Turkey and EU

A Fistful of Euros reminded me of the discussion my friends and I had recently about Turkish membership in the European Union.

The first objection I have always heard is that Turkey is not in Europe except for Istanbul. Mrs. T of A Fistful of Euros “wave[s] [this] aside with a laugh.” Looking at a map, it turns out that Thrace (the European part of Turkey) is about 3% of Turkey’s area.

My question is: What exactly is Europe? What are its boundaries? Is Russia European? Ukraine? The Caucasian states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia? What about Cyprus which is becoming an EU member this year? You do know that Cyprus is south of Turkey and not too far from the Syrian coast.

Looking at the EU website, they list Russia, Ukraine and Cyprus as European countries but not the Caucasian states.

In the end, I think this geographical factor is not important. However, there are some important issues regarding Turkey’s entry into the European Union. Let’s look at some data first.

Country Population1 GDP Per Capita (PPP)2 Human Development Index3 Political Rights4 Civil Liberties4
Current Members
Austria 8,188,207 $27,900 0.929 1 1
Belgium 10,289,088 $29,200 0.937 1 1
Denmark 5,384,384 $28,900 0.930 1 1
Finland 5,190,785 $25,800 0.930 1 1
France 60,180,529 $26,000 0.925 1 1
Germany 82,398,326 $26,200 0.921 1 1
Greece 10,665,989 $19,100 0.892 1 2
Ireland 3,924,140 $29,300 0.930 1 1
Italy 57,998,353 $25,100 0.916 1 1
Luxembourg 454,157 $48,900 0.930 1 1
Netherlands 16,150,511 $27,200 0.938 1 1
Portugal 10,102,022 $19,400 0.896 1 1
Spain 40,217,413 $21,200 0.918 1 1
Sweden 8,878,085 $26,000 0.941 1 1
United Kingdom 60,094,648 $25,500 0.930 1 1
New Members in 2004
Cyprus 771,657 $13,200 0.891 1 1
Czech Republic 10,249,216 $15,300 0.861 1 2
Estonia 1,408,556 $11,000 0.833 1 2
Hungary 10,045,407 $13,300 0.837 1 2
Latvia 2,348,784 $8,900 0.811 1 2
Lithuania 3,592,561 $8,400 0.824 1 2
Malta 400,420 $17,200 0.856 1 1
Poland 38,622,660 $9,700 0.841 1 2
Slovakia 5,430,033 $12,400 0.836 1 2
Slovenia 1,935,677 $19,200 0.881 1 1
Current Applicants
Bulgaria 7,537,929 $6,500 0.795 1 2
Romania 22,271,839 $7,600 0.773 2 2
Turkey 68,109,469 $7,300 0.734 3 4

Starting from the right, Turkey has the worst record on political freedoms and civil liberties. It obviously has to improve that if it wants admission to the EU. I should note that Turkey has been moving in the right direction in recent years mostly goaded by the EU carrot.

In terms of human development, Turkey is worse than the 10 countries which will be admitted this year but is similar to Bulgaria and Romania, both of whom have a target accession date of 2007.

Looking at GDP per capita, Turkey is much poorer than the current members as well as most of the new members. The only countries with a GDP per capita of less than $10,000 are (from rich to poor) Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Turkey and Bulgaria.

These GDP numbers start looking really bad for Turkey when we consider its population. Right now, Turkey is only behind Germany in population. By 2015, Turkish population is expected to be almost the same as Germany.

This large population has two problems. One is that combined with relative Turkish poverty, the EU will have to provide a lot of funding to Turkey. The other is that the current EU members are definitely not thrilled about a populous country entering into the union which could have a lot of influence in all decisions and bodies which were based on population figures.

In the end, I think Turkey should be admitted into the EU. While there are still a lot of improvements, in human rights, politics and economy, required of Turkey, the EU should stop dragging its feet on the general idea of Turkish admission. It won’t be easy though as my anecdotal experience suggests that quite a few Europeans don’t like the idea of Turkish membership.

1 July 2003 estimate from the CIA World Factbook

2 2002 estimate from the CIA World Factbook

3 2001 value from UNDP. Countries are divided into high human development (HDI > 0.8), medium (0.5 < HDI < 0.8) and low (HDI < 0.5).

4 2003 Freedom House survey. Lower is better.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. Zack,

    thanks for this thoughtful reply to my post. I think we’re in basic agreement. Eventual Turkish entry into the EU is something that the EU and Turkey alike should be working towards. There are serious hurdles in the way, but none that cannot in principle be overcome. It is the unprincipled and un-overcomable hurdles — those of bigotry and prejudice — that I should like to see disregarded with the contempt they deserve.

  2. It’s interesting that for much of its history, Anatolia has been more in the European orbit than the Middle Eastern. Or at least, it was under the Romans and Byzantines from say when Rome conquered it until it was conquered by the Ottomans – let’s call it the 1300’s. Then after the anti-Ottoman Crusades settled down in the early modern period, the Ottoman Empire itself became a key player in the European state system until World War I. Even in the 20th century, Turkish foreign affairs involved the Cold War and post-Cold War order in the Balkans far more than what was happening in the Middle East.

  3. The EU is not so much defined by territory as an Idea, that of slowly cooperating and giving up formerly heavily contested soverign rights amongst nations. Sure Turkey has a lot of differences as compared to most of Europe, but the joining the EU is the first step to moving closer to the rest of Europe.

    The EU is the fisrt massive step forward for nation-states for a very long time indeed. It’s quite likely that in the future when they study history the formation of the EU will be the most important event of the 20th century, with WWII being a prologue leading up to the formation of the EU.

    Expansion is good, for it’s the poorer states who see (for now) the monetary benefits of joining who are willing to undergo more changes now.

  4. Turkey is a bridge; it connects Europe and the Middle East geographically, economically and culturally. Somewhere between the frontiers of southern Bulgaria and old Antioch, Europe ends and the Middle East begins. Having Turkey commit to a union of European nations is tantamount to removing the Middle Eastern piling of the bridge. The Turks will see their lot improve, but their Middle Eastern brethren may continue to languish, cut-off on the far bank.

    Perhaps, a more nuanced approach would prove superior. Perhaps, at the edges of Europe, emphasis should be placed upon the word “Union” and not the word “European.”

  5. Mrs Tilton: I agree.

    Brian: Anatolia has definitely looked west for most of the last 2000 years. I think the Ottomans were actually more interested in conquering Europe than Persia.

    KO: The EU is the fisrt massive step forward for nation-states for a very long time indeed.

    I think the EU is an important step towards supranational entities.

    Expansion is good, for it’s the poorer states who see (for now) the monetary benefits of joining who are willing to undergo more changes now.

    That is true. The problem with Turkey is not its poverty but its poverty plus its size. This would mean a very large infusion of aid to bring it up to par with the EU average. However, there are a lot of things the EU and the Turks can do now to improve the Turkish economy (and human rights record) before Turkey is admitted.

    Captain Arrrgh: Should I call you Captain or Arrrgh?

    For the Middle Eastern or rather Mediterranean states at the periphery of the EU, there is the Euro-Mediterranean partnership. Its members are Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Cyprus and Malta. Libya has observer status. They are thinking of a free trade area by 2010.

    May be this will help the other countries while Turkey becomes an EU member.

  6. I think Turkey should not join the full “Europian Union” status. Most of the key factors are stated in this page but one. Culture! There is a huge cultural difference between a Turkish and a Europian and this is one of the things that seperates the identity between the two. I am not trying to insult anybody (I am turkish), but it is an important barrier which needs to be crossed, and to do that the Turks need a lot of education and understanding about the way of Europian life. No I can not point out every single difference because it will take a lot of time, but without crossing that barrier, serious problems could face Turks in Europe such as racism.

  7. Sami: I would say that there’s not a huge difference between Istanbul and parts of the EU. Eastern and rural Turkey might be very different.

  8. I think it is beneficial for Europe’s culture to be enhanced by the Turkish one, Europe would get a broader view. I think a lot depends of how Turkey will do in the next 10 years, it will show its face, after that we’ll know better whether or not it’s good to have it join.

  9. turkey is already a Erupion country, it is not only country to try to become a member of EU what about other countries, already a member of EU, they are also experienced the same situations in past. please lets look at the others past. so it is very normal.
    so I am always optimistic because this country is promising…also it is very comical to speak about bad human rights of Turkey without seeing other countries, also their is very explicit, nobody touches them, that is the thing making Turkey different and big. this article speaks quantitavely about a qualitative subjects and it is certainly wrong in terms of science view.


    Europeans have always been brave and adventurous explorers…we have scaled the highest peaks, travelled the widest oceans……..we have found new worlds. We have demonstrated
    courage on the voyage of discovery……taking risks in the quest for advancement. From the Celts to the Romans and the Vikings, from the great powers, Britain, France, Germany and Austria, Russia and Holland, Italy and of course Spain and Portugal there is a legacy of discovering new worlds, whether those worlds have been geographical, political or philosophical, ……..over the long span of history. Europeans have a tradition of showing the way.

    The EU has begun negotiations with Turkey in accession talks which are expected to conclude with membership in 2020. The path is narrow and treacherous – and both parties can falter at any stage, yet we should be mindful that we are on the brink of something of major historical and political importance.

    Membership for Turkey is not definite. Europe and Turkey are starting nothing but a process. The process for each is one of re-evaluation. Both are both looking at where they have come from, where they are…..and importantly, where they are going.

    Turkish membership of the EU is plagued with difficulty and unease (on both sides). Each party is being asked to look at their fundamental values and core beliefs. Ultimately, both are being asked to form a view on whether they can forge a relationship together which has meaning and substance. Naturally, this process will be discussed by peoples on all sides and hopefully take place in a planned, measured and balanced way, probably over a span of ten years (at least).

    In summary, I would see the benefits of Turkish membership not just in mutually positive trade and social terms but also within the other areas as well. These include ;

    · An addressing of the imbalance between the economic clout of the EU and perceived weakness in the international arena. Turkey offers important geo-strategic penetration in the Middle East, a powerful army and a consuming market of 80 million people.

    · Whether liked or not, Turkey will infuse new energy into a rapidly aged Europe.

    · Entry of Turkey will strengthen Europe’s sphere of influence in the Middle East, a region that blatantly exposes Western weakness. Brussels will become for the Middle East a centre of political gravity no less important than Washington.

    · Losing the alliance between Washington and Ankara is bad for the United States on a bi-lateral level, but good on the global stage.

    · Turkey’s acceptance in Europe will be the ultimate proof that democracy is possible in a Muslim country. This is an important lesson for both Christian and Muslim worlds’ alike.

    · Turkey in Europe will further democracy in the Middle East much more than the actions of George Bush in Iraq. A new Europe will prove that seeking settlements and reaching compromised solutions through negotiation and dialogue is better than getting engaged in antagonism and confrontation.

    We are in need of a different type of umbrella. The United States does not understand the Arab world sufficiently ; it is too far removed mentally as well as geographically.
    Europe is stronger, nearer and more balanced towards the Arab world – and in conjunction with the U.S. could make a major contribution towards putting the peace process back on track.

    Gerry In Dublin

  11. we have had enough of your humiliations costums union made us lost huge money but when it comes to spend a penny you withdraw our govermant try hard you did not made problems with other countries such as cyprus .



  12. Dont mind my Turkish friend above….

    As a proud Turk, I agree that Turkey and EU or I should say Europe;as a continent and unity should patch up differences that have seperated us for thousand years.
    We Turks- admire, appreciate, are inspired by the Western Culture, democracy, values, and dreams.

    I as a young Turk, speaking on behalf of many young Turks, applaud you, EU, and eveyone who supports Turkish and European merger of values and futures.
    You my friend see the world in a non-bigot way, and are totally righteous and very futuristic, and positive, not biased or ill-enformed.
    This kind of thinking will prevail in the race us humans go through, and the centuries ahead of us will study with each other, not kill or fight one another..

  13. there are some real stupid people on this board!
    turkey will be admitted into the e.u.
    turkey will begin flooding europe with millions of turks.
    the last (and worst) thing turks would want to do is assimilate. it would be against their best interests. instead, they will begin mass breeding.
    with the european peoples dying off and the turks multiplying…. withing about 150 years. europe will be completely turkish, with the native europeans extinct! this is already happening in places like germany.

    why should turkey “be a bridge” (as if they were a bridge between east and west anyway, lol)?
    why should turkey assimilate?
    why should they become more tolerant?
    all of this is against their best interests.
    why not just wait for the europeans to die off and claim europe as theirs (i.e. greater turkey)?

  14. hagar: I don’t think Europe will become Turkish since the Turkish birth rate, while being higher than other European countries, is going down.

  15. hagar; the best medicine for ur ignorancy would be some education, maybe a set of universal humanistic values that might stimulate some thinking in your stagnant thoughts. Turks will not start ‘mass breeding’ ton infiltrate Europe, instead Turks will bring Europe what it’s been craving for thousands of years; control over Asia Minor! Think about it if you can! hehehe, and yea come out of your closet!
    Turkish army being one of the most respected, mind you one of the strongest armies in the world will strengthen its forces militarily by about %25, expand its borders to Middle East, which as we all know has priceless natural recources, create a new and dynamic growing market which has the potential of Thailand, Vietnam, Spain in the late 80’s. (tidbit: Turkey spends $10K per soldier a year, where as England spends $150K per soldier, Turkey has lower spending per soldier than any E25)
    This war of cultures that have been brewing for a long time created bt extremists can not be in any way blamed to Turkey, in actuality, Turkey is the warrior that have fought the]is kind of extremecy from its founding years until now. And mind you many of E25 countries have allowed, encouraged this behavior/act by some extremist groups, let be Radical Islamists, or Kurdish separatists. See 1995 Ocalan Scandal in Greece.
    European Union is based on the dream that all of Europe, can be united socially, economically, and most significantly unite as a single and a significant voice in world events, for which it has ruled for centuries.
    The ladder have not been achieved, for which EU had no significant effect on any of the current events that occured or is still occuring outside of Europe.
    Hagar; read Machiavelli, Prince, and maybe the first political scientist can fill you in what Turks are all about.

  16. gerry; your points seem to be right on, and i have to say i totally agree with your thoughts.

    zack; thank you for having this weblog and your encouraging thoughts.

  17. To the Edior:

    By now, you have received my many attempts at your letter to the editor regarding my “Turkey and EU” letter and decided not to publish it for whatever reasons that you may have.

    However, the majority of the Turks, at home and abroad, share my views of EU as a racist entity whose roots of hate can be traced to the historic Ottoman conquests, and that Turkey must separate herself from an unfriendly, cold and outright hostile EU while solidifying its relations with Israel and the USA.

    Now that the EU shut the door on Turkey by it’s unanimous rejection of the proposed European constitution, Turkey has no choice but to treat the EU as a hostile entity at it’s borders. And subsequently, Turkey must withdraw its EU membership application and develop its own nuclear arms to survive in a region surrounded by a hostile Christian Europe (which includes a borderline with Turkey’s morbid/mortal enemy Greece), Russia, Armenia, the Kurds and other fellow Muslim countries like Iran, Iraq and Syria, which has undermined Turkey’s operations in the region while enabling Armenian and Kurdish insurgencies from their borders since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
    Turkey must, must start its own nuclear arms program, as they are unwanted in a hostile Europe and surrounded by many enemies in an area of constant unrest and turmoil. This is an issue vital importance and plain survival.

    Lastly, I want to point out the gross hypocrisy which is very typical of EU.

    But before, let me say that just like all other nations around the world and in EU, Turkey too has it’s domestic problems-mainly with human rights violations. Turkey has been addressing these problems in order to join the EU, yet we all know this is not the real issue here.

    The real issue behind EU’s reluctance in welcoming Turkey to the EU is the racist depiction of the Turks as some subhuman barbarians passed from one generation to the next, and the historical grudge which comes from the fall of Constantinople, Capitol of Christianity ( a gigantic European blunder / failure and consequently an embarrassment to whole Christian world) and the Ottomans’ attempts at expansionism while destroying Europe.

    Well, my question is why is today’s modern Turkey is the only nation held responsible for decisions and acts of atrocities committed in the past against Europe?

    Historically, I believe Europe’s worst enemy has been Europe itself. Europe’s history is full of wars and atrocities committed by European countries on fellow European countries, brother Christians slaying brother Christians, and yet this seems not to be a factor among many of the nations already accepted into the EU.

    Why is there such a double standard?

    Who can forget the biggest genocide the world has witnessed, committed by the Germans against defenseless Jewish civilians, and against humanity, captured by the blood curdling films and pictures ? And the deadly German assaults all over Europe, nearly destroying Europe and Russia in the name of a master race?

    How about the German U-boats sinking passenger ships in the Atlantic: The sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania in 1915?
    The ship sank in 18 minutes, with a lost of 1,195 of the 1,959 on board, including 123 Americans. The lost of the Lusitania provoked great outrage in the United States and helped America to join the war. It also marked the end of any delusions that the “civilized” manners of 19th century warfare could survive into the 20th.

    Does Molotov-Ribbentrop pact ring a bell? Let me remind you. The pact gave Germany permission to invade Poland in exchange for Soviet domination over Finland and the Baltic’s-and denying that Baltic states were occupied; it is also again trying to gloss over the massacre of Polish troops at the Katyn Forest in 1940 and rapes of hundreds of women by soldiers in the territory liberated by the Red Army (from New York Times 5/05).

    So, by EU’s own ethics and standards, Germany, the least likely of all nations to qualify for EU, is now the most influential and outstanding member of the EU. While forgetting her own bloody history, most of Germany is against the Turkish membership, and while France constantly talks about the “Ottoman destruction” of Europe, they conveniently forget “Europe’s destruction of Europe.”

    Here is my letter “Turkey and EU” again:

    After years of trying to win favor with the European Union (EU), Turkey stands at a crossroads. While admission into the Union would benefit both the EU and Turkey, the EU still has not set a real date to begin negotiations on Turkey’s membership application.

    For an organization that requests its members to modify their religious, cultural and historic identities, the European Union itself has a very suspicious civil rights record. The recent French banning of scarves and other religious symbols from schools and businesses is a good example and is contrary to the liberty that French President Chirac said he hopes to preserve. The EU also has not been able to stream the tide of Neo-Nazi groups like the skinheads rampaging throughout Europe. Perhaps the time has come to examine the true mission of the European Union and for Turkey to stop trying to join a conglomerate of hate.

    Turkey must learn from her mistakes, make a move to promote a stronger nation and improve relations with the U.S.A. and Israel. Many of the EU conditions imposed on Turkey are unfair, unreasonable, and undermine the integrity and mission of Turkey; leaving them vulnerable to enemies they have not engaged in war with more than 75 years

  18. Burhan:

    By now, you have received my many attempts at your letter to the editor regarding my “Turkey and EU” letter and decided not to publish it for whatever reasons that you may have.

    Huh? What letter to the editor? What refusal to publish? Are you mass-mailing and posting this?

  19. I think Sami must be the biggest git of turkey… Istanbul doesn’t have a huge cultural difference between Europe like my friend Zack has already told. Before Turkish REPUBLIC (!) Ottoman Empire was playing a very very important role at European Political Structure and Balance.. Yes, it’s true that Ottomans was sooo interested conquering Europe than conquring Persia or doing researchs. Ottoman Empire was the one of the biggest empires of the world. After Ottoman Empire, Turkish Republic founder M.Kemal Atatürk wanted teach european culture to turkish people. Turkish people (from 1930s) started to behave like european people, and turkish government was one of the first governments who gave to women the rights to make them president of the republic. (in 1933) M.Kemal Atatürk taught to turkish women to wear like a european to have enjoys like arts, music to turkish people. M.Kemal Atatürk also said that : ‘We should make Turkey a Western Country’

    Why Europe has to take Turkey in the Union?
    Yes, it’s true that there are a lot of poor people in Turkey but Turkey is not a poor country. Turkey has a lot of mines, and has a great place at the world. When you look at the world map you can easily see Turkey as a bridge which connects Asia with Europe. Yes and it’s also true that eastern turkish is much asian than western turkey. Turkey has a grand young population which want to succeed, want to great jobs and it’s benefice for Europe. Also to control the USA, EU needs Turkey. A lot of petrol ways are connected on Turkey and Turkey has a lot of important rivers…. Also with a membership of a muslim country would add a lot of cultural benefices to europe and other third world countries could take turkey as a model with it’s great political regime and its laic structure… (it means religion and government works are seperated.. you can’t carry religious symboles in government buldings like schools etc.)

    It’s sure that Turkey is going to have a lot of benefices at the same time… Turkey is going to catch the european standarts and is going to have a great developpement at human rights with european reforms.

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