Turkey has been striving to join the European Union since 1963. Despite the process going back and forth over time, Turkey has been unable to gain entry through the doors of the European Union. So, why can’t Turkey join the European Union, and what are the expectations of European countries from Turkey for membership?
Turkey is a European country, but not European.
Geographically, Turkey has a part of its territory located in the continent of Europe. However, European countries have never been able to stay away from Turkey, yet they have never been able to fully embrace Turkey either. Perhaps the reason behind this is that Turkey has been unable to make the legal changes required by the European Union for the past 60 years.
What does European Union want from Turkey?
There are certain criteria for EU membership, such as justice, democracy, equality, and citizenship. Although the leaders in Turkey claim that justice, equality, income equality, and equal citizenship exist in their country, it can be observed that Turkey is far from the regulatory changes demanded by Europe, both in terms of practices and the country’s constitution.
Turkey is drifting away from the EU
Turkey’s negotiations for EU membership faced setbacks in 2016 and even came to a halt. The Union accused and criticized Turkey for human rights violations and deficiencies in the rule of law. In 2017, EU officials stated that Turkey’s planned policies violated the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership. On June 26, 2018, the General Affairs Council of the EU stated, “Turkey is drifting away from the European Union. Therefore, Turkey’s accession negotiations have practically come to a standstill, and opening or closing of any further chapters is inconceivable, and no further work can be done in this regard.”
Why has the process taken 60 years? Only two years after the establishment of the European Union, Turkey applied for membership. However, there have been numerous obstacles preventing the Union from accepting Turkey, including democratic issues, unemployment, external debt, military tutelage, military coups, the Kurdish issue, and sectarian conflicts.
Is Turkey not accepted into the EU because it is a Muslim country?
Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country with a Sunni denomination. All current members of the European Union are countries with a majority Christian population. The fact that individuals belonging to the Alevi and other faith groups, who follow different denominations within this Muslim country, do not currently have equal conditions of belief also makes the European Union hesitant. Furthermore, the passage of Sunni terrorist organizations like ISIS and others through Turkish territory to Syria during the Syrian civil war drew criticism from many European countries and became the subject of news coverage by international media organizations. Thus, the entry of such a country into the European Union remains a deterrent for Union countries.
The Refugee Issue in Turkey
European countries are indeed advanced in terms of economy and democracy. No European country wants to see refugees in their own country. However, Turkey has opened its doors to at least 10 million refugees since the Syrian civil war, according to the claims of opposition parties.
With the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan, many Afghans entered Turkey illegally through trucks. Many Turkish citizens are currently uneasy about the incoming Afghan and Syrian refugees. In fact, the Victory Party, which ran in the last election with an anti-refugee stance, received nearly 5% of the votes, demonstrating the stance of the country’s people against refugees.
If you ask what is more alarming than what I have written above, I would say it is the issue of Syrian refugees who have acquired Turkish citizenship. A foreigner can become a Turkish citizen by purchasing property in Turkey. Thanks to this requirement, many citizens of wealthy Middle Eastern countries have become Turkish citizens.
Opposition parties claim that millions of Syrian refugees were granted Turkish citizenship to ensure Erdogan’s victory in the elections, and they voted in the elections. Thus, if Turkey enters the European Union, it will have also opened the doors to a large number of citizens from Middle Eastern countries.
Note: Former Turkish Minister of Interior, Süleyman Soylu, stated in April 2023 that the number of Syrian refugees who acquired Turkish citizenship was 231,000. However, the leader of the opposition Victory Party claimed that the numbers were not accurate and that the actual number exceeded 1 million.
Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala Issue
Selahattin Demirtaş Issue
One of the biggest obstacles to the European Union process is the anti-terrorism law in Turkey. The current anti-terrorism law in Turkey is like a chewing gum. You can keep someone in prison for years by accusing them of any crime you want. Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, has been imprisoned for 7 years on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization. Although he has been acquitted of many different charges and cases, new cases are constantly opened against him, and he is kept in prison. The imprisonment of Demirtaş has been criticized by many European countries and the European Court of Human Rights, leading to strong reactions.
Osman Kavala Issue
Osman Kavala is a businessman. He has been in prison since November 1, 2017. Initially, he was arrested in connection with the Gezi Park trials, and after years of trial, in 2020, Kavala and other defendants were acquitted. While his release was expected, he was immediately charged with being involved in the coup attempt on the same day, and Kavala is still being held in prison. The European Court of Human Rights has requested the release of Osman Kavala, stating that the Kavala case is aimed at “silencing all human rights defenders.”
Was the NATO process used as leverage?
Turkey had a strong stance against Sweden’s NATO membership. Finally, it was almost in the hands of Turkish President Erdogan to allow Sweden’s entry into NATO. With the announcement made today, it has been stated that Erdogan’s attitude has changed regarding Sweden’s participation in the NATO military unit, and Turkey will vote “yes” for Sweden in the vote. Furthermore, it is evident from the statements that the issue of Turkey’s membership in the European Union, which has not been raised in Turkey for a long time, has been presented to Sweden as a precondition by President Erdogan. In return for Sweden saying “yes” to Turkey’s European Union process, Turkey will say “yes” to Sweden at the NATO enlargement meeting.
We have discussed the topic extensively. The European Union process for Turkey still appears to be very challenging, but we will continue to monitor the developments.
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