It is often thought not worth belonging to a club that would accept you, and imperative to belong to one that hesitates to accept you. Judging by her insistent demands made over the last two decades, Turkey finds it vitally important to belong to the European Union, and the EU has not been awaiting her coming with open arms. It has held up several hoops Turkey had first to jump through. She had, as it were, to learn how to use a knife and fork and how to sit with her knees close together. She had to enshrine “human rights” in her legislation and stabilize her wildly seesawing economy.

For a previous article from 2003 about Turkey by Anthony de Jasay see “Turkey Knocking on Europe’s Door”.

Now good manners have largely been legislated for, the currency has been re-denominated by knocking six zeros off it on January 1, and after a shaky two years in 2000 and 2001 and a spectacular forward jump of 9.9 per cent in 2004, the economy has this year settled down to moderately high growth of over 4 per cent and just under double-digit inflation—both very creditable achievements provided there is no backsliding. Lip service to “human rights” is not the same as embedding the rule of law in tradition, and one year’s very decent economic performance does not wipe out the rocky record that goes back to the ’70s. Nevertheless, while the peoples of the EU member states remain dubious, reluctant or downright hostile, the political leadership has decided that Turkey is now ready and eligible for membership. Negotiations on terms have formally started in October 2005. They are irreversible and will not be allowed to fail; despite much hedging on both sides, refusing entry to the Turks has become unthinkable. According to the Turkish side, a membership treaty will probably be signed in 2012, according to the EU some time between 2015 and 2020. Under present rules, ratification and/or popular referendum in member states would then still be needed, but nobody seems seriously to expect that they will derail the project.

Does Turkey Need To Belong?

Two obvious questions arise at this stage. Why does Turkey want to belong to the EU?—and why should the EU take her in? Neither answer is obvious.

There is already free trade between Turkey and the EU except in farm products and some services. Membership would yield little additional commercial benefit. Capital movements are also free. Movements of labour would probably not become much freer for many years than they are at present if the treatment of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and the other states admitted in 2004 is any guide; only Britain freely accepts workers from these countries, and Turks are not likely to fare much better initially.

Because average income per head in Turkey at under $7,000 is less than a third of the EU level, the country should receive “structural funds” from the EU, and because she is more agricultural than the average, she should be a large net beneficiary of the Common Agricultural Policy. Under present rules, she should receive an annual total of 13 or 14 billion euros from these sources, comparable to what Spain and Ireland used to get and more than the 9 billion euros France is still managing to draw from the CAP. There is no serious prospect of Turkey ever getting anything like this sum. Even a fraction of it would be hard to squeeze out of the EU budget.

Adopting unified EU rules and regulations to ensure competition, honest accounting, the policing of financial and product markets might prove to be useful for Turkey, and if EU regulations could curb corruption (which may be too much to hope) the benefit would be great. On the other hand, it has been argued that what gives the Turkish economy much of its vigour is the mass of small family businesses with a foot in the “black” economy, free of minimum-wage, maximum-workweek laws and social charges that the labour union and socialist influences in Brussels seek to impose on all EU member countries.

On balance, the economic case for Turkey seeking admission to the club is not proven and the judgment may go either way. The real spur driving the Turkish application is political. The business and professional classes and much of the officer corps are dreading a slide of the country into Islamic obscurantism and bigotry. They strongly feel that membership of the EU would be a safeguard against this danger. In fact, they see it as the sole available safeguard. Though their pride is offended by the lukewarm welcome they are getting in Brussels and by all the hoops they are asked to jump through, they seem ready to swallow it all for the sake of “being in Europe”.

Does The EU Need Turkey?

In a recent Europe-wide poll, people were asked whether the cultural differences between the EU and Turkey are too great an obstacle to Turkish membership. In the 25 member states, an average of 54 per cent “agreed” or “tended to agree” that the obstacle was too great. Country percentages were 73 in Austria, 66 in Germany, 62 in France, 55 in Italy and the Czech Republic, 50 in Holland, 44 in Spain, 43 in Poland and 42 in Britain. (Turkey is now spending 25 million euros on a public relations campaign to soften these attitudes). Out of the EU’s 450 million people, only about 16 million are Muslims, but the aggressive assertion of their religious identity makes the number seem and feel many times larger. Adding 72 million Muslim Turks really rouses alarms about the coming Islamisation of Europe, especially in view of Muslim birth rates being so much higher than white European ones. Austria, in particular, is not ready to forget that the Ottoman conquering drive up the Balkan peninsula and into Central Europe after the capture of Constantinople in 1453 was only stopped by the luck of arms under the walls of Vienna in 1529 and again in 1683.

Contrary to the popular sentiment, and typical of the widening cleavage between the two, the political elite is largely favourable to bringing Turkey into the Union. The reasons are manifold. There is the unformulated feeling that raising Europe’s population at a stroke to over 500 million will at last give her superpower status, “equal to America”. After all, the Turkish army is bigger than any other in Europe and it would do wonders for the self-confidence of certain political leaders if its command could somehow be made to pass into their hands. A “European foreign policy” so much lamented for its absence, would then finally be born, to the greater glory of Europe’s political masters.

There is also a vague feeling abroad that integrating more closely a young emerging economy into Europe will wake up and shake up the latter’s somnolent capacity for growth. There is little doubt that the catching-up factor, and particularly the continued borrowing of European technology and organisation, will go on stimulating Turkey’s rate of growth and by a ricochet effect, growth in Europe, too.

However, the strongest motive for ignoring that 95 per cent of Turkey lies in Asia is to kill two birds with one stone: it is to affirm Europe’s secular (rather than Christian) character, and to appease Islamic hostility to Europe by taking in a Muslim country as an important member of the club. Whether the latter effect can thus be achieved is a question only time will answer.

On a trip to Rome a quarter century ago, Mr. Chirac told a group of French journalists that while the ruins of Rome are “sweating death”, those of Mesopotamia are breathing life; the great Oriental religions are superior to ours; and that it is “an imposture to pretend that our culture descends from Athens and Rome. Though he seldom shows much constancy of ideas, in this respect he seems not to have changed them. A strong advocate of Turkey, he is still suspicious of Christianity, and would still embrace “Mesopotamia”, in line with the French revolutionary heritage and the traditional pro-Muslim policy of the country. To a weaker extent, the latter also plays a role in the official attitudes of Britain and Spain.

Be that as it may, the progress of Turkey towards full membership of the club is now gaining momentum. It is very unlikely to stop short of its designated terminus. Europe will then begin to look and feel substantially different. With a bit of luck, it might not become a worse place than it is now. It could even be a better one.


*Anthony de Jasay is an Anglo-Hungarian economist living in France. He is the author, a.o., of The State (Oxford, 1985), Social Contract, Free Ride (Oxford 1989) and Against Politics (London,1997). His latest book, Justice and Its Surroundings, was published by Liberty Fund in the summer of 2002.

The State is also available online on this website.

For more articles by Anthony de Jasay, see the Archive.