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AB Editörü'nden Güncelleme: 18. 11. 2003

Cliches against Turkey's EU membership
A pocket guide for debaters
Turkey's candidacy for the European Union is an immense challenge. The challenge Turkey has to face up in order to meet the accession criteria is as arduous as the challenge Europe has picked up in accepting the candidacy of a country considered at the same time so close and so distant. Turkish candidacy is not welcomed by public opinion in Western Europe and that is a secret to no one. Western Europeans are sceptical about Turkey as they are with all other candidates and the enlargement process in general. It will be difficult to lay the foundations of a new Europe unless people are convinced that there will be an advantage in enlarging the Union in general and adding Turkey in particular. Politicians and opinion makers in the West who openly or discreetly refuse the idea of Turkish membership use a series of controversial and sometimes false arguments to exacerbate the feelings of a public which is already confused about Turkey. Sometimes they use Turkey's candidacy for their anti-European stance in domestic political debate. Although existing clich‚s, commonplace misconceptions and fears about Turkey won't change overnight, policy makers and the public at large deserve better information about the issue in order to make the proper judgment. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the most common arguments used against Turkey's membership and the counter-arguments for the use of all concerned.

Economic weakness and burden
Turkey's economic weakness and the burden its membership would put on EU countries through the payment of Structural Funds, is a widely used argument. Today these funds are substantially less generous when compared to amounts countries such as Greece, Portugal or Spain are receiving still today. A rough calculation of what Turkey may receive is 13 billion euros, yearly. For the sake of comparaison, since the customs union took effect in 1996, trade between Turkey and the EU 15 results in a yearly surplus of 10 billion euros for the EU countries. But Turkey expects more from foreign direct investment (FDI) and loans which are much more efficient and incentivized than non-redeemable grants. A recent study (cf. by Professor Akat, a leading economist, commissioned by TUSIAD (the association of Turkish industrialists and businessmen) elaborates several scenarios for the year 2012 assuming that Turkey is engaged in the membership negotiations (but still not a member by then) thus offering a visibility and a mid-term perspective to foreign investors. Akat considers three level of FDI: A weak penetration corresponding to 1 percent of the GDP; a realistic level of 1.5 percent of GDP and a rosy scenario where the FDI flow would hover around 2 percent of the GDP similar to that of Spain since it became an EU member. Thanks to these FDI levels, by 2012 the GDP per capita could reach respectively $4800, $6200, $9000 which corresponds to $9100, $9900, $10750 in purchasing power parity (ppp). By comparaison the per capita income for 2000 was at $3000 and $6800 in ppp.

The author notes that he omitted the extreme case of very high FDI flows as in Poland for example, who received around 26 bn euros of FDI against 1.6 bn euros of grants from the EU as of 2000. In other words, Turkey would dramatically increase its wealth even before becoming a full member, thanks to the membership perspective which will ensue from the beginning of the membership negotiations. These negotiations, on the other hand, are expected to last at minimum 10 years. Another grievance is the prospect of jobless Turks pouring into Europe. Contrary to the expectations, Turkish workers may prefer to stay home, for instance in cozy Antalya rather than to go to colder Malmo, if the working life improves in Turkey. That is indeed the very essence of the pre-adhesion phase during which economic, social and political conditions in candidate countries are supposed to improve so to make life attractive at home. We should also recall the Greek, Portugese and Spanish return migration once these countries joined the EU. The same patterns may happen in the case of Turkish workers already in Western Europe as the prospect of an opulent Turkey could become an incentive to go back. In other words "Let Turkey feel at home in Europe to make sure that Turks will stay home".

Otherwise labor migration, by virtue of the free movement of persons, could easily be restricted by Member States during membership negotiations as in the case of Austria and Germany today for workers of new members for an initial period of five years. Finally, although Eurostat data on averages of economic development among candidate countries puts Turkey at the bottom with 23 percent of the EU average, Bulgaria and Rumania, two countries expected to join in three years both stand at 25 percent.

Despite its structural weaknesses the Turkish economy is bound to grow at a high rate in the coming years. The market is unsatured and has 15 million consumers with high purchasing power. Thanks to the Customs Union, 71 percent of the trade takes place with the 25 EU members and future members.

The 'Islamic country'
While talking about Turkey, Western Europeans subconciously speak about 70 million Muslim Turks, whereas talking about themselves or other candidates no one says, for instance, "60 million British Christians or 40 million Christian Poles". Simple fact: Turkey is a secular country that has no official state religion. Secondly, which Islam do we have in mind? As is the case in the two other monotheistic beliefs, Islam offers a rich variety of interpretations of the original doctrine, so much so that the dominant sect in this or that Islamic country considers a number of them heretical. In Turkey, for instance with its 13 million members, the Alevi sect constitutes almost a fifth of the country's population and represents a liberal Islam that has little to do with the widespread image of Islam. A French political writer R‚gis Debray remarks that where Islam is allowed to express itself democratically, regimes with dominant anti-western preferences arise whereas in radical secular States where political Islam is kept out of the public life the regimes are pro-western.

A blatant counter example to this Manichean view is Turkey where political Islam is more western prone than probably any other recent government and follows the rules of the democratic game. This government, on its way to a new synthesis between democracy and Islam challenges all clich‚s on this hot issue. On the other hand, the understanding of the resurgence of a Turkish political Islam should not be confined to a functional approach that reduces the political movement to a group of ill-intentioned politicians with a hidden agenda, who try to take advantage of social discontent.

The movement involves a genuine identity search in which religion acts as a carrier for a social expression that even includes women. Interestingly enough, the supporters of this kind of Islamic modernity refer to both parliamentary and civic democracy as much as the liberals do.

The 'weight of the military'
The First World War brought about the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. It was followed by the signature of the Sevres Treaty in 1920, the occupation of vast territories of the Empire, including important parts of today's Turkey and left the State in a critical situation. The military elite who won the liberation war salvaged the country. This elite has also been the architect of modern Turkey and the builder of the nation-State largely inspired from Jacobin values and principles. In paralell, the trauma created by the 1920 dismemberment resulted in an obsession with territorial integrity and security and exacerbated the obsession with law and order that was inherited from the declining Ottomans. The legitimacy of the military survived until today and appears as one of the country's constant features. The normalization process that is taking shape in Turkey should, in due course and certainly before membership becomes effective but not before the negotiation phase starts, confine the military to military functions. Secularism and internal security will be guaranteed and safeguarded by civilian rule as was the case in Greece and Spain in the seventies and eighties where the European perspective fully supported the demilitarisation of political life. To expect, from a country that was simply built by the military elite and especially from a government whose members had problematic relations with the military in recent years, to clear politics of the influence of the military within twelve months sounds ridiculous.

Geographical and historical arguments
Turkey in Europe? Physically speaking, Turkey has been in Europe since 1352, when the Ottomans conquered the Tzympe castle near Gallipoli, situated on the European shore of the Dardanelle Straits. This is the very place where almost six centuries later, the Ottoman Empire would fight one of its last battles to save its existence, having progressively lost all the territory it had conquered on the European continent.






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Orhan Bahçıvan

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Robert Schild

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