European Union

Turkey Table of Contents

Since 1963, when it was accepted as an associate member of the European Community (EC), Turkey has striven for admission as a full member of that body, now called the European Union (EU--see Glossary), the association of fifteen West European nations that comprises the world's wealthiest and most successful trading bloc. The Özal government, which had formulated its economic policies with the goal of meeting certain EC objections to a perceived lack of competitiveness in Turkish industry, formally applied for full membership in 1987. Much to Turkey's disappointment, the decision was deferred until 1993--or later--on grounds that the EC could not consider new members until after the implementation of tighter political integration scheduled for the end of 1992. The unexpected end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union actually delayed integration by one year, primarily to allow time for the EU to adjust to West Germany's absorption of East Germany. The new Demirel government, which strongly supported Özal's goal of joining the EC, was disappointed in 1992 when the EC agreed to consider membership applications from Austria, Finland, Norway, and Sweden without making a decision on Turkey's long-standing application. By then it seemed obvious that the EC was reluctant to act on Turkey's application. In fact, most EC members objected to full Turkish membership for a variety of economic, social, and political reasons.

The principal economic objections to Turkish membership center on the relative underdevelopment of Turkey's economy compared to the economies of EC/EU members and Turkey's high rate of population growth. The latter issue is perceived as a potentially serious problem because of free labor movement among EU members and the fact that Turkey's already large population is expected to surpass that of Germany--the most populous EU member--by 2010. Closely related to the concern about there being too many Turkish workers for too few jobs is the social problem of integrating those workers into European culture. Throughout Western Europe, the early 1990s witnessed a rise in anti-immigrant feeling directed primarily against Muslim workers from North Africa and Turkey. For the most part, EU governments have not developed policies to combat this resurgence of prejudice.

The political obstacles to EU membership concern Turkey's domestic and foreign policies. Because the European body prides itself on being an association of democracies, the 1980 military coup--in a country enjoying associate status--was a severe shock. The harshness of repression under the military regime further disturbed the EC--many EC leaders knew personally the former Turkish leaders whom the military put on trial for treason. The EC responded by freezing relations with Turkey and suspending economic aid. A related body, the Council of Europe, also expelled Turkey from its parliamentary assembly. The restoration of civilian rule gradually helped to improve Turkey's image. In 1985 Germany's prime minister signaled the EC's readiness to resume dialogue with Turkey by accepting an invitation to visit Ankara. The following year, the EC restored economic aid and permitted Turkey to reoccupy its seats in European deliberative councils. Nevertheless, frequent veiled threats by Turkey's senior military officers of future interventions if politicians "misbehaved" did not inspire confidence in Europe that democracy had taken permanent root in Turkey. As late as 1995, some Europeans remained apprehensive about the possibility of another military coup, a concern that was shared by various Turkish politicians.

EU members have also expressed reservations about Turkey's human rights record. Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch, two human rights monitoring organizations supported by the EU, have reported the persistence of practices such as arbitrary arrests, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture in prisons, and censorship. The Turkish Human Rights Association, itself subject to harassment and intimidation tactics, has prepared detailed chronologies and lists of human rights abuses, including the destruction of entire villages without due process, and has circulated these reports widely in Europe. The documented reports of human rights abuses, like the coup rumors, sustained questions about Turkey's qualifications to join a collective body of countries that have striven to achieve uniform standards for protecting citizen rights.

In terms of foreign policy, the main obstacle to EU membership remains the unresolved issues between Turkey and EU member Greece. The most serious issue between the two countries is their dispute over the island of Cyprus, which dates back to 1974. At that time, Turkish troops occupied the northeastern part of the island to protect the Turkish minority (20 percent of the population), which felt threatened by the Greek majority's proposals for unification with Greece. Years of negotiations have failed to resolve a stalemate based on the de facto partition of Cyprus into a Turkish Cypriot north and a Greek Cypriot south, a division that continues to be enforced by a Turkish force estimated at 25,000 troops in early 1995 (see Conflict and Diplomacy: Cyprus and Beyond, ch. 1).

Following the November 1983 declaration of independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus--a government recognized only by Turkey in early 1995--Greece persuaded fellow EU members that progress on settling the dispute over Cyprus should be a prerequisite to accepting Turkey as a full member. Despite Ankara's position that such an obvious political condition was not appropriate for an economic association, once the EC agreed in 1990 to consider an application for membership from Cyprus, diplomatic efforts aimed at convincing individual EC members to veto the condition became futile. Since 1990 Turkey has supported UN-mediated talks between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders that are aimed at devising procedures for the island's reunification. As of January 1995, these intermittent discussions had made little progress, and the prospects for a resolution of the Cyprus problem appeared dim.

Equally as serious as the Cyprus issue is Turkey's dispute with Greece over territorial rights and interests in the Aegean Sea. Although both Greece and Turkey are de jure allies in NATO, their conflicting claims brought them to the brink of war in 1986 and 1987. A fundamental source of contention is exploration rights to minerals, primarily oil, beneath the Aegean Sea. International law recognizes the right of a country to explore the mineral wealth on its own continental shelf. Greece and Turkey, however, have been unable to agree on what constitutes the Aegean continental shelf. Turkey defines the Aegean shelf as a natural prolongation of the Anatolian coast, whereas Greece claims that every one of the more than 2,000 of its islands in the Aegean has its own shelf. The issue is complicated further by Greece's claim to the territorial waters surrounding its islands. Turkey rejected Greece's attempts to extend its six-nautical-mile territorial claim around each island to twelve nautical miles on grounds that such a move would enable Greece to control 71 percent, rather than 43 percent, of the Aegean. Thus, it would be impossible for Turkish ships to reach the Mediterranean Sea without crossing Greek waters.

The issue of the right to control the airspace over the Aegean appears similarly intractable. Greece, which was granted control of air and sea operations over the entire Aegean region by various NATO agreements, closed the Aegean air corridors during the 1974 Cyprus crisis and only reopened them early in 1980 as part of the compromise arrangement for Greek reintegration into NATO. Disputes over the median line dividing the Aegean into approximately equal sectors of responsibility remain unresolved. In addition, Turkey refuses to recognize the ten-mile territorial air limit decreed by Greece in 1931; this line extends from the coast of Greece's mainland as well as from its islands. These unresolved issues contribute to the tensions over Cyprus and mineral exploration rights in the Aegean Sea.

Prime Minister Özal recognized the potential of Greece to block Turkish admission to the EC even before his government formally submitted its application. Thus, early in 1987 he attempted to defuse tensions by initiating a meeting with his Greek counterpart in Switzerland--the first meeting between Greek and Turkish heads of government in ten years. Their discussions resolved an immediate crisis over oil drilling in the Aegean and established channels for further diplomatic discussions. In June 1988, Özal accepted an unprecedented invitation to visit Athens, the first state visit by a Turkish leader in thirty-six years. Although Özal's initiatives did much to clear the political atmosphere, leaders in both countries remain unable to overcome their mutual suspicions. Thus, no progress has been achieved in resolving outstanding differences, although both countries are showing more restraint in their rhetoric and actions. Beginning in 1989, dramatic political developments in Eastern Europe and the Middle East caused Turkey and Greece to focus their attention beyond the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress