1915. Western Europe, primarily France and Germany, have had a number of reservations about opening the door to Turkey, and since 1999 Turkey's full membership has been postponed. Its human rights abuses, and specifically the ongoing persecution of Kurds and minority Christians, offer a major concern. .

In time, however, the issue may not be whether this or that EU member state wants Turkey to join their club, but whether Turkey remains interested in tying itself to the increasingly unstable European Union..

While Turkey was set on a secularized, westernized course by President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk after World War I, it has retained much of its Islamic core. Erdogan has promoted Islam in his country in recent years and most recently denounced Israel as a terrorist state. France is concerned about Turkey's potential Islamic influence on the EU, especially in light of heavy Muslim immigration throughout Europe. Germany is worried that Turkey's membership would encourage more Turks to move west. Greece has fought off Turkey's membership with a more personal motivation; relations between the two countries have long festered over the island of Cyprus.

Ankara first applied to be a member of the European Union in 1987, and was finally accepted as a candidate for full membership near the end of 1999, but Turkey has been stiff-armed until the country can fulfill a list of criteria.

For its part, Turkey is weary of being put off year after year. Prime Minister Erdogan has warned that his country will not be delayed forever; by 2023 - the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic - Ankara will resign its efforts.

The Europeans "probably won't string us along that long (to 2023)," Erdogan said recently, "but if they do string us along until then, the European Union will lose out, and at the very least they will lose Turkey."

Europe also has much to keep by a stable and committed relationship with Turkey. Turkey's position as a major crossroad into the Middle East gives it influence on both worlds. Through Turkey, all manner of political and financial trade can take place between Europe and the rest of the Islamic world. The country serves as a strategic military ally, both as a member of NATO and in providing its air bases as launching points for allied operations in the Middle East at times in the past. It's in Europe's interest to keep Turkey warm and close and not force Ankara to turn eastward for friendship.

There would be financial benefits for Turkey in a full EU membership. Turkey would enjoy greater commerce within Europe without the disadvantages of tariffs and other barriers to trade. The larger market would benefit Turkish companies and allow for expansion, and EU membership would mean greater opportunity for investors to take advantage of Turkey's lower wages and pump money into its economy. Ankara has long had the motivation to keep at it and continually seek a greater connection to Europe. Turkey has a long history of considering itself part of Europe, from its membership in the Council of Europe since 1949 to its membership in NATO since 1952. Most recently, Turkey called for NATO to deploy defense missiles near Turkey's border with Syria. Turkey has provided refuge for the Syrian rebels and has turned west for help in keeping Bashar al-Assad's armies off its borders.

However, as Europe scrambles to keep Greece from tumbling over its economic precipice, dragging the whole bloc with it, it may not be quite as tempting for Turkey to rope itself in. Last week, the EU's 27 members failed to come to an agreement on budget cuts, and Turkish companies have already been shying away from doing business in Europe while its economy wobbles on the edge. Turkey doesn't want to get sucked into the political and religious mess that is the Middle East, but - in many ways - Europe has been proving a disappointment. We'll see which way Turkey goes as time.

There is a Turkish proverb that translates, "Golden saber opens every door." In other words, "Money talks." But there is another Turkish proverb that states, "Dogs bark, but caravan still moves on."


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