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  • The Worsening EU-Turkey Relations
  • Birol A. Yesilada (bio)

In recent years, two developments have challenged Turkey’s national and cultural identity—a growing Islamist movement at home and the European Union’s (EU) orientation toward Turkey. While the Turkish government and the military continue to pursue a pro-NATO foreign policy orientation, an increasing number of Turks have begun to question whether the country could not be better served by reducing their ties to the EU. The apparent dissatisfaction with the West stems, to a significantextent, from the EU’s decision to exclude Turkey from the next wave of EU membership expansion. At the Luxembourg summit in December 1997, the European leaders added insult to injury by including Cyprus (the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government) among the first wave of the next members. 1

Today, EU-Turkey relations stand at an all time low with little prospect for improvement. The European Parliament recently invited Turkey to enter into political dialogue with the union. However, it listed the same conditions for membership that were outlined in the EU’s earlier rejection of Turkey’s candidacy. 2 The Turkish reaction has been a flat refusal of dialogue with the EU as long as the union maintains its position on Turkey’s membership.

These developments raise questions over how Turkey might revise its foreign, economic, and security policies to better position itself in the next century. During the 1990s, Turkish leaders initiated bold economic, political, and security relations with the Turkic republics of [End Page 144] Central Asia and Azerbaijan, brought together the Black Sea states in an economic framework known as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Zone, and signed agreements with Israel. Can these efforts replace the key position the EU currently holds in Turkish external trade and security relations? To what other alternatives can the Turks look?

Clearly absent from these agreements is any serious attempt to improve Turkey’s ties to the Islamic states of the Middle East. Even the Islamist Refah (Welfare) Party, when it was the majority coalition partner in the Erbakan-Çiller coalition, failed to achieve tangible results in Turkey’s economic relations with the Islamic world. In general, the Islamists would like to cut Turkey’s ties to the West and improve relations with the Islamic world. This is most apparent in the position taken by the Refah and Fazilet (Virtue) Parties in recent years. Would continued problems with the EU help the Islamists in their objectives? 3 As these questions imply, Turkish leaders face important challenges as they prepare their country for the next millennium. The purpose of this paper is to examine the current state of EU-Turkey relations and assess the implications of the recent problems for Turkey’s foreign and domesticpolicy orientation in the twenty-first century.

A Brief History of EU-Turkey Relations

Turkey’s relations with the EU date back to the late 1950s, when the Menderes government applied for an associate membership in the European Economic Community (EEC). Following lengthy negotiations, the EEC granted this membership to Turkey under the Ankara Agreement of 1963 soon after it entered intoa similar agreement with Greece. 4 Since then, relations between the EU/EEC and Turkey have been mixed. At times, political and economic ties improved beyond anyone’s expectations. Following the military interventions in Turkey in 1971 and 1980, however,the Europeans suspended economic assistance to the military governments. With thetransition to civilian rule, relations between the two parties improved rapidly. In 1987, the Özal government applied for membership in the EU, then called the European Community (EC), because it felt confident that the country’s economic transformation and integration with global capitalism would ease its accession to the EC. Despite the Turkish government’s enthusiasm, European leaders quickly dismissed the issue and announced that Turkey was not ready for full membership. 5 While many authors’ assessments of the reasons for Turkey’s ineligibility for membership vary, they all agree that full membership is not probable in the near future. 6 Conditions for membership for [End Page 145] prospective applicants have been outlined by the EU, in chronological order with increasing specificity, in the Treaty of Rome, the Birkelbach Report...

Additional Information

ISSN
1945-4724
Print ISSN
1945-4716
Pages
pp. 144-161
Launched on MUSE
1999-02-01
Open Access
No
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