Turkey's Accession Divides the E.U.

Posted in Europe | 05-Oct-05 | Author: Federico Bordonaro

The flags of Turkey and the European Union wave over a building in Istanbul, Turkey.

On October 3, European Union member states reached agreement regarding Turkey's accession to the Union, thus overcoming Austria's opposition and entering a delicate phase of negotiations. Vienna had called for a "privileged partnership" to be awarded to Ankara rather than full E.U. membership. The 25 E.U. states finally ended last week's deadlock thanks to a new draft in which Ankara's and Zagreb's future full membership is taken into consideration. The agreement came after intense pre-negotiation talks and a pro-integration U.S. intervention (via a phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice).

Of all of the issues relating to the E.U.'s further enlargement, those that relate to Turkey have always been the thorniest ones. The question of Ankara's full membership involves all of the possible geopolitical aspects one can expect, from demography to cultural identity, from geostrategy to economics, and from the internal European political balance to the E.U.'s relations with both the U.S. and the Middle East.

Recent French and Austrian Protests

After Brussels' decision to proceed to the start of the negotiations, French President Jacques Chirac told the press he does not see any reason to deny Ankara E.U. membership, for Turkey is determined to "embrace European values." However, France had been one of the E.U. states whose diplomacy raised important questions on Turkey's accession just before the planned negotiations. Last summer, Paris expressed the view that Ankara should immediately recognize Cyprus' full sovereignty before it could be admitted to the Union.

Moreover, the French press highlighted Turkey's alleged repressive cultural policy as it extensively covered novelist Orhan Pamuk's misadventures with Turkish justice. In fact, Chirac added that Turkey will need to complete its "cultural revolution" in order to be fully accepted into Europe -- a sentence that signals that cultural issues are far from settled.

Just after France agreed to start negotiations, Austria threatened to stop the whole procedure by insisting Turkey should be given a "privileged partnership" but not full membership. Such a solution had been already discussed in the past, and firmly dismissed as not viable due to Ankara's disdainful refusal of such a compromise.

However, Vienna's move must be interpreted in light of its main geopolitical aim in matters of E.U. enlargement: that of linking Turkey's accession to that of Croatia. Zagreb is in fact under the German-Austrian geopolitical and economic "realm of influence," and its membership negotiations had been stopped because of the Croatian government's unwillingness to punish a military accused of atrocities during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Therefore, Turkey's E.U. membership talks must now also include Croatia.

Internal E.U. Divisions Over Turkey's Membership

Once again, E.U. states are showing divisions over a key issue. Great Britain, which took the helm of the rotating E.U. presidency in July, is a sponsor of Turkey's integration. Italy maintains a similar position, although some of its government spokespeople speak against Ankara's accession. France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium all have complicated stances on the issue. Especially after the 2004 eastward enlargement and the 2005 French and Dutch referenda on the E.U. Constitutional Treaty, continental E.U. members have shown signs of disappointment with the current fast pace of the E.U.'s enlargement process.

Basically, the real question is that European integration and enlargement does not have the same political and geopolitical meaning for all of its members. For the champion of the Atlanticist vision (the U.K.), the E.U. is mainly a means to expand pro-market reforms and promote liberal policies throughout the continent. Moreover, London perceives European collective security as inextricably linked with N.A.T.O. and the transatlantic relationhip. This does not mean that the British are opposed to a European Security and Defense Policy (E.S.D.P.), but that the rise of such a policy should not weaken the Atlantic alliance's geostrategic primacy in the Old Continent.

For such reasons, London considers further enlargements -- and especially Turkey's integration -- to be positive in that they reinforce N.A.T.O.'s consistency in Europe, for Ankara will finally be a full member of both N.A.T.O. and the main European institutions. This will increase the chances of keeping the E.S.D.P. linked with the Atlantic alliance.

On the contrary, the Franco-German combine appear more skeptical about Turkey's role in Europe. On the one hand, Paris, Berlin and their natural allies in Western Europe favor Ankara's integration because that would reinforce European unity and geopolitical coherence. On the other hand, they perceive Turkey's cultural identity (Islam), social structures (for instance, the strong role of the military), and demography (projection forecasts state that it will be the E.U.'s most populated country in 2015-2020) as fundamentally disruptive of any consistent "European identity" and political balance inside the Union.

In addition, rampant policymakers such as France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel appear eager to use the public's anti-Turkish feelings in order to gain votes by taking populistic stances and riding anti-Islamic feelings; this strategy has increased following the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid and exacerbated by mass immigration issues.

However, in front of London's clear pro-Turkey stance, France, Germany, Austria and other continental members look internally divided, and, therefore, diplomatically weaker. This is particularly true since Turkey's E.U. application dates back more than 40 years, and there are no objective grounds on which some E.U. members could shape an effective policy to counter Ankara's determined pro-E.U. strategy.

Furthermore, the E.U. has already decided to progressively integrate Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia, which only exasperates Ankara's perception of being discriminated against uniquely because of its Muslim identity. But European states all agree that they need to establish better relations with the Mediterranean Muslim states at a time of looming cultural and religious conflicts. Therefore, opponents to Turkey's accession have little room to manuever.

The U.S. Position: Energy, N.A.T.O., Central Asia and the Greater Middle East

The geopolitics of Turkey's E.U. integration is nonetheless conditioned by extra-European actors, such as the United States and the countries of the Middle East. In fact, only in a broader geostrategic context can the Turkish issue be fully appreciated and correctly assessed. Geostrategy must be understood as the interconnection of different operational theaters. For the U.S., Turkey has been a fundamental ally since 1945 in order to contain the Soviets and to project power toward the Middle East. Geographically, Turkey links the southeastern Mediterranean Sea to the Balkan regions, the Black Sea and the Transcaucasian area, whereby its frontiers with Syria, Iraq and Iran are particularly delicate in light of the Middle East's strategic importance.

As a consequence, Turkey's accession into the E.U. would be a positive event for Washington -- which consistently pushes in this direction -- for a number of reasons.

First, it will reinforce the E.S.D.P.'s pro-Atlantic orientation and interoperability with N.A.T.O. since a key N.A.T.O. member would be fully integrated. Second, it will decisively decrease the chances of Turkey's rapprochement with Iran, Syria and other states currently opposed to Washington's Middle East policy.

Third, it will ease the creation of an integrated, pan-European liberal economic space, as opposed to a "core-Europe" seeking to create an independent grouping of states. Fourth, it will also favor the creation of a bigger network of oil and gas pipelines designed to transport Caspian and Black Sea energy resources to the West under strong Anglo-American influence, as opposed to alternative energy strategies such as the new Russo-German projects. [See: "The Poland-Belarus Controversy and the Battle for Eastern Europe"]

Fifth, it will strengthen U.S. strategic influence in a broad geopolitical area from Southern Europe to Central Asia -- also due to Ankara's historical ties with Central Asian republics -- thus balancing the growing Sino-Russian influence in the region. [See: "The Significance of Sino-Russian Military Exercises"]


Turkey's integration into the E.U. is currently a key geopolitical issue. Its importance is great for all of the E.U.'s members, the U.S. and the countries of the Middle East and Central Asia.

The current negotiations are a new step toward Ankara's E.U. membership, but, at the same time, political obstacles are far from being completely removed. Some E.U. members would like to give Turkey a privileged partnership instead of full integration, whereas others push for a rapid accession.

The result will be long negotiations and possibly temporary setbacks. However, denial of membership to Ankara seems unlikely. For the moment, the British and American position appears stronger because it is more consistent, and the E.U.'s capability to become a strong, united geopolitical actor with authentically shared interests still looks weak.

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