Opinion: Why Turkey does not belong in the EU | Opinion | DW | 04.08.2016
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Opinion

Opinion: Why Turkey does not belong in the EU

Autocracies have no place in the European Union. Tedious accession talks cannot and will not change that. The EU should bid farewell to the illusion that Turkey belongs in the bloc, says Bernd Riegert.

By suggesting Wednesday that talks on Turkey joining the European Union should be reconsidered, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern is just saying what all responsible politicians at EU headquarters in Brussels have known for quite some time: Accession talks with Turkey should be ended. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has also admitted that Turkey will not be ready for membership for years to come.

Eleven years ago, EU member states still hoped that then EU-friendly Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan could steer a Muslim Turkey into the EU as a modern democracy and a developing economic power within a decade. At the time, EU members politely ignored his claims that Turkey would one day dominate the bloc.

'Unfit for membership'

Today, the vision has vanished. President Erdogan has gone from being a reformer to being an autocratic president, who undermines the rule of law, curtails freedoms of the press and expression and has most recently begun using emergency laws to prepare for the transformation of the Turkish state into a presidial, autocratic regime. His announcements on societal "cleansing" bode ill.

Deutsche Welle Bernd Riegert

DW's Bernd Riegert

Erdogan and the state that he has created are truly unfit for membership. He is no longer even willing to join. In 2014, long before last month's attempted coup, Erdogan said that he "didn't care" if the EU accepted Turkey or not. At the time he was incarcerating undesirable journalists with the help of a compliant judicial system.

Nevertheless, the European Union still clings to the decision it made long ago to continue membership negotiations no matter what the outcome. Why? Especially when everyone knows that they will never lead to Turkish membership?

EU: No capacity to take in new members

Of course, there are two sides to EU expansion. And it would be much more honest to admit that the EU is simply not able to take in Turkey as a member, as the bloc would be economically and institutionally overtaxed. But the willingness of many of the EU's member states to welcome 80 million people from another cultural sphere is also severely limited.

Erdogan himself has complained that Europeans don't want the Turks just because they are Muslims. There is some truth to that. Above all, skeptical EU citizens would not want Turks that - like Erdogan - see Islam as a superior ideology and contemptuously refer to the EU as a "Club of Christians."

Turkish EU membership would also have to be ratified by each member state; by referendum, in some cases. As a result, there would be little chance of a positive outcome. It is high time that both sides agree on new aims for negotiations. Strengthened economic cooperation and a security partnership in the defense against terrorism would be of great interest to both parties.

Cyprus: The bone of contention

In actuality, accession talks have been at a standstill for years. Indeed, they never really started. That's because Turkey, since 2005, has steadfastly refused to recognize the EU membership of Cyprus, of which, contrary to international law, Turkey currently occupies the northern half. All attempts to find a solution to the issue have failed due to Turkish resistance. For that reason alone, membership negotiations make no sense at all.

The formal burial of accession talks demands a presumably difficult-to-achieve decision from EU heads of state and government. Turkey's membership chances died long ago. The beautiful dream of a European Turkey has burst like a soap bubble.

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