OSW Studies

Relations between Turkey and the European Union

The relations between Turkey and the European Union are special for several reasons. Of all candidates, Turkey has been aspiring to EU membership for the longest time. With 70 million citizens, it is the most populous candidate country, and if it were admitted to the EU, around the year 2020 would become the single most populous Member State. It would also be the only UE Member State inhabited almost exclusively by Muslims. Like Cyprus, it lies almost entirely in the Asian continent. Because of the scale of Turkey's internal problems, the country faces much more serious reservations concerning its accession than the remaining candidates. Turkey's membership application meets with the strongest opposition in the European Union. This paper aims to discuss the history of the complex relations between Turkey and the European Union, the main issues that impede Turkey's integration with the Community, including the country's internal problems in particular, and the transformations taking place in Turkey under the influence of Community policy.

Key points

1. Integration with the European Union offers Turkey a good opportunity to consolidate its democratic political system and modernise the country. As Turkey adapts to European standards, it will have to gradually dismantle the system founded on the special position of the army as the guarantor of internal stability and predictability of Ankara's foreign policy, which has been in place for over 80 years. A new political system will have to be created in its place.

2. The EEC/EU policy towards Turkey is the resultant of two forces. On the one hand, there is the awareness of Turkey's strategic importance and the need to avoid pushing it away from Europe On the other, there is knowledge of the scale of problems faced by Turkey, fear that adaptation to European standards might trigger the country's destabilisation, concern about the consequences of Turkey's integration for the Union itself, and finally, a sense of the country's cultural and religious dissimilarity. Consequently, the question of whether Turkey should join the Union has yet to be answered.

3. With more realistic membership prospects after Turkey became a candidate country in 1999, and with the moderately favourable internal situation, Turkey decided to initiate serious pro-European reforms. These two factors have also demonstrated that the EU is capable of influencing the internal situation in Turkey to a much greater extent. Complete implementation of the reforms will take a few years and their success will largely depend on increased involvement of the EU in the process of Turkey's integration.