Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Case for Turkey’s Accession Into the E.U.

A few months ago, I wrote an article explaining why I thought the European Union should disband. Given the fact that the euro continues to perform miserably against other currencies, member states continue to bicker over the best way to ameliorate economic woes, and citizens of those states worst off continue to violently protest new austerity measures, I still think disbanding may be necessary and inevitable. However, I am fully cognizant of the repercussions such a move would have not only on Europe, but also on the rest of the world. Such a bold and critical move may not be advisable in the short term, and for now it appears that the European Union is safe from my forecasted demise.
However, if this is the case, there are very few reasons why Turkey should continue to be shuttered from the European Union’s borders. Perhaps Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande and the other heads of state have more pressing matters to deliberate over these days, but the issue of Turkish accession should be given much more thought than it is at the moment.

Turkey has been seeking accession into the European Union since 1995 – almost two decades. Their application for E.U. membership has always been in contention for several reasons, primarily Turkey being a predominantly Muslim state. The European Union has its fair share of far-right anti-Muslim nations, but overall most of the member states have even subtle xenophobic tendencies. There is certainly no such thing as a Muslim member state thus far – Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina have the current highest populations, which still only make up less than 10% of the overall European population.

The other elephant in the room is Turkey’s other neighbors – Iran, Iraq, and Syria – and the possible implications this could have on the European Union. The Schengen Agreement of 1985 established the “Schengen Area”, comprised of twenty-six of the European Union member states (excluding the United Kingdom and Ireland). The Schengen Area, under the agreement, has open borders, and citizens can move from state to state as easily as Americans can move from state to state within U.S. The European Union’s timidity when it comes to the Middle East and ongoing tensions there is evident in their reluctance to admit Turkey. This accession would effectively open up Turkey’s border with E.U. states to anyone entering Turkey – legally or illegally – and could result in increased terrorism, a significantly higher Muslim population and increased difficulty in keeping track of the spread of Middle Eastern turmoil. Especially now, given the situation in Syria, widespread exodus could spill over through Turkey into much of the rest of the European Union. The European Union, with their economic difficulties right now, can simply not accommodate such immediate and massive immigration, and would have a very hard time shutting their borders down.

These are, of course, two very real talking points between Turkey and the European Union members. At least until the unrest in Syria dissipates, the European Union will be extremely refractory when it comes to the topic of Turkish accession. On the other hand though, there are several reasons why accession would actually be beneficial to the E.U. Turkey may be a predominantly Muslim state, but it is also a bastion of democracy and can act as a role model for many of the other Muslim states not yet secularized. Turkey also has the fifteenth-largest economy in the world, at just under $800 billion in 2011. An economy that size would be a major asset to the floundering E.U. right now. Germany already recognizes this – they are Turkey’s largest trading partner, with the two trading approximately $40 billion in goods last year.

Finally, Turkey is one of the most crucial players in the current global political arena. Strategically speaking, their position in between the Middle East and Europe could be extremely advantageous as a buffer zone in the future. Not to mention Turkey’s military strength – they are the second largest contributor to NATO and a key military ally to both Europe and the U.S. Instead of expressing concern about Turkey’s open borders should they be admitted to the E.U., member states should be considering what may happen should they refuse Turkey accession: Turkey could very likely look towards the Middle East, China and Russia to strengthen ties with instead. With such a large economy and large military, tensions would exacerbate quickly if this were the case.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan

Take your time, E.U. I’m not suggesting this is a dire decision and needs to be made immediately. With the stakes so high in both the E.U. and the Middle East these days, it seems imprudent to continue pushing Turkey away. After recent negotiations, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said “No other country has been kept waiting, knocking on the door of the E.U., for such a long time.” The E.U. should not let Turkey’s eagerness for accession disappear, or they may have a lot more than an economic crisis to deal with in the upcoming years.

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