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Opinion: EU membership

November 10, 2010

How should the EU deal with Turkey's membership hopes? Many EU politicians have a guilty conscience over keeping Ankara waiting. But that's a poor basis for making decisions, says DW's Christoph Hasselbach.


Many EU politicians have a guilty conscience. They don't know how to deal with Ankara’s hopes for speedy progress in the country's bid for EU membership. Turkey is after all an official membership candidate and is trying to implement the reforms that Brussels is calling for. And from Ankara's perspective, this should eventually lead to full membership once the EU's demands have been met. So far, all previous membership candidates have eventually become full members.

But it's clear that a guilty conscience alone is a poor basis for granting membership. Many European governments today regret that they – or their predecessors – have in past years given the green light for membership talks with Turkey. The doubts within the EU about whether Turkey is fit for membership have since then only increased, and the arguments against membership have not changed. They are not about individual points of criticism – be it Cyprus or freedom of expression – but they are, in fact of a more fundamental nature.

Christoph Hasselbach
Relations will continue to improve, but there won't be full membership, says Hasselbach

For instance, the EU still struggles with the consequences of its two previous expansion rounds in 2004 and 2007. And even if past expansion was not a mistake – the new members have significantly changed the European Union. The bloc's ability to speak with one voice seems to be faltering – simply because the member states are too diverse and different.

These changes have to sink in and this process is bound to take time. Accepting Turkey with its different history and tradition would from today's perspective lead to a final stop to European integration.

Has anyone ever thought of the fact that Turkey would soon surpass Germany as the most populous EU member state? Turkey as a member would therefore have the right to demand more official posts than any of the other countries. This would change the EU to an extent likely to cause sharp opposition. And no one can guarantee that Turkey will remain a secular state for good.

None of this calls into question the fact that the EU needs Turkey and that Turkey needs the EU. The good trade relations and security cooperation should be built upon. Both sides are certain to do this for their very own interests. And Turkey is likely to continue its reform path even without the prospect of EU membership. That's why it’s wrong to argue that without membership talks, Ankara will abandon reforms and look for other partners.

Both sides need to look at the current situation. It's not a question of all or nothing. And the EU should be honest with Ankara that at the end of the path will be a closer relationship than today – but no full membership.

Author: Christoph Hasselbach (ai)
Editor: Matt Zuvela