By Kennedy Fonju Nkongho*
Turkish EU membership has been a burning debate in Public Opinion in the recent years. Some people perceive it as a great opportunity to economic growth in the country why others don’t see any reason why a lot of money should be spent and Turkish laws and customs abandoned to match EU standards just to become a member of the Organization.
The European Union (EU) is considered as one of the most successful world Organization. This is deducible from its long history of maintaining peace and economic growth along the geography of Europe and also in the world at large.
The European Union was first created as the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957 between France, West Germany, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Belgium and Italy before it was finally renamed as the European Union in 1993. Events in Turkey in 1960s and 70s dealt a blow to Turkey’s membership hopes. Turkey first applied to become a member of the EEC in 1958 but failed because they was a coup d’état in Turkey in 1960 during which the then Prime minister Menderes was persecuted and executed by hanging.
This was however no enough reason for turkey to give up its membership hopes. Turkey went ahead to sign the Ankara Treaty in 1963 for Association with European Economic Community which was to aid towards the creation of a Customs Union and subsequent membership into the Union.
Turkey again applied for full membership into the EEC in 1987 but was still unable to secure its membership position. Turkey successfully joined the customs Union in 1996. The customs Union increased both imports and exports in turkey as well as its GDP and per capita.
Turkey’s customs union membership is recognized as having played an important role from changing the Turkish economy from Agrarian to industrial. And it had to adjust its Tariffs and duties to match EU standards. Turkey became and EU candidate in Helsinki in 1999 and this gave goods hopes in turkey of finally becoming a member someday.
Turkey recognized as the longest waiting EU membership country in the history of the Organization. Turkey started applying for membership when the Organization had just six members till today with a total membership of 28 European countries, turkey’s efforts to join the Union have all being futile. Even in 2004 which have been considered as the year which saw the greatest expansion of the Union, Tukey’s application was yet not given a thought of consideration.
However, 2005 was a turning point in turkey-EU relations. It saw the commencement of ascension negotiations between turkey and European Union. It made Turkish citizens to see the EU membership as a realistic goal with a lot of importance to the Turkish economy. Since the negotiations began, the EU has been serving as a dietician for Turkey. This is to say that Turkey has to upgrade its standards in most aspects to meet that of the EU.
This ranges from its judiciary to the legislature, protection of human rights, infrastructural development, agricultural system and many more. Even though thirteen chapters have been opened in the negotiation process so far, only one chapter has been closed which is Science and Research (Chapter 25).
All candidate countries open each chapter provided they fulfill the opening criteria specifically determined for each chapter by the EU council and provisionally close each chapter provided that they fulfill the closing criteria determined by the EU council.
The negotiations process have somewhat lost the momentum it had at the beginning because relations have been soured at some point between the two parties and it has left many wondering whether Turkey can still be considered as a potential candidate for accession. But despite all of these, Turkey remains more committed.
Another unfavorable situation in the negotiation procession was the accession of Cyprus to an EU country. Cyprus was admitted into the European Union in 2004 alongside nine other countries.
Greek Cypriot dominated administration don’t only fail to represent the Turks Cypriot leaving on the island but they also stand as a barrier to Turkey accession negotiation talks. The seven years of negotiation were not very difficult until Cyprus assumed the Presidency of the EU from July to December 2012.
Negotiations were on a recession as Cyprus stands on the way or blocks six (6) of the thirty-five (35) chapters for accession negotiations. With this, Turkey remains committed with finding a political settlement of the Cyprus issue and has clearly demonstrated its resolve in this regard.
Not only Cyprus but France was considered as another obstacle that stood on the path of the Turkey’s accession hopes during the office of Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy made his opposition to Turkey joining the EU a central element of his presidential campaign, telling voters that Turkey was geographically not part of Europe and arguing that Turkey has no place in an already overstretched Union across eastern Europe.
Germany on her part also talked of a “privileged Partnership” and was specific about the fact that accession negotiations did not guarantee full membership. These indications showed that most European states were not in full support of Turkey’s accession.
Some were even openly critical about it as Austrian minister painted a Muslim cartoon of turkey during an EU meeting and then Turkish minister to EU at the time (Egeman Bagis) responded to him by saying “put it in the right position” what later became a very famous statement in Turkey.
However the blame for the accession failures cannot be levied entirely on Europe. Some people think that, back home Turkey has not been able to take full responsibility in doing what she is expected to do in order to meet up with accession criteria.
Some Europeans believe Turkey has not fully upgraded its standards to that of the EU in aspects like Food safety, human rights protection and judicial systems. With this, turkey has been working consistently towards archiving these goals.
On a more personal note, this has to change for a better future. Both Turkey and the EU need the continuation of this relationship whether it will be in the form of a full membership or a different form.
What is important is for the relationship to maintain and both sides to take steps to honor their commitment to integration. During the Turkey-EU summit in Varna on March 26, the Turkish prime minister stated that “we hope we have left behind a difficult period in Turkey-EU elations.
It would be a great mistake for Europe who claims to be a global force to push Tukey out of its expansion policy. Let’s build a prosperous and strong Euope together”. All this shows Tukey’s determination for membership.
However turkey should not remain relaxed and belief that tendencies in Europe will change some day with election procedures. Turkey should know that decisions are taken on the basis of consensus and individual member countries all have equal votes when it comes to membership of a candidate country. Therefore focusing only on the relations with the European council and the European Commission does not help.
The path to Brussels passes through Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Athens, Rome and other capitals of EU member states. Maintaining friendly relations with individual member state will play a key role in Turkey’s integration into the European Union.
All these Tukey’s commitments and determination would have guaranteed a membership status already for any normal accession negotiation process. But Turkey still remains more focused, committed and determined to open more negotiation chapters.
*Kennedy Fonju Nkongho is a Cameroonian by nationality and currently a student in Istanbul Aydin University