What Europeans think about Turkey and why

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

For many politicians, journalists and think-tanks, the benefits of Turkish accession to the EU are “plain to see”, writes Katinka Barysch in an August 2007 paper for the Centre for European Reform (CER).

These range from the economic boost provided by a fast-growing and youthful Turkey to the soft power that the EU would gain from including a functioning Muslim democracy, she states. 

However, for most people, fears related to Turkish accession are “immediate” and “personal”, she adds, and include job loss, the threat of terrorism and the weakening of national culture. Meanwhile, the benefits are perceived by EU citizens as being “rather abstract”, she believes – such as future economic growth, a stronger EU foreign policy and increased energy security. 

Turkey’s potential membership raises questions ranging from the future shape of the EU to the integration of existing immigrant communities and countries that face similar issues do not necessarily arrive at the same conclusions, observes the author – citing the view of some Poles, Czechs and Germans that Turkey has no place in a “Christian” EU, whereas this is not a problem for the “predominantly Christian” Spaniards. 

Barysch believes that a country’s attitude depends on whether it sees Turkish accession as a question of foreign policy (Spain, the UK) or a matter of internal EU or national politics (France, Germany). Moreover, many people in Belgium, France, Germany and Italy are opposed as they fear it would bring an end to the federalist vision of political union, she claims. Paradoxically, countries less keen on political integration such as the UK and the Nordic countries support Turkey’s candidacy for this very reason, she adds. 

Other points of view are specific to individual countries. Barysch claims that French opposition centres on the fear that their country’s central role in the EU has already been weakened by enlargement and that Turkey would be a “step too far”. Moreover, she ponders whether France’s struggle to integrate its sizeable Muslim minority – emphasised by recent rioting – has “overburdened” the debate. 

Germans are concerned by the impact Turkey’s accession would have on the EU balance of power and its ability to move forward, she believes. Meanwhile, Austria appears to be the most sceptical country, she reveals – citing cultural concerns rather than religious ones as the main reason for Austrian opposition. 

It may take events, not words, to convince the EU public of the merits of Turkey’s accession, believes Barysch – such as a unilateral withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus, an opening of the border with Armenia, and an end to threats of army intervention and court orders against journalists. 

The paper concludes that although public opinion is a “challenge” for Turkish accession, it is not an “insurmountable obstacle”. 

Subscribe to our newsletters