Why Does Turkey Want to Join the EU?, Turkish-British Chamber of Commerce, London, 20 April 2004


 Turkish-British Chamber of Commerce, London, 20 April 2004

Mr. Chairman,

Distinguished Guests,

It is great pleasure and honour for me to address such a distinguished audience.  I will share with you my views regarding Turkey’s endeavours to become a member of the European Union.

Why does Turkey want to join the EU?

The full membership of the European Union has been one of Turkey’s main objectives in foreign policy. The present government regards Turkey’s accession to the European Union as the most important westernisation project after the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Turkey is determined to achieve this goal and exert every effort to meet the criteria required to secure and initiate accession negotiations with the European Union in December 2004.

Westernisation did not start in Turkey as part of its endeavours to join the EU. It started as a consequence of a long history of contacts with the European countries. More structured westernisation efforts date back to the beginning of 19th century in the military field and to the middle of the 19th century in the civilian field.

More recent and comprehensive reforms started by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk after the proclamation of the Republic in 1923.

Another important set of reforms was initiated within the framework of Turkey’s preparation for full membership to EU.

Major milestones of Turkey’s relations with EU

Major milestones of Turkey’s relations with EU are the following:

–                           Turkey applied to join what was then called the European Economic Community (EEC) as early as in 1959, shortly after its establishment.

–                           In 1963, Turkey signed with the EEC an Association Agreement with the ultimate aim of joining it.

–                           In 1995 Turkey established a Customs’ Union with the EU.

–                           The EU Council held in Helsinki in December 1999 decided that Turkey is a candidate for full membership to the EU and decided also to treat Turkey on equal footing with the other candidate countries.

–                           During the EU Council held in Copenhagen in December 2002, it was decided that accession negotiations with Turkey will start “without delay”, in case the Council is led to the conclusion that Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria of the EU.

Does Turkey meet the pre-requisites to start accession negotiations with the European Union? 

In order to properly address the core question, let us begin by considering what are the Copenhagen criteria of the EU. These criteria consist of two sentences that read as follows:

Membership requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate’s ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.

You will notice that the criteria contained in this text are of a very general nature and lend themselves to interpretation.

             Does Turkey meet these requirements?

            For the sake of clarity I would like to offer my comments separately on political and economic criteria.

First, the political criteria. It will be too simplistic an approach to draw up a list of various elements contained in these two sentences and try to see whether they are accomplished in Turkey. These concepts are of a broad nature and one cannot easily say whether they are fully accomplished.

Furthermore the text provides that these are the criteria for full membership. It does not mention that they are designed as prerequisites for the start of accession negotiations. Therefore, there is no legal obstacle for the EU to start accession negotiations with Turkey before these criteria are fully accomplished. In fact, this is what has been done for other candidate countries.

During the 1999 Helsinki Summit of EU, Turkey was recognized officially as a candidate country and the EU Council committed itself to treat Turkey on equal footing with the other candidate countries.

This promise was ignored at least on three occasions: 

–                           Firstly, when the compliance with the Copenhagen criteria are put in front of Turkey as a precondition for the start of the accession negotiations while the other candidate countries were tolerated to start accession negotiations without fulfilling these criteria entirely.

–                           Secondly, when implementation of the laws passed by the Parliament was also raised as a precondition to start negotiations.

–                           Thirdly, when the Republic of Cyprus was admitted as a full member to the EU without solving the Cyprus problem, while the solution of the Cyprus problem was referred to as a potential obstacle to Turkey’s accession.

First, the subject of compliance with the Copenhagen political criteria. There were candidate countries that did not meet the criteria even after the accession negotiations had started. For instance, the Progress Reports issued by the EU Commission for the year 2002 on several accession countries whose name I will not mention, pointed out that the countries in question did not meet the Copenhagen political criteria despite the fact that the accession negotiations were being conducted with them since two years. Therefore, when there is a political will, it is possible to start accession negotiations before Copenhagen criteria are fully met. I leave it to your sound judgement whether Turkey could be considered as having been treated on equal footing with the other candidate countries.

On the subject of implementation, it has to be admitted that such a prerequisite was not raised in the case of any of the other candidate countries. Furthermore, discrepancies are unavoidable in the full implementation of legislation. Not only candidate or accession countries, but also full member countries and even the founding members of the EU have discrepancies in the implementation. We know this because of the lawsuits filed against countries such as Germany, France and United Kingdom for having violated the EU acquis. 

On the Cyprus question, the present Turkish government displayed a good example of political leadership, took a bold decision and went farther than what she was asked to do and endorsed the Plan proposed by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. After this bold decision taken despite strong objection by the Turkish public opinion, I believe that it will not be fair to ask Turkey to go any farther than this. Now, we expect our European friends to put on the Greek side as much pressure as that they have put in the past on Turkish side.

Turkey does not want to get stuck to semantic or procedural arguments. Because we believe that Turkey’s admission to the EU cannot be handled like a lawsuit in a penal court. It is political question. And the final decision will be based on political considerations. Therefore, Turkey embarked upon a comprehensive and challenging reform effort. Without paying attention to whether we are treated on equal footing or not, we carried out fundamental reforms. It is rightly pointed out that Turkey has carried out more reforms in the last two years than in the last 80 years.

The National Programme, adopted in March 2001, comprised general principles and strategy governing the reforms that Turkey would carry out for accession. Turkey has worked seriously and with determination, taking every necessary step to meet the Copenhagen criteria of EU. Significant legislative packages have been adopted and numerous steps were taken. More than 30 articles of the Constitution were amended to eliminate several discrepancies in the field of democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms. Another package containing the amendment of 15 articles of the Constitution will be submitted to the parliament either in April or in May 2004. 

 The legislative harmonization packages adopted in June and July 2003 –the sixth and seventh reform packages– have further reinforced previous reforms in the field of fundamental rights and freedoms including the abolishment of the death penalty. 


–                                They have ensured a widening of the scope of the freedom of expression by repealing Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Act.

–                                Private broadcasts in languages and dialects other than Turkish are now permitted.

–                                The construction of places of worship such as churches has been facilitated.

–                                The application period for the registration of real estate by community foundations has been extended. 

–                                The duties and competences of the Secretariat General of the National Security Council have been aligned with the consultative nature of the Council and with the needs of a democratic executive.

–                                Parliamentary scrutiny has been extended to cover the use of public assets and public expenditure in the areas outside the budget, including military expenditure.

After the successful adoption of these reforms by the Parliament, complementary legislative and administrative measures soon followed to ensure their effective implementation.  Turkey is fully aware of the importance of the implementation.  

This is why the implementation of the reforms is a permanent item on the agenda of the Council of Ministers. Monthly progress reports on the implementation of the National Programme are presented, on a weekly basis, to the Council of Ministers; a special Monitoring Group has been established at the political level in order to oversee progress made in the actual implementation of the political reforms.  This Group, which is chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, includes also the Minister of Justice and the Minister of the Interior.  These ministers meet on a regular basis with the aim of defining and addressing issues of implementation.  Furthermore, senior officials from the above-mentioned three ministries also take part in these meetings together with the Secretary-General for EU Affairs, the Head of the Human Rights Department of the Prime Ministry and the Chairman of the Human Rights Advisory Council.

We have already started to observe the merits of these reforms. For instance, a play on women’s rights has been staged in Kurdish language at a theatre in Diyarbakır. The Diyarbakır municipality has put up announcements, both in Turkish and in Kurdish, on public billboards.  The Turkish Minister of the Interior has made a speech in Kurdish at a fair in Diyarbakır. A Kurdish language course is opened the Hasankeyf Culture and Art Festival in Batman.  Such actions would have been punishable by imprisonment under previous legislation.

In view of these significant steps, much of the Copenhagen criteria have now been met and Turkey remains committed to ensuring the full and effective implementation of the legal reforms.

Furthermore, irrespective of the compliance with the Copenhagen criteria, we believe that any Turkish government has to carry out such reforms for the sake of improving the standards to be enjoyed by the Turkish people.

I now turn to the economic criteria. These criteria are not prerequisites for the start of the accession negotiations. Neither the EU raised this issue as a precondition for Turkey. Actually, Turkey is ahead of some accession countries in this respect.  To explain this more clearly, let us read once more the phrase pertaining to the economic criteria. It reads as follows:

 “…the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union”.

 I believe that the existence of a functioning market economy is much less questionable in Turkey than in many other candidate or accession countries. 

As to the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union, Turkey is again ahead of some accession countries, because Turkey has a customs’ union with the EU. As a consequence of this, for a period of 8 years since the entry into force of the Customs’ Union Agreement, Turkey’s industry proved to be competitive with the EU industry. There is no other country that has a customs’ union with the EU.

Furthermore, the accession negotiations with the EU are held on a chapter-to-chapter basis. The compliance with the Copenhagen criteria is assessed separately in each chapter. For instance, if Turkey does not comply with the EU standards in the slaughtering and processing of the poultry products, it will have to close down such processing units. Similar standards will have to be reached in, for instance, shipping or other fields. Therefore, it is not relevant to raise such issues before accession negotiations start.

        Compliance with the Copenhagen economic criteria does not constitute a pre-condition for the opening of accession negotiations. The Customs’ Union Agreement signed with EU made Turkey’s economy more competitive and integrated with the EU economy than the economies of the new member countries. Still, we continue our efforts towards integrating our economy further with the norms and standards of the EU.

           Turkey will come closer to the EU in the economic field with the structural changes it will undertake in the next decade.

           The financial cooperation between Turkey and EU is a commitment undertaken by EU through the provisions of the Association Agreement signed in 1963.  The total amount of financial support extended by EU to a country of 70 million inhabitants such as Turkey, remained as low as 1.6 billion Euros for a period of 40 years. This amount is the lowest among all countries from the Caribbean Sea to China, which benefited from the financial assistance of EU.

With these few comparisons, I now leave it to your sound judgement whether Turkey is treated on equal footing with the other candidate countries.

Essentially Turkey has fulfilled the necessary political criteria to start the negotiations. With a 2/3 majority in the Parliament, the present Turkish government has the determination to carry out all necessary reforms in the field of human rights and democracy to fulfil the Copenhagen criteria.


There are several misperceptions regarding Turkey’s eligibility for the EU membership.

However, the EU has already signed international documents, which indicate that the EU regards Turkey as a European country. For instance, the Article 237 of the Treaty of Rome reads as follows:

“Any European State may apply to become a member of the Community. It shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously after obtaining the opinion of the Commission. …”

According to this article, the right to apply for EU membership is confined exclusively to “European States”. Turkey applied for membership in accordance with the provisions of this article. This application was accepted by EU and processed according to the procedures. In other words no objection was raised 1987 to Turkey’s European character. It will be unfair to admit in 1987 that Turkey is a European State and deny it now.

Secondly, it is difficult to explain why Cyprus which is located geographically beyond Turkey, is regarded as a European country and Turkey is not.

So I hope you will agree with me that perceiving Turkey as a non-European country cannot be easily substantiated.

Another misperception is that Turkey will bring too heavy a burden on the EU. Whereas, the recent past experience indicates that this theory is groundless. You will all remember that the same theory was put forward for Spain, Portugal and even for Ireland. It was claimed that the membership of these countries will bring too heavy a burden on EU and that millions of jobless people will invade more industrialised EU countries in search for a job. This forecast did not materialize. On the contrary, many Spaniards and Portuguese started to go back to their country after their country’s accession to the EU. Such a move of returning home is more likely for Turks than for the other countries, because cultural difference from the industrialised countries is bigger for Turkey than for countries such as Spain and Portugal.

Some people present Turkey’s case as if Turkey was going to become a full member, without any preparation, immediately after a date is fixed for the start of the negotiations. Neither the EU rules allow this to happen, nor Turkey requests such a discriminatory treatment. As it was the case with the other candidate countries, Turkey will become a full member only after the negotiations are duly completed. In certain cases, these negotiations take years to be completed. Turkey will have ample time to eliminate any possible remaining discrepancy while the accession negotiations will be conducted.

Some quarters in Germany claim that torture is still widespread in Turkey, people do not enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms, women do not enjoy freedom and equality, Christians do not enjoy equal treatment with Muslims. I am not going to depict a rosy landscape and tell you that these claims are entirely untrue. Yes, there are isolated cases of torture, but first of all they are not more widespread, for instance, than the cases of xenophobia in Germany. Secondly the Turkish government does not deal with such cases with lesser tolerance than the German government deals with xenophobia cases. The Turkish government is committed to treat such cases with zero tolerance and it is keeping this commitment. The legislative measures are already taken to minimise such other claims and mechanism are set up to monitor the proper implementation of the laws passed. I have already mentioned earlier what these mechanisms were. The EU Commission seems to be satisfied of the legislative measures and points out that the implementation is also very important.

We will all see by the end of 2004 that Turkey will also implement properly the laws passed to eliminate any remaining discrepancy in Turkey’s compliance with the EU Copenhagen political criteria. The present government has both the power and will to achieve this goal.

Advantages for EU of Turkey’s membership

I now turn to possible contributions that Turkey may make to the EU when it becomes a full member.

The Government of Turkey believes that Turkey’s membership in the EU will be symbol of harmonious co-existence of cultures, and enriching the spiritual fabric of the EU. As a key regional actor and ally located in close proximity to many existing or potential hot spots 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 Middle East. It contributes to the ongoing rapprochement between Europe and Asia and hence helps extend modern values throughout Eurasia. Once Turkey becomes the member of EU, it will be able to contribute much more to the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Both Turkey and EU could achieve the afore-mentioned goals without each other’s support. But they may achieve these goals more easily and with lesser effort in case they unite their efforts within EU.

A  modern, secular and prosperous country like Turkey, with predominantly Muslim population, will be an asset for the EU and its admission to EU will be a reconfirmation of the universality of the European Culture. Otherwise Europe will be identifying itself on the confessional terms and will confine itself exclusively to the Christian countries. This will deepen the divide between Europe and the Islamic world as well as the entire non-Christian world.

           Turkey is sitting on a landmass, which is the natural route for the supply of gas and oil from the Middle East and the newly discovered reserves in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

There is at present about 10 million Muslims living the EU countries. The membership to EU of a secular country with predominantly Muslim population like Turkey may contribute to a better understanding of secularity by the Muslim population of EU. This may contribute, in its turn, to marginalize Muslim extremism in the EU countries.

EU may use Turkey’s young and hard working population as an asset to minimize the negative effects of the aging population and depopulation in many EU countries.

Entrepreneurs of ethnic Turkish origin have already established more than 80 000 businesses in various EU countries, most of them being in Germany. They created hundreds of thousands jobs in these countries. Their contribution to the national economies of the countries where they are operating will be further strengthened and these economies will continue to benefit further from the creation of such new jobs.

Turkey will become a young, dynamic and rapidly developing large market in the EU.

            Turkey’s membership to the EU will no doubt enhance the Union’s global reach, be it strategic or economic, thus its influence.


To conclude my observations I would like to point out that Turkey is not treated on equal footing with the other candidate countries. However this did not deter Turkey’s resolve improve Turkey’s record on fundamental rights and freedoms and Turkey’s determination to solve the Cyprus problem.

Now we may ask the following question: Is Turkey ready to become a full member of the EU?  No, It is not.

But let us ask another question: Is Turkey ready to start accession negotiations with EU? The answer is “Yes it is”. Furthermore, Turkey is ahead of the point where several candidate countries stood at the time they started the accession negotiations.

If the EU comes up with new excuses not to start accession negotiations with Turkey, it will have to offer a reasonable explanation for such an attitude.

Turkey is committed to ensure the full harmonisation of its legislation with the EU acquis and to implement it effectively.

 In order to achieve these goals Turkey needs the support and encouragement of its European friends.

Thank you very much for your attention

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