Turkey - Membership or Partnership?
It was a last minute compromise. The question: "Turkey – membership or partnership?" had become the remaining stumbling block on the road to negotiations between the European Union and Turkey.
It came to some as a surprise that Austria rejected the proposal for negotiations agreed upon by the 25 European heads of state in December 2004, negotiations with only one objective: Full membership of Turkey – if and when Turkey meets the standards and criteria the EU has set.
Austria – against the rest of the EU.
In European countries, the resistance of Austria was met with more sympathy than in the European governments. Why? For many people in Europe, the perception of the EU has changed and there is no attractive vision left.
The rejection of the proposed constitution by France and the Netherlands brought back the question: Which kind of Europe do we really want? Where are the cultural and physical borders of Europe? Bureaucracy and centralization in Brussels have acquired a more negative connotation. The rejection of the EU constitution by both France and the Netherlands has made it obvious that the EU is not in good shape. The extension by 10 new members without a necessary reform is hard to digest. Cheap labor from the new members caused more unemployment in the “old European countries”. The failing integration of Muslims in many European countries and the terrorist attacks by Muslims in summer 2005 increased already existing irritations and uncertainties.
More countries will join the EU before the decision concerning Turkey will be taken. The crucial question remains: Will the EU "25 plus" be able to take Turkey in and will Turkey be able to meet the standards?
If and when Turkey becomes a member of the EU in 10-15 years time, Turkey would become Nr.1 as far as population is concerned. It would receive about 70 seats in the EU parliament – at the expense of the “old” member states. Today, Turkey is a secular state. Will it last the next decade? As Austria has shown, a single member can block any decision. The EU is based on the common values derived from a Christian – occidental culture. Turkey's membership would certainly change this character.
Without a doubt: Turkey will remain very important for the West’s stability and security. Turkey is a springboard for Western ideas in the Broader Middle East and Asia, where remarkable ethnic bindings exist.
Turkey is a very strong pillar of the North Atlantic Alliance/NATO. Having worked with Turkish soldiers, I appreciate them in integrated NATO HQ and know the military skills of their troops. Being a member of NATO, Turkey gets all support needed for security and stability. The West gets all it needs through this membership in NATO as well.
Is there a need for additional support? Could a so-called “privileged partnership” be a substitute for full membership?
The greatest mistake of the past might be that the United States and Europe raised expectations that were too high for Turkey. On the other hand, Turkish politics towards Cyprus, which is already a member of the EU and the behavior concerning the Armenian genocide were not very helpful.
With some hours delay, the official negotiations started on October 3 – as planned before – in Luxemburg.
Dr. Andrea Riemer of Austria, who has written newsletters for us before, poses the decisive questions and tries to find some answers. She offers a yardstick for all of us following the further development. The topic EU/Turkey will be with us for the next 10-15 years. It is worth being presented here.
Turkey has to change a lot to become eligible for full membership in the EU. It must become more democratic and tolerant toward ethnic minorities. This process in itself is already a success – as was shown in other countries aiming at membership in the EU.