Dr Jožef Kunič, Ambassador
President of Slovenian Association for International Relations (SDMO)
and Member of the IFIMES International Institute

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. Ambassador Dr Jožef Kunič, President of Slovenian Association for International Relations (SDMO) and Member of the IFIMES International Institute has analysed the current position of Turkey in the light of its accession to the EU.

There has been a very animated discussion in some EU member countries whether to accept Turkey as an EU member state or not. In mid-December it is expected that the EU Council will take the decision to start the negotiations with Turkey, and, since all the negotiations up to now have led to the fact that the country which started the negotiations eventually became a member country, the same can be expected from the negotiations with Turkey. It is true, however, that certain conditions are being set by the EU which leads to the conclusion that the negotiation process will not be a short one, but if it starts, it will be concluded as well.
Turkey's geostrategic position is of great importance. It creates proximity to Europe, the Middle East, The Black Sea Region and Central Asia and enables Turkey to engage actively in various regional economic integration and cooperation. Turkey is the founding member of the Economic Cooperation Organization that covers Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Turkey and the founding member of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization that covers Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Armenia, Georgia, Greece, Moldavia, Romania, the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Turkey. It has participated in activities of the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI).
Turkey applied to the EU in 1959 to start negotiations for the gradual accession of Turkey to the EU. Turkey's demand for accession to the EU was a political and economic decision. Turkey's long run process of accession was started by signing the Ankara Agreement between Turkey and the EU in 1963. As a result of this Agreement, Turkey became an associate member of the EU with the final aim to become the full member. According to the Ankara Agreement the full membership would be realised within three steps. The preparatory period was successfully completed between January 1964 and December 1972. Tthe transitory period was completed between January 1973 and December 1995. The Customs Union period came into effect in January 1996. In the Helsinki European Council meeting in December 1999 Turkey was officially recognized as a candidate state.
The discussion is especially lively in some old EU member states. The advocates of the entrance of Turkey have gathered on the left wing of the political spectrum in some countries while the opponents are on the right side. But in some parts, a gap has been established between the left and the right wing parties. However, regardless of the fact where the political advocates or opponents of Turkey's admission to the EU are, it is evident that the number of the opponents is so high that it can not be neglected. This fact is especially important because of the so-called democratic deficit in the EU that some countries would like to render somehow smaller, that is, to listen more carefully to its citizens. In addition to the referendum on constitutional treaty in some countries, a referendum on entrance of Turkey to EU is being anticipated which has a double purpose: to show the EU citizens that the democratic deficit is decreasing (i.e. on all important matters the citizens are more often consulted) and the second purpose is to transfer the responsibility of admitting Turkey to the EU on citizens and at the same time to defer or even prevent its admission.
A heated discussion for or against admission of Turkey to the EU is present in several fields. Let me enumerate some of them:

  • Geographic: Turkey is in Europe, but at the same time, geographically, most of its territory is in Asia;

  • Historical: Turkey was in certain periods certainly in Europe, but at the same time it was at war with many European countries;

  • Demographic: Turkey can, with its high birth rate, contribute to the influx of the missing young workforce, but it can, at the same time, threaten demographically some regions of the present EU;

  • Religious: by admission of Turkey to the EU the present Muslim EU inhabitants can be shown that the EU Muslims are accepted as equal citizens, but at the same time it could cause tensions among Jewish-Christian and Muslim values;

  • Economic: With the admission of Turkey the EU would gain new markets and new regions for economic investments, but at the same time, Turkey would represent, with its very modest GNP per capita, a heavy economic burden for present member states;

  • Homan rights: Turkey is reforming itself and accepting European values rapidly, but at the same time it is still far from the desired European values.

For small EU member states, the above arguments seem less important. In my opinion, other effects of admission of Turkey to the family of EU countries are of greater importance. Let me enumerate them:

  • Firstly, the shift of the centre of decision-making from the present big EU countries to the newcomers. It is true that Turkey does not represent, in comparison to the leading EU countries, an economically strong country, but it has a large population. i.e., a great voting weight in the Council and a great number of seats in the parliament, if it is to become a fully-fledged and equal member state. This would be a fresh wind for the whole EU and a contribution to a stronger democratisation, as there would be one more newcomer among the big countries.

  • Another important effect is contribution to the EU outside image. Should the EU become another world pole, economically, militarily, scientifically, technologically, developmentally independent to a great extent, in which the leading role belongs to the two major countries representing »the EU engine«, France and Germany, or should it develop in partnership with the USA and share the care for security with it in the framework of NATO? The EU member states do not share the same view and Turkey would, as an important NATO member, certainly influence the direction into which EU would develop. If we ask ourselves what would be in the interest of small member states, the answer would certainly be in favour of the second possibility.

  • The third important element is security. With admission of Turkey into the EU, the borders would be expanded to the regions such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria, but in my opinion, this would only contribute to the European security. Regarding the eventual involvement in conflicts, the involvement of most EU countries is preconditioned by NATO membership, and the EU would, as a new, economically and politically respectable association certainly contribute to democratisation and economic success of the above mentioned regions as they would become its neighbours. The EU would have betterr access to the Black Sea coast and its political power and influence would deepen. This would certainly contribute to security.

  • And fourthly: The EU is, as a matter of fact, more and more unified but at the same time, with the enlargement process, more diversified. Some prefer a more unified and others a more diversified EU. Small countries would certainly want more diversification on as many fields as possible (such as cultural, religious, ethnic, etc.). The admission of Turkey into the EU would certainly contribute to a more diversified EU and this is what small countries prefer.

In Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Bratislava, Vilnius and Ljubljana, the governments which have realised their historical aim, i.e. the EU membership, had to withdraw to the opposition. The trend is not surprising. It is a consequence of the unsatisfied public, traumatised with the EU image. People now realise that the world of well-being is less colourful than their governments had promised. No such EU solidarity was perceived as it had been shown towards new member countries in the past, and unpopular domestic reforms are painful.
I agree with those who say that none of the small EU member states should fear the entrance of Turkey into the EU if Turkey fulfils all the demands and conditions. None of the governments should fear this, except the Turkish one.