The EU-25’s view of Turkey’s membership bid

Turkey’s drive to enter the EU as a full member has reached a
critical phase: in December, the EU summit will decide on whether
to open accession talks with Ankara. The leaders of the 25 member
states would need to reach a unanimous decision, and the
decision in turn would need to be convincing to the member states’
citizens. The challenge is huge for all sides concerned.

Background

Having spent some four decades in the EU's waiting room, Turkey
is set to hear the decision of the member states' leaders on the
country's EU membership bid in the middle of December. While the
basis on which the summit will make its decision is
whether Ankara is ready to join, the question of whether the
EU itself is ready to accept Turkey into the club is increasingly
coming to the fore.

Whether in realistic terms the EU's 25 member states will be
able to come to terms with the Union's largest expansion in its
history remains anyone's guess. One of the biggest associated
challenges is for the EU-25 to prepare public opinion, which in
several countries is overwhelmingly hostile to Turkey's
membership. 

If accession negotiations begin with Ankara in 2005, it is
likely to take at least a decade before Turkey joins.
Europe's leaders appear to hope that by then they will have
convinced their electorates of the merits of Turkey
joining.

Issues

In several EU member states, there appears to be a stark
contrast between the opinion of the political establishment on
Turkey’s membership of the Union and that of the broad
public. 

For some, but clearly not all, current member states, Turkey
represents a challenging but huge potential. For many of
these states’ citizens, however, Turkey appears as a country too
big, too poor, too distant and too Muslim. 

Although public opinion surveys on Turkey joining the EU are
still few and far between across Europe, the general understanding
appears to be that any possible referendum on the issue would
most likely fail in practically all the major EU member
states. 

The leaders of the member states will have to reach an unanimous
decision in mid-December on the Turkish bid. That decision,
however, will subsequently be subjected to approval at member state
level, either through a referendum or by parliamentary vote.

While a few national governments and parliaments have already
declared their respective positions on the Turkish bid, there are
still many – especially smaller – member states which appear to be
marking time, seemingly waiting for the major powers to spell out
and align their stances first.

Positions

Britain has long been known to be one of the
strongest supporters of Ankara’s bid, and Prime Minister Tony Blair
is widely expected to press for a 'positive' outcome at the 16-17
December summit. For London, Turkey's admission would amount to a
smart strategic move. The public in Britain remains divided on
the issue.

Germany, the country in Europe with the largest
community of Turkish immigrants, is supportive of Turkey’s cause at
the top levels. However, recent polls put the citizens’ approval
rate at around 30% only. 

France has been pulling closer and closer to
promoting an alternative “third way” approach to Turkey in recent
weeks, to a large extent as a result of the population’s
overwhelming opposition to Turkish EU membership. France is the
only member state where opposition to Turkey’s EU membership
predominates at both levels – government and society. Public
opinion polls show an average 70-80% rejection rate. 

The Netherlands has also been struggling to
integrate its ever-growing Muslim communities, and the prospect of
Turkey joining the “club” is apparently pushing the country’s
leaders closer and closer to the French approach. The Dutch public
is known to be predominantly against Turkey's membership. 

Austria’s leaders are also inclined to heed the
message from the country’s citizens, who are strongly against
Turkey joining the Union. A recent poll found that 76% of Austrians
were against Turkey's accession. There also appears to
be fierce public resistance
from LuxembourgCyprus,  
Denmark and Sweden.

The Greek government, apparently hoping to
become able to resolve a number of outstanding issues with Ankara
through a supportive vote (including the quarrels over the divided
Cyprus), has manifested goodwill toward the Turkish bid – even in
the teeth of the Greek public’s marked reservations. According
to a recent poll conducted by the company MRB, some 45% of Greeks
disagree with Turkey's EU prospects, with just 25% holding the
opposite view.

Among the smaller member states, the Czech
Republic
is expected to vote in favour of Turkey’s bid at
the European summit, despite the fact that the country’s ruling
coalition remains divided on the issue. Accordingly, the Czech
‘yes’ is likely to be a careful ‘yes’. Meanwhile, there is not much
public discussion about the issue in the country, and no
representative public opinion polls have been conducted
yet. 

In SlovakiaHungary,
the Baltic states and in many smaller member
states the pattern appears to be rather similar to that in Prague.
These governments are generally supportive of the Turkish bid, with
dissenting voices coming either from the Christian Democrats or the
opposition circles or from the radicals in the extremist corners.
Several of the smaller member states are expected to side with a
decision that would seek to attach a set of conditions to the
projected negotiation process. In general, the public in these
countries remains potentially divided but by and large ignorant of
the issue and its implications. 

Public - and through that official - support for Turkey is far
more marked in the Mediterranean states. At both official and
public
levels, ItalySpain and  
Portugal look at Turkey as a potential balance
against the EU-10 countries that joined the Union in May 2004.

In Turkey, nearly 80% of the public looks
favourably at the prospect of EU membership. According to a survey
published in the German magazine Stern, the rejection rate among
the Turks is only 18%. In the poll, nearly 50% of the respondents
said that they would want to work in EU countries even if the
country does not join the Union.

Further Reading

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