Since 2005, the European Union has been in negotiations with Turkey about the possibility of “accession” – the prospect of Turkey joining the EU. Turkey is one of the largest European countries in terms of area, yet only 3% (23,764 km²) of its territory lies in Europe. Its capital, Ankara, lies in Asia. But in order to evaluate how European a country is you cannot simply gauge its geography. The question we must ask ourselves is “would Turkish culture and religion complement our European way of life?” However, there is no simple answer to this question – there are many factors that must be taken into account.
If Turkey were to be accepted, then the European Union would have to share borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria. Jihadists (including recent recruits of ISIS/Daesh) would be able to gain easy access to Europe via Turkey, due to freedom of movement laws. Attributable to high levels of corruption, Turkish citizenship can easily be obtained with the right amount of money. If Turkey were to join the EU, these people would then be free to move anywhere in Europe. And if Turkey’s accession set a precedent, other Eurasian states might be next to apply.
Statisticians predict that Britain is set to become the most populated EU member state, with 77 million people living here by 2050. However, Turkey will see an exponential rise in population to 95 million. Not only would it be a challenge to introduce such a large country into the EU, but under the rules allocating seats in the European Council and Parliament, it would make Turkey the dominant member in decades to come.
Turkey is not what you would describe as a flourishing democracy. The military are an overwhelming force that even the government has to be wary of. Elections may take place but Turkey is having a hard time separating itself from the days of the Ottoman Empire. Each year Amnesty International has released reports pertaining to the innumerable human rights violations the country has to offer. These abuses include torture, denial of rights to minority groups, no freedom of speech, no protection of women, unfair trials, the list goes on. On top of this, the EU would become caught up (diplomatically, at least) in the Kurdish-Turkish conflict.
As proof of the Turkish military’s power, since the Second World War four coups have taken place in Turkey. Although it is a member of NATO, Turkey has exemplified aggressive behaviour with no regard to NATO policies. We have seen countless pieces of evidence that suggest Turkey does not set a good example as a NATO member – instead of being part of an association for peaceful democracies, it showcases itself as an illiberal democracy.
Turkey has a track record of acting belligerently. The invasion of Cyprus occurred following a Greek-led coup on the island, resulting in the ousting of Greek Cypriot residents and the formation of a puppet colonial state in Northern Cyprus. President Erdoğan and most of his parliament have strong relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, and have also repeatedly shown their support for anti-semitic hate speech, something which is outlawed in several EU countries.
The west and north-west areas of Turkey contain the most wealth in contrast to the poorer regions in the east and south-east, which are heavily affected by high unemployment and low productivity. Surviving the economic crisis with a plan for a quick recovery may have proved successful for Turkey, however, these adverse circumstances in the labour market have caused problems. Unemployment is still above the OECD average and in 2013 it was recorded by Eurostat that only 53.4% of the population aged 20 to 64 were employed, in comparison to 68.3% of the EU population. This means Turkey would provide a large flood of young workers into Europe at a time when European governments are under pressure to reduce immigration.
Turkey is not financially ready to join the EU, with its GDP per capita at under 50% of the EU average. If it was to join the Eurozone, pressure would be put on EU finances and it would be the taxpayers of wealthier member states that would have to suffer as a result.
European countries have been bound together throughout history and have also shared the horrors of World War Two, which, of course, stimulated the formation of the European Union. Turkey has missed out on these cultural integrations with most of its heritage stemming from the Middle East and Central Asia. 99.8% of the population are Muslim and its traditions are in strong contrast to that of a largely Christian Europe.
In its religion and culture, Turkey is not a typical European country. Its numerous unresolved conflicts and the current policies of European countries suggest it would be difficult for Turkey to integrate into the EU. In fact, it would make more sense accepting the far-away state of Israel into the European Union than it would to include Turkey. At least Israel has closer cultural and political ties to western European democracy.