Time to start a balanced debate on Turkish EU membership

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“It is high time to conduct a reasoned debate about the costs and benefits of Turkish EU accession,” argues Markus Jäger of Deutsche Bank Research.

Evaluating the most commonly-used arguments against Turkey’s accession, the September paper finds the geographical issue weakest of all, describing  Europe itself as an “arbitrary construct” that strives to be more than a geographical entity. Indeed, the paper argues that it would be wrong to refuse Turkey entry just because most of it lies in Asia.

Jäger dismisses the cultural argument too, which contends that Turkey does not have the Christian and Enlightenment traditions on which to build a liberal democracy and a successful economy. He claims that this view is neo-colonialist and contradicts the degree of secularity and modernisation of the Turkish state. 

Demographic arguments against accession are similarly weak, believes Jäger. He does not think that it can be legitimately argued that Turkey is any more likely to dominate the EU than Germany, which has a similar population to that expected of Turkey in 2050 but far greater economic weight.

While Jäger acknowledges the difficulties that an additional EU member of Turkey’s size would pose for finding a consensus, as well as the strain that a country with a large agricultural sector would put on the common agricultural policy, he sees the ‘carrot’ of accession as an opportunity to push forward with long overdue reform. He also points out that similar considerations played no part in the accession of the new East European members.

Finally, the argument that Turkey would “expose the EU to a geopolitically volatile part of the world” loses momentum if its NATO membership is taken into account, claims Jäger.  Most EU members are also NATO members and thus parties to the security guarantee under NATO’s Article Five. Turkey’s accession to the EU would consequently require few additional security commitments on the part of the Union, he says.

While Turkish EU accession will bring challenges, so did the recent eastward enlargement, Jäger states, claiming that many arguments about that enlargement were also unfounded. 

Jäger believes the difference between the two is that while “the wisdom of enlargement was taken for granted” in the case of Eastern Europe, the arguments concerning Turkey’s membership have consistently worked against it. 

He thus concludes by calling for a “reasoned debate about the costs and benefits of Turkish EU accession”. 

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