Turkey and Europe: A love-hate relationship

Published June 12th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

There was an ironic quality to a demonstration in Ankara on Sunday, June 10, as an estimated 5,000 nationalists gathered to protest Turkey's “pending” ascension to the European Union. Referring to their country’s candidacy for EU membership as an act of treason, the demonstrators warned that Turkey would be relinquishing its national identity if it were ever to join the union. 


The demonstration appeared overstated in its fervor, inasmuch as when it comes to the European Union, Turkey’s membership does not appear an issue of immediate concern. On the contrary, the devastating financial crisis of the past several months has made it even less likely that the desirous EU-member could meet the union’s stringent economic conditions any time in the foreseeable future. 


But the rush toward EU membership appears to have gripped more than just a group of right-wing activists. Speaking in Florence on June 5 to the European University Institute, Turkey’s Economic Minster, Kemel Dervis, said that his country could adopt the euro unilaterally, even before it becomes a full EU member. 


While he tempered his statements with a comment that Turkey should not make European membership an obsession, the former World Bank vice president, who already is being tipped as future Turkish prime minister, said that with more than 60 percent of Turkey’s trade, tourism and worker remittances being conducted with EU countries, it would make sense to link the national currency to the euro. 


Turkey has hovered on the fringes of the European Union for decades. It turned down a chance to join in 1977, when the organization was still known as the as the European Community. But in 1986 it changed its position and filed an application for membership. What it discovered then was a far more reluctant attitude on the part of the Western European establishment, with criticism regarding its economic underdevelopment and its human rights record.  


The Turks were not entirely convinced about the EU’s motives. Many blame Europe’s standoffish behavior to pressure from Greece, which in 1977 had accepted the offer of membership that had been made to both nations. There was also suspicion that “Christian” Europe had in the interim developed cold feet about admitting an Islamic nation.  


In January 1996, Turkey entered into a customs union with the Europeans, under which both sides dropped most tariffs and other trade restrictions. But that agreement has been a source of new discord. For while the Europeans appeared to feel that Turkey would be satisfied with making the customs union work, and would not press for full membership for some time, Turkey appeared to be laboring under the misperception that the customs union was a stepping stone toward full membership within a short space of time.  


In 1999, Turkey’s EU candidacy was stymied again, this time because the EU said it had not met its political requirements, which include stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities. 


Off the record, Turkish government officials have acknowledge this problem, although they also insist that the situation is not as serious as some have made it out to be. Legislation is being considered that would ensure free speech and the creation of a judicial police force that would monitor conditions in detention centers.  


For his part, Kemal has said that by successfully implementing economic reform, Turkey would gain the confidence to more a successful deal with the sensitive political issues. 


In its most recent progress report—released before the current financial crisis—the EU said that Turkey has made considerable progress in addressing the most urgent imbalances in the economy, yet the process of achieving a functioning market economy is not complete. Considerable parts of the Turkish economy are already able to sustain competitive pressure and market forces in a customs union with Europe, the EU stated. 


Turkey has made substantial progress in macroeconomic stabilization, the EU said. The privatization of state enterprises has been successful, and important steps for the reform of the agricultural sector, the social security system and the financial sector have been taken, it added.  


Nonetheless, it said, macroeconomic stability is not yet achieved and a solid basis for sustainable public finances in the medium term remains to be established. There are still too many areas, it continued, both in manufacturing and the financial sector, where state dominance implies market distortions, the EU report noted.  


A Turkish government study has indicated that if Turkey is going to be able to bring its economy, within the next five years, to a level that it will be compatible with the less developed of the EU countries, it will have to maintain a growth rate of at least seven percent per annum. That could be a tall order in the current economic climate, for an economy where inflation is running at about 60 percent. ― (MENA Report)

© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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