The Swedish EU presidency has declared its determination to further Turkey’s bid for accession to the European Union. But, as Jonathan Fryer reports, some other member states – not to mention a growing number of Turks – are opposed to Turkish membership, arguing that the country should turn its back on Europe and look East instead.
It is startling to recall that the Turkish government signed an association agreement (the ‘Ankara Agreement’) with the then European Economic Community way back in 1963, a decade before Britain became part of what is now the European Union. The assumption at the time was that Turkey would eventually join the organisation, once it had established a firm tradition of democratic government and a better record on human rights – as indeed happened in the case of Greece in 1981. But the ‘green light’ for accession negotiations was only switched on in 1999, when the European Commission, the EU’s executive wing, first recognised Turkey’s status as an applicant country, and formal negotiations did not begin until 2005.
Four years later, these negotiations have not progressed very far. Many chapters are still to be opened, and few have been concluded. Meanwhile the government in Ankara, for its part, has been bringing many of Turkey’s laws into line with EU norms – the so-called ‘Copenhagen criteria’ with which all EU member states must comply (unlike the situation in other regional groupings, such as ASEAN). For example, it has abolished the death penalty and banned torture, though the latter has proved difficult to eradicate.
Indeed, the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been consistent in its espousal of Turkey’s European vocation – a point Mr Erdogan himself emphasised in Brussels at the beginning of this year. But there is growing anger in Ankara at how the EU seems to be moving the goalposts in a manner that it did not with other candidate countries. ‘Negotiations between Turkey and the EU began 50 years ago...