Turkey Must Become Full-Fledged Member of the EU

Letters to the Editor | October 11, 2009, Sunday // 13:56

The Republic of Turkey Must Become a Full-fledged Member of the EU

Submitted to Novinite.com by the Balkan Political Club


Speech by Dr. Zhelyu Zhelev, President of the Republic of Bulgaria (1990—1997)

President of the Balkan Political Club

 12th Conference of the Balkan Political Club “TURKEYEU RELATIONS”

 Istanbul, 10th October 2009



Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the priorities of the Balkan Political Club, along with the accelerated construction of the region’s communications and energy infrastructure, is to work consistently for the full-fledge membership of all Balkan states in NATO and the European Union.

The 11th international conference, which we held in Ohrid in February 2009, was dedicated to the Republic of Macedonia and its road to NATO and the EU.

Now we are holding the 12th International Conference of our Club dedicated to the Republic of Turkey. And even though the titles of the two conferences differ, the essence is one and the same, the only difference being that in the case of Turkey we will be referring only to membership of the EU. As for NATO, Turkey’s membership of the alliance dates back to 1952.

Back in those days we, the representatives of the other Balkan states, could not, even in our wildest dreams, envision that 50 years onwards we will be fighting for full membership of that organization. Towards the end of World War II Turkey gave up its neutrality and joined the anti-Nazi coalition as prevailed upon by Great Britain and the United States, thus finding itself in the club of Western democracies. Thus it became a member of NATO and – three years earlier in 1949 - also of the oldest European democratic structure - the Council of Europe.

Ten years later - on July 31, 1959 Turkey applied for associated membership of the European Economic Community and was granted that statute in 1963.

In 1987 Turkey applied for full-fledged membership of the European Economic Community and was officially nominated as a candidate country in 1999. Six years later in 2005 formal accession negotiations began. In the meantime Turkey succeeded in becoming member of other important Euro-Atlantic organizations that had come into existence, such as the Western European Union (1992), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE, 1973), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 1961). Not to speak of the United Nations and its organizations and agencies such as UNESCO, FAO, the International Monetary Fund, UNIDO, among others.

All this has wonderfully integrated Turkey into Europe and the Euro-Atlantic space, the European Union included. It will not be an overstatement, I believe, to say that Turkey, even though not being a formal EU member, is much more integrated into the Union than are some member-states especially from among those who joined in the past ten years.

This is not surprising. Membership in the above European and world organizations was conducive to that as Turkey enjoyed the support of these organizations but there were also other factors, the first and foremost being the huge 71-million-strong population of the country of which young people in active age are a significant share. Furthermore, the market oriented economy, impressive in scope, but also with great potential, makes the country attractive to foreign partners. Next comes the well-developed economic and cultural tourism based on the fact that the territory of present-day Turkey abounds in a wealth of cultural layers and monuments of ancient civilizations.

Last but not least - a factor pre-conditioning the great interest in Turkey on the part of Europe and the world at large, is its unique geographic location and its geo-strategic and significance as a country lying on two continents and a crossroads of various civilizations.

Mutual interaction which is the quintessence of integration means that integration could not and should not be a one-way street. The rule is that integration is two-way because the EU needs Turkey just as much as Turkey needs it – the EU needs what Turkey is giving and has a potential to give in its capacity of a full member.

What Turkey has done and achieved towards its European integration is not that surprising, the amazing thing is that despite all that it is not yet a EU member and its accession is being procrastinated under various pretexts for over half a century.

In recent times the main pretext has been the unresolved Cyprus issue between Turkey and Greece. It is a saga worth tracing back chronologically and with documents because it demonstrates the strong interest of one of the parties not to resolve the issue as this happens to be the main argument against Turkey’s accession to full membership of the EU.

Briefly, history unfolded as follows: The Island of Cyprus was a British colony up until 1960. On August the 1st 1960 it was granted independence and the Republic of Cyprus was proclaimed with Archbishop Makarios as the first president of the new state. Being a cleric he concentrated both the secular and the church power. Great Britain, Greece and Turkey became guarantors of the independence of the Republic of Cyprus.

The island’s Greek and Turkish communities enjoyed equal rights in the government of the new state and were given, respectively, seats on government bodies and civic institutions. However, as early as 1963-1964 the two communities became embroiled in mutual strife and unrest. In response, the UN deployed a peace-keeping force on the island and the mission is still present there to this date. The status quo was maintained for another 11 years until the division of the island, that period being marked by numerous conflicts between the two Cyprus communities and exacerbation of the relations between Turkey and Greece to the extent that they were on several occasions on the brink of war.

In the meantime the military junta took power in Greece, logically after a coup d’etat. It engineered a coup of the military in Cyprus too, in 1974, toppling president Makarios. The nationalists were in control and they worked for the annexation of Cyprus to Greece. Under these circumstances, fearing a possible step of annexation of Cyprus to Greece and invoking the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee by virtue of which it was one of the three guarantors of the independence of the Republic of Cyprus, Turkey dispatched troops to the island. As a result of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus the military there suffered a defeat which in turn led to the downfall of the Cypriot Greek military junta and the return to office of the legitimately elected President Archbishop Makarios.

Let us analyze the actions of the parties and see where the fault lies. The military junta in Greece stages a coup in Cyprus with the aim of annexing the island to its territory by force. Second, by this act Greece tramples down its commitment as a guarantor of the independence of the Republic of Cyprus which it had undertaken under the Treaty of Guarantee signed with the Republic of Cyprus in August 1960, together with Great Britain and Turkey. Third, through this act of Greece, the Balkan region might have been facing a big war between Greece and Turkey and it was perhaps the two countries’ membership of NATO that thwarted and prevented the war.

What did the situation look like from the Turkish perspective?

The Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus to defend compatriots who were subjected to arbitrary acts and violence which, in a situation of this kind were not only possible but were something that would habitually happen. Second, Turkey did this to reiterate its commitments under the Treaty of Independence of the Republic of Cyprus and, thirdly, to prevent annexation of Cyprus to Greece becoming a reality.

It is obvious from this objective and unprejudiced analysis of the drama of Cyprus’ independence that the Greek side gets all the negative marks while the Turkish side the positive ones, to use a figure of speech.

We see the same picture in 2004 during the referendum for the unification of Cyprus as planned by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The project envisaged the creation on the island of a two-communities and two-zone state in the place of the unitary Republic of Cyprus which despite all previous attempts did not function. The referendum was held on April 26, 2004 under the aegis of the UN. The results were the following: 75 % of the Greek Cypriots voted against the unification whereas the overwhelming majority of the Turkish Cypriots voted in favour. Thus the latest attempt at unifying Cyprus in a democratic manner turned out to be a fiasco.

Here too we see the negative and destructive role played by the Greek Cypriot community.

Was it then in acknowledgement of that act of the Greek Cypriot community that it was unilaterally admitted to EU membership while the Turkish community remained outside it? This was a glaring example of unprincipled and unfair solution of an issue bearing in mind that all privileges plus the use of the EU funds as a result of the EU membership of the Republic of Cyprus were available only to the Greek part of the island, and were denied to the Turkish one. At the same time the Republic of Cyprus got six seats in the European Parliament based on the total population of the island. To use a trite expression – no comment!

It was not by chance that Kofi Annan himself stated that after the referendum the official contacts between the leaders of the Greek and the Turkish communities stopped while the hopes that Cyprus’ joining the EU in such a way would be an instrument of solving the Cyprus issue became totally unrealistic.

Without pleading the Turkish cause I must say that the indignation and disappointment of the Turkish politicians with that unjust decision as well as the growing Euro--skepticism of the Turkish people are justifiable.

The Republic of Turkey’s application for full membership faces the European politicians and statesmen with the big questions of the future of the European Union – questions to which they have no answer.

Some of those politicians are even scared to reflect on those issues and to console themselves they prefer, like the proverbial bird, to bury their heads in the sand, thus entertaining the illusion that the problem was non-existent.

Others wonder what versions of full membership to devise, like “privileged partnership”, in order to endlessly prolong Turkey’s accession until the time she gives up.

Still others openly state their opposition to Turkey’s accession without, however, saying on what grounds. Statements of that sort were made recently by the President of France Nikolas SarkozyпЂЄ and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and by some Austrian politicians.

Former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing has proposed the passing of a law according to which countries whose population exceeds numerically 5% of the entire population of the EU should be barred from membership. This means in practice that given a total population of the member-states of the EU of 500 million, Turkey, Ukraine and, not to mention Russia, if one day she decides to put up its nomination, should automatically become ineligible.

Hidden behind all these quests and “brain-cudgeling”, and easy to perceive, is fear on the part of the big European states - mainly France and Germany – of competition by others, bigger than themselves who would have more members of the European Parliament and, consequently, greater influence in decision-making regarding the management of the Union.

I deem such fears unfounded as they rest on a prejudice stemming from the presumption that the Members of the European Parliament vote en masse in their national capacity, and that there is no left, right or centre in the European Parliament and the MEPs of each and every country might act as national groups and cast a pro-national vote.

We all know that this is not the case. Given the existence of political pluralism, of democratic mechanisms and procedure in decision-making, such fears are totally unfounded. They are a reflection of an obsolete and retrograde thinking, which should by no means be a criterion for limiting accession to the EU only to countries with a population of less than 25 million.

The great future of the European Union is in its further enlargement and Turkey is an inseparable part of it.

What will Turkey bring into the European Union with its accession?

• A 71 million population of which young and active people are significant share

• A working market economy and a great potential (as recognized by all experts);

• A military power that is reckoned with by all (in NATO Turkey is the second biggest power after the USA);

• A strong influence in the Arab world along the lines of the Islamic religion (the fact that Turkey is a secular state, with predominant majority of the population of Moslem religion , Turkey has long ago categorically rejected the Shariat, condemns Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, and plays the part of a front-line barrier against them on their onslaught to Europe);

• Also, an equally strong influence in the former Soviet-bloc republics of Central Asia due to linguistic similarities and partially of the Islam which the EU cannot possibly disregard owing to the fact of the huge deposits of natural gas and oil, of precious metals and minerals there;

• And finally, its geographic position and the related geo-strategic and geopolitical significance of the country as a bridge between two continents and a crossroads of various cultures and civilizations.

How many countries are in a position to bring in such rich bounties to the EU when joining it?! I am rather hard put to name even one European state. Perhaps one day such a country would be Russia having been prepared to meet the EU criteria for full membership and to deposit its candidacy. I very much hope that when that time comes the European Union will not engage in a scholastic dispute whether to accept Russia up to the Urals or all the way to Vladivostok and will opt for the latter as the enormous natural wealth of that country is to be found on its Asian territory.

Only then will the road be blazed for us and our descendants to translate into reality the inspiring vision of General de Gaulle, later on embraced by Gorbachev, of a Europe “from Vancouver to Vladivostok”. Indeed, the European Union is not so much a geographic formation, it is, above all, an economic, political and cultural one. Geographic affiliation to the continent of Europe is but a starting point for initiating the integration procedure whereas its true meaning lies in the political and economic reforms which make out of a country a democracy and a working market economy!

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Tags: turkey, EU, EU membership, Zhelyu Zhelev, Bulgaria President
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