Turkey in the European Union: Opportunity or Threat?, Economic Forum, Krynica (Poland), 9-11 September 2004



 XIV Economic Forum, Krynica, 9-11 September 2004

Turkey’s membership to the European Union has been perceived in general as an opportunity for the EU. There have been people who questioned the importance of this opportunity, but I do not remember any reasonable observer who perceived it as a threat.

We may start by having a closer look at the attitude taken on this subject by the European Union itself.

Major milestones in Turkey’s relations with the EU

Turkey applied to join the then European Economic Community, that is to say the ancestor of the European Union, as early as in 1959. This was at a time when there was no question for many of the present candidate or accession countries to become a member of the European Union.

Soon after that, in 1963, the EEC signed an Association Agreement with Turkey with the ultimate aim of admitting Turkey as a full member after a transition period. This is the first concrete proof that the EU did not perceive Turkey as a threat. It would be difficult to explain why the EU would sign an Association Agreement with a country that it perceives as a threat and to commit itself to admit it ultimately as a full member.

In 1987 Turkey applied this time to join the EU. This application was made in accordance with the article 237 of the Treaty of Rome, establishing the EEC. The said article provided that any “European” country may apply to join the EEC in case it complies with the required criteria. This application was received and processed by the EU. This action taken by the EU proves two things:

– The EU sees advantage in Turkey’s joining the EU. Otherwise, it would not take action on the application.

– The EU does not question the Europeanness of Turkey. Therefore the question whether Turkey could be considered as a European country is solved and shelved already several years ego.

This is the second concrete proof that the EU does not perceive Turkey as a threat.

In 1996 Turkey signed a Customs’ Union Agreement with the European Union. This action brought Turkey one more step closer to the full integration with the European Union. The EU would not take such an action in case it were to perceive Turkey as a threat.

In 1999 Helsinki Summit of the EU Council, Turkey was officially declared as a candidate country, and was promised to be treated on equal footing with the other candidate countries. This promise was not kept. However, this summit decision was yet another indication that Turkey was not perceived as a threat.

Furthermore, the Council decisions are part and parcel of the EU acquis communautaire. Therefore they are binding for all EU member countries. No EU member country has the right to ignore or challenge the Helsinki summit decision that officially recognises Turkey as a candidate country.

And finally the Copenhagen summit of December 2002 provides that, if Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria of the EU by the end of 2004, the negotiations for the accession of Turkey to the EU will start “without delay”.

This brief historical background of Turkey’s relations with the EU does not suggest that Turkey was regarded as a threat by the EU.

Is Turkey’s Accession a Threat?

Now I turn to various scenarios that attempt to present Turkey’s accession, not perhaps as a potential threat, but at least as a debatable subject.

I would like to refer you to a report published by Miss Kirsty Hughes, on behalf of a group that calls itself  “Friends of Europe”. This group carried out a field survey in Turkey, contacted several NGOs, scholars and knowledgeable people from all quarters in Turkey and EU. It published a report titled “Turkey and the European Union: Just another enlargement?

This report argues the subject on the basis of the following working hypothesis: The accession negotiations will start in 2005 and it will last around ten years. By that time, Bulgaria and Romania will join the EU. Croatia will also join before Turkey.

I will summarize some of the conclusions of this report. I brought several copies of the report. It is available on the desk.

The Size of Turkey

One of the subject debated in the report is whether the size of Turkey too big? Turkey’s population of 70 million inhabitants equals roughly the total of 10

new member countries put together. Therefore, yes it is a big country. However, what we have to discuss here is not the size of the country, but the impact of this size on the EU. Turkey’s population is big, but its economy is relatively smaller. Let us examine more closely the impact of the population.

     Table One: Total Population: Various EU member states and candidates,

              and total EU 25, EU 27 and EU 28; UN estimates 2003-2050


            (thousands)                  2003            2015            2025            2050


Belgium                                   10 318             10 470             10 516             20 221

France                                     60 144             62 841             64 165             64 230

Germany                                 82 476             82 497             81 959             79 145

Italy                                         57 423             55 507             52 939             44 875

Netherlands                             16 149             16 791             17 123             16 954

Poland                                     38 587             38 173             37 337             33 004

Romania                                  22 334             21 649             20 806             18 063

Spain                                       41 060             41 167             40 369             37 336

UK                                         59 251             61 275             63 287             66 166

Turkey                                    71 325             82 150             88 995             97 759

Total EU 25                         454 187            456 876                      454 422           431 241

Total EU 27                         484 418            485 692           481 837           454 559

Total EU 28                          555 743            567 842                      570 832           552 318

(incl Turkey)

Turkey as % of EU 28 12.8%             14.4%             15.5%             17.7%

Source: UN World Population Division: World Population Prospects: the 2002 Revision

Table one shows the UN population estimates for selected EU countries.  Today, Germany’s population constitutes % 18.1 of the EU-25. The UN estimates that Turkey’s population will stabilise at around 97 million before 2050. Turkey’s own estimates are that it will stabilise at around 82 million long before 2050. However, for the sake of discussion, let’s suppose that UN estimates are more likely. The last line of the table shows the evolution of the proportion of Turkey’s population as a percentage of the EU-28. The relative importance of Turkey’s population is  % 12.8 now; it will be % 14.4 in 2015 and % 17.7 in 2050. In other words, it will never reach the level of the relative importance of the present German population. Nobody claimed so far that the relative importance of Germany’s population posed a threat for the EU. Why, in this case, a country whose population’s relative importance is less than that of Germany will pose a threat?

Furthermore, Turkey’s economy is much smaller than its demographic size. It is almost the size of Polish economy. Therefore, in the economic decision making process, it cannot play a role commensurate with the size of its population. As to the impact of the big population on political decision-making process, I will discuss it later in this presentation.

Free movement of labour

Another subject debated in the report is whether Turkey’s population of about 70 million inhabitants would not put unbearable pressure on the labour market of the EU countries.

The experience of earlier enlargements demonstrated that such a concern is not justified, because such an influx did not take place during earlier enlargements. For instance, it was claimed before Spain’s and Portugal’s accession to the EU that, after their accession, workers from these countries would encroach the labour markets of the industrialised EU countries. Actually, what happened was exactly the opposite. The number of available jobs increased in the new member countries, because of considerable increase in investments. As a consequence of this, not only Spaniards and Portuguese stopped moving towards more industrialised countries of the EU, on the contrary, those who were working in the industrialised countries started to go back to their country of origin, leaving more room in the labour market for the citizens of these industrialised countries. There is no reason why a similar development will not take place after Turkey’s accession.

The direction of the flow of unemployed workers will depend on a variety of   factors, including the level of unemployment in Turkey and in the EU countries.

       Table two: Employment rates and unemployment – EU and Turkey 2002


     %         Total employ-               Males           Females                Unemployment

                     ment rate


Turkey             45.6                            65.5                 25.5                             10.6

Poland             51.5                            56.9                 46.2                            19.9

France             62.8                            69.2                 56.5                              8.7

Greece             56.7                            71.4                 42.5                            10.0

Malta               54.5                            75.3                 33.6                                —


EU15               64.2                            72.8                 55.6                              7.7

EU25               62.8                            71.0                 54.7                              8.9


Source: Eurostat. Employment rate is the proportion of the total age-group 15-64 in employment

 (full and part-time)

Unemployment rate

Table two shows unemployment rates in Turkey and selected EU countries. It is, at present, slightly higher than many EU countries and almost half of the unemployment rate of Poland. Other conditions being equal, it is more likely that an unemployed Turk will prefer to stay in Turkey, in his traditional family environment, rather than living in an alien environment without a job.

Another factor that will affect the flow of labour migration is the location of existing Turkish communities in the EU countries. Turks will prefer to look for a job in a country where they have relatives or compatriots. These are, according to the order of the size of the Turkish communities, Germany, France, Austria, Netherlands, UK, Belgium and Denmark.

Table three: Turkish Population in Selected EU Countries 2000


                                               Thousands                 as % of total

                                                                                          foreign population        


Germany                           ��     1998.5                              27.4

France                                       208.0                                6.4

Austria                                      134.5                              17.7

Netherlands                               100.8                              15.1

UK                                            58.0                                 2.2

Belgium                                      56.2                                 6.5

Denmark                                    35.2                               13.6


Source: OECD – Not including those of Turkish origin who have taken on citizenship of country

             of residence.

Size of Turkish communities

Table three shows the size of Turkish communities in selected EU countries. Hughes estimates that the proportion of Turkish workers that will emigrate to the countries of EU-25 will remain around 0.5 % of the entire population in 2025. This figure will be higher than 0.5 % in countries like Germany, France and Austria; and smaller than 0.5 % in other countries where there are no sizeable Turkish communities. Another study carried out by a group of Dutch economists concludes that this average percentage will be even less than 0.5%.

Many experts in this field believe that that Turkey is more likely to export young and skilled portion of its population because of the comparative advantages of the Turkish and EU labour markets and because of the higher unemployment rate among young and skilled workers in Turkey.

Majority of researches carried out in this field indicate that the labour migration from Turkey to the EU countries will be relatively low and with a positive economic impact on the EU economies. I will argue later in this presentation that, given the proportion of young population in Turkey, the EU countries will have to encourage more influx of Turkish labour rather than to limit it.

Transition periods

Finally on this subject, the accession negotiations will be conducted under various chapters including free movement of labour. Countries that have concerns will have ample opportunity to raise this question at that stage and, if they feel uneasy, they will be able to ask transition periods for the free movement of labour from Turkey to their country.

Parliamentary representation

Third source of concern was the number of seats that Turkey will occupy in the European Parliament. Yes, Turkey will rank among the countries that occupy the highest number of seats. But, instead of talking about an abstract concern, let’s see what will actually take place when Turkey occupies such a high number of seats. Is it going to be a destabilizing factor or on the contrary a stabilizing factor?

        Table four: Seats in European Parliament 2004 & 2015


                                        EU25-2004                             EU28 – 2015

                                   Nos                   %                 Nos                    %     


Germany                      99                    13.5                 82                    11.2

France                         78                    10.6                 64                      8.7

UK                              78                    10.6                 64                      8.7

Italy                             78                    10.6                 64                      8.7

Spain                           54                      7.3                 44                      6.0

Poland                         54                      7.3                 44                      6.0

Netherlands                 27                      3.6                 22                      3.0

Belgium                         2                      3.2                 20                      2.7

Turkey                         —                       —                  82                    11.2


Total                          732                  100.0               732                   100.0


Source:European Parliament and own calculations.

Table four shows the number of seats in the European Parliament. At present Germany occupies 13.5 % of the seats in the European Parliament of EU-25. With Turkey as a member, the share of both Turkey and Germany will become 11.2 % each of the seats. If one country that controls 13.5 % of the seats does not cause any concern, there is lesser reason for concern for another country that controls only 11.2 % of the seats. Furthermore, members of the European Parliament do not always vote on the national lines.

I will not enter into the details of the potential impacts of Turkey’s accession on the voting pattern in the Council, because it is a question of a more technical nature. However, one may say that Turkey’s accession will play more stabilising role on the overall balances.

Foreign policy and security issues

Some observers draw the attention to the fact that, with Turkey as a member, EU’s borders will extend to the unstable areas of the Middle East and Caucasus and suggested that Turkey should be kept outside the EU as a buffer zone. Turkey made it crystal clear on several occasions that it is not prepared to assume such a role. If Turkey remains outside the EU, it is only natural that the new role that Turkey will assume will not be part of the EU Foreign and Security policy but its independent foreign policy. Furthermore, if Turkey is kept outside the EU, it may not remain a stable country as it is at present. In other words, it will not constitute a buffer zone, because the instability will come right to the EU’s immediate borders.

Apart from this, the EU can influence better Turkey’s external and internal security policies and foreign policies if Turkey is a member, because these policies will be drawn up as part of the common foreign and defence policy. The EU cannot have the same influence if Turkey remains out of the EU.

Possible Opportunities

 I now turn to the opportunities that Turkey’s membership may offer to the EU.

How will the EU benefit from Turkish membership?  From the EU perspective, Turkey’s membership will help strengthen the EU’s role as a global actor.  If the EU wants to be one of the major players in the global scene, it will achieve this goal more easily with Turkey’s contribution.

As a key regional actor and ally located in close proximity to many existing and potential hotspots that are high on the European and international agenda, Turkey can help enhance stability and promote welfare in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East. In fact, out of 15 hot spots identified by NATO as potential threat to the alliance, 12 are located in areas adjacent to Turkey or in areas where Turkey has cultural or historical ties. These areas are Middle East (including Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Iran), Caucasus, the Balkans and the Central Asia. I do not want to suggest that EU cannot carry out its goals in these areas without Turkey’s contribution. However, I may say without undue modesty that these goals could be achieved more easily, with less effort and resources and with much less acrimony, if it is done in cooperation with Turkey. I believe that Ambassador Arım will talk to you on this subject in more detail and definitely with more authority than me.

Turkey contributes to the ongoing rapprochement between Europe and Asia and hence helps extend modern values in regions neighbouring Turkey.

Furthermore, Turkey’s membership in the European Union will surely be a symbol of harmonious co-existence of cultures and enriching the spiritual fabric of the European Union. If the EU gives the impression that it is a Christian Club, this will give a pretext to the fundamentalist organizations to claim that the EU excludes non-Christians and that the world is divided on the basis of the religious fault lines. Such a scenario will look like a reconfirmation of the theory of the Clash of the Civilizations developed by Huntington. I believe that this theory is detrimental to peace and stability in the world. Experience of 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq suggests that the Clash of the Civilizations does not make the world more secure.

Turkey is a country with a predominantly Muslim population. But it is also a secular country. Secularity in Turkey is not only a principle enshrined in the Constitution and forgotten there. It is properly grasped and digested by the Turkish people. Democratic institutions function properly, at least more satisfactorily than many of the existing member countries of the EU. These unique features of Turkey make it a special case in the Islamic world. Turkey’s accession to the EU will give to the Islamic world the message that democracy and Islam are not incompatible and the EU is not closed to countries of others faiths if they comply with the required standards.

Once Turkey becomes a member of EU, it will be able to contribute much more to the Common Foreign and Security Policy.  With its experience and capabilities in the military field, Turkey will definitely increase the weight of the EU in the global arena.

With Turkey as a full member, the Union will no doubt have a stronger voice.  The prevention and settlement of conflicts that involve the western community of nations and other countries will be easier.  The world will be safer. Above all, it will be a serious blow and an outright response to radical terrorism shaking the world today.

In the economic field, Turkey could become an asset because of its geographical location and its young population. This subject will be dealt with in more detail by Prof. Orhan Morgil during this Forum.

Turkey is located at the crossroad linking Asia to Europe and serves as a gate to the warm seas for the Black Sea basin countries, namely Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, the Russian Federation and Georgia. On the other hand Turkey is located on the natural route between Europe and basins rich in oil and natural gas such as Iraq, Iran, Caspian Sea and Central Asia.

Statistics indicate that, because of the aging population, there will be an increasing need for young manpower in the EU countries during the next decades. Turkey’s population is much younger as compared to the EU average. Half of Turkey’s population is under the age of 24. The age group between 0 and 15 years old constitute 18 % of the entire population in most of the EU-15 countries.  I understand that the situation is more critical in the last 10 countries that joined the EU in May this year. The same age group constitute 30 % of Turkey’s population. There are at present 3.5 million Turks working in the EU countries. 2.5 million Turks have worked in the EU countries and now came back to Turkey. They are adapted to a great extent to the living and working conditions in these countries. These figures and proportions indicate that Turkey may contribute to the solution of EU’s problem of aging population.

Turkey is the sixth biggest economy of Europe. Therefore Turkey’s accession will increase considerably the economic size of the EU.

Turkey has a customs’ union with the EU since 1996. Industrial commodities circulate between Turkey and the EU countries free of customs duties. This demonstrates that Turkey’s free market economy will be able to compete with the economies of the EU countries. Therefore Turkey’s economy will not have major difficulty in adapting itself to the economies of the EU countries.

On the other hand Turkey’s big population is a big labour market, but it is at the same time a big market for the consumption goods produced by the industries of the EU countries.


Turkey’s accession to the EU may affect various parameters of the Union. However, none of these will cause a major change. Many of the points presented by various observers as a disadvantage look more like an advantage for the Union. One only needs to look into such matters without a preconceived negative attitude.

I will conclude my remarks by quoting a few sentences from a report published by a group of wise men. This group calls itself Independent Commission on Turkey. When I mention the names of the members of the Commission you will notice that no other Commission could be as independent as this one. It is chaired by His Excellency Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of the Republic of Finland and includes the following wise men:

–     H.E. Bronislaw Geremek: Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Member of the European Parliament.

–         H. E. Hans van den Broek: Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Netherlands

–         H.E. Michel Rocard: Former Prime Minister of France

–         H.E. Albert Rohan: Former General Secretary of Foreign Ministry of Austria;

and five other wise men at the level of Prime Minister of Foreign Minister.

A copy of the text of their Report is available at the desk.

Here are some of the conclusions that they reached: (I quote)

“The Independent Commission on Turkey is of the view that accession negotiations should be opened as soon as Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria. Further delay would damage the European Union’s credibility and be seen as a breach of the generally recognized principle that “pacta sunt servanda” (agreements are to be honoured)….

…Any objections in principle against Turkey joining the European integration process should have been raised in 1959 at the time of Turkey’s first application, in 1987 when Turkey applied for the second time, or in 1999 before Turkey was given candidate status. No government can claim that these decisions, including the conclusions of the Copenhagen European Council of 2002 on accession negotiations, were not taken in full knowledge of all circumstances.….

…Turkey’s accession would offer considerable benefits both to the European Union and to Turkey. For the Union, the unique geopolitical position of Turkey at the crossroads of the Balkans, the wider Middle East, South Caucasus, Central Asia and beyond, its importance for the security of Europe’s energy supplies and its political, economic and military weight would be great assets. Moreover, as a large Muslim country firmly embedded in the European Union, Turkey could play a significant role in Europe’s relations with the Islamic world….

…A failure of the Turkish accession process would not only mean the loss of important opportunities for both sides. It could result in a serious crisis of identity in Turkey, leading to political upheaval and instability at the Union’s doorstep….

…Turkey would be unlikely to fundamentally change the EU and the functioning of its institutions. Turkey’s entry may accentuate existing divergences on the future of the integration process, but it would not cause a qualitative shift in the debate. It should be borne in mind that the decision-making process in the European Union is based on ever-changing alliances, and that the political influence of member states depends at least as much on economic power as on size or demographic weight….

…Migration flows from Turkey are expected to be relatively modest, at a time when declining and aging populations may be leading to a serious shortage of labour in many European countries, making immigration vital to the continuation of present generous systems of social security….

…Turkish eligibility for EU membership having been confirmed on many occasions over the decades, Turkey has every reason for expecting to be welcome in the Union, provided it fulfils the relevant conditions. The Independent Commission therefore feels strongly that in dealing with this issue the European Union must treat Turkey with all due respect, fairness and consideration.”

         This ends the quotation from the Report of 10 wise men of Europe. I could not express the importance of Turkey’s joining the EU as emphatically as they do.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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