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Turkey Knocks: Will EU Let It Enter? 30 mars 2010

Posted by Acturca in Economy / Economie, EU / UE, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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The Wall Street Journal (USA), March 30, 2010 (extract)

By Patience Wheatcroft

Turkey’s desire to join the European Union has the virtue of being consistent. It was in 1987 that the country first applied to accede to the EU, and it has been knocking on the door ever since.

The fault lines that have become apparent, both within the euro zone and the broader EU grouping, have done nothing to quell Turkey’s enthusiasm for joining the club. The chance to export some more of its jobless may be one of the attractions: Last year, the country’s unemployment rate rose to 14%, up three percentage points on the previous year, against an EU average of 9.5%. Yet it isn’t clear that the work would be there for Turks keen to take advantage of the freedom of movement that EU membership confers.

And there is a price to EU membership. Today the U.K.-based lobby group Open Europe releases figures showing that EU legislation puts a heavy burden on member states. It calculates that, since 1998, EU regulations have cost the U.K. £124 billion ($185 billion). The truth is probably not quite so stark. Many of the regulations would have been implemented by national governments whether or not the EU had imposed them. Compliance, however, is costly. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is taking the opportunity of Angela Merkel’s visit to his country to try once more to push Turkey’s case for full membership.

He is wasting his time. The German chancellor, having stood her ground so staunchly over bailing out Greece, isn’t about to do a U-turn on this matter. She knows that, if her countryfolk were livid at the prospect of their cash being used to bail out profligate Greece, they would be positively incandescent were she to soften her stance on Turkey. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France would face a similar uprising of anger.

The reason isn’t Turkey’s long-running squabble over Cyprus, although its refusal to open its ports and airspace to EU member Cyprus provides useful tactical cover for those opposed to full EU membership for Turkey. Neither is it the need for Turkey to speed up its political reforms. It is Turkey’s overwhelming embrace of Islam which is the real, but unspoken, issue. With a population of 72.5 million, Turkey would be second only to Germany in scale if it were to join the EU. Although the government of the country is secular, estimates put the proportion of the population which is Muslim at around 99%. Although religion is not the driving force it once was in large parts of Europe, there is a widespread belief that including an overwhelmingly Muslim country in the club would drastically change its character.

There is an opposing school of thought, which argues that there would be positive benefits from having the EU embrace a Muslim country, but opinion polls have shown that to be a minority view. Hence Ms. Merkel on her brief visit to Turkey won’t be budged from her view that Turkey can be a « privileged partner » of the EU, enjoying a long-established customs union for instance, but it cannot be the 28th member of the European Union

Instead of protesting, Mr. Erdogan might anyhow consider whether he really wants to join a club where the rules could soon change fairly drastically. Greece got its bond issue away yesterday but at a punitive interest rate that only exacerbates its problems going forward. Spain looks perilously close to similar difficulties, as does Portugal.

The support arrangements agreed to by the euro-zone countries, incorporating Ms. Merkel’s insistence that the International Monetary Fund should be involved, might not hold for long. A retreat to a smaller euro zone is becoming a real possibility. The rejects would then join the slower speed Europe currently outside the single currency. Turkey might find itself slightly more welcome in that grouping.


1. Turkey [still] asks Germany for help « Erkan's Field Diary - 1 avril 2010

[…] Turkey Knocks: Will EU Let It Enter? […]

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