Why Turkey must join the European Union
June 13th, 2011
04:00 PM ET

Why Turkey must join the European Union

Editor's Note: Javier Solana, formerly the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, and a former Secretary General of NATO, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. You can read more from Javier Solana at Project Syndicate and be sure to check it out on Facebook and Twitter.

By Javier Solana

MADRID – Just five months ago, Osama bin Laden was alive, Hosni Mubarak was firmly in control in Egypt, and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali ruled Tunisia with an iron hand. Today, popular rebellion and political change have spread throughout the region. We have witnessed brutal repression of protests in Syria and Yemen, Saudi troops crossing into Bahrain, and an ongoing battle for Libya.

For Europe, the “Arab Spring” should refocus attention on an issue largely ignored in recent months: the benefits of Turkey’s full membership in the European Union. Given the tremendous opportunities present in the current circumstances, the advantages for Europe of Turkey’s accession should be obvious.

With Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now elected to another term as Turkey’s prime minister, and with Poland, a country well acquainted with the importance of Europe’s strategic position in the world, assuming the EU presidency at the end of the month, now is a time for the Union and Turkey to “reset” their negotiations over Turkish membership.

The good that Turkey can bring to Europe was visible even before the “Arab Spring.” Europe is, by definition, culturally diverse, so diversity is the EU’s destiny. And, if Europe is to become an active global player, rather than a museum, it needs the fresh perspective and energy of the people of Turkey.

Europe today is both larger and different compared to the Europe of 1999, when Turkey was invited to begin the accession process. It is also experiencing a profound economic crisis, which erupted around the same time that the Lisbon Treaty – aimed at accommodating EU enlargement – was finally approved.

Had the treaty been approved in 2005 as intended, it would have been in place for six years, and the strain placed by the crisis on EU economic governance – so visible in the eurozone’s recent problems – would have been much more manageable.

But the EU always faces problems, resolves them and moves on. Today, we don’t have a treasury, but we are about to have something similar. Similarly, the European Central Bank has capacities today that no one imagined in, say, 1997.

A major challenge that Europe must still face is migration, which will only become a bigger problem over time. Between now and 2050, Europe’s workforce will decrease by 70 million. Maintaining our economy requires migration and open EU borders – and facing down the populist movements in Europe that would shun “outsiders.”

Today’s Turkey has also changed dramatically since 1999, both politically and economically, and this has much to do with the EU accession process. Indeed, without the attraction of the EU – its “soft” power – such changes would not have occurred.

Economically, Turkey is now in the G-20 – and playing an effective role there. And, politically, Turkey has emerged as a regional leader, a role that it takes extremely seriously.

With just-concluded parliamentary elections, and a new constitution to be approved, Turkey is approaching an epochal moment. I was a member of the Spanish Constitutional Commission that wrote the Spanish constitution in 1975 and 1976, following the death of Franco, so I know what it is to move from dictatorship to democracy – and how important it is that a constitution be framed by consensus.

The EU-Turkey relationship began with an association agreement signed in 1963. Now the accession negotiations have started, and 35 “chapters” – covering everything from agriculture to energy, competition, environment, employment, social policy, and beyond – must be opened.

We have already opened 19 chapters – fewer than we would like. But the real problem is that we have closed only one, and, worse, the pace of negotiations has slowed. In fact, in the second half of 2010, nothing happened. I hope that meaningful progress comes in 2011.

Turkey and the EU need each other. The EU now accounts for 75% of foreign investment in Turkey and roughly half its exports and inward tourism. Likewise, Europe’s energy security depends on cooperation with Turkey on transit of oil and natural gas from Central Asia and the Middle East.

We need each other politically as well. Turkey’s neighborhood is our neighborhood; its problems are our problems. The security benefits and strategic advantages for the EU with Turkey as a member would be many, starting with the relationship between the EU and NATO, of which Turkey has long been a member.

Likewise, the EU’s involvement in today’s problems in the Mediterranean region would be much easier in concert with Turkey. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, EU-Turkey cooperation is fundamental to achieving a durable solution.

In 1999, Turkey did not want to become an accession candidate, because its leaders thought that the conditions would be too tough. I was there; I talked to Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit at midnight, then to President Süleyman Demirel. And, two days later, Ecevit was in Helsinki to declare formally Turkey’s wish to become an EU member. And we said: Turkey will be an EU member. I supported the signature of that document; I would do the same today.

In these times, difficult and unpredictable but full of hope, the world needs Turkey and the EU to work together. That does not mean meeting every now and then to decide how to handle a certain problem. It means something much deeper and well defined.  It means Turkey’s admission to the EU. That is my dream, and I will continue to fight to make it a reality.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Javier Solana. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011. You can read more from  at Project Syndicate.

soundoff (113 Responses)
  1. Darius

    The multiculturalism and ultra-liberal agenda has failed.
    Turks are not European and do not belong in the EU!
    Long lasing peace between the Greeks and Turks should be a priority. Constantinople (along with Turkish occupied Europe) should be Greek again in exchange for Cyprus.

    June 18, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  2. Alex T

    The article of mr. Solana is roughly at the level of a (not so good) college-level student. It insults the basic logic and knowledge of the readers. Just a few examples:

    -"Europe is, by definition, culturally diverse, so diversity is the EU’s destiny." Which implies that any non-EU country is as good as Turkey, so then, why Turkey and not, say, Trinidad and Tobago? This is a fallacy.

    -" if Europe is to become an active global player, rather than a museum, it needs the fresh perspective and energy of the people of Turkey." This is first an insult to the Europeans, they're compared with museum pieces. Secondly, which is that fresh perspective exactly? Of course, he doesn't explain. This is an argument ad hominem.

    -"Economically, Turkey is now in the G-20 – and playing an effective role there" So what? Does this mean that all non-EU G20 countries should be part of the EU? Please explain.

    -"Turkey and the EU need each other. The EU now accounts for 75% of foreign investment in Turkey and roughly half its exports and inward tourism" Huh? So if the EU would account for, say, 90% of investment in, again, Trinidad, would that mean that Trinidad should be made part of the EU? This is stupid.

    -"Turkey’s neighborhood is our neighborhood". Well, luckily not. And if so, then how do you prevent the statement to be recursively applied e.g. Turkey's neighborhood neighborhood [...neighborhood] is our neighborhood?

    -"Likewise, the EU’s involvement in today’s problems in the Mediterranean region would be much easier in concert with Turkey. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, EU-Turkey cooperation is fundamental to achieving a durable solution." Why? Has that something to do with Islam? If not, please explain. If so, then I am scared that Islam is "fundamental to achieving a durable solution"

    -"the world needs Turkey and the EU to work together." Says who? You are 'the world'? I am the world too BTW and, given lack of arguments, my word is as good as yours.

    -"It means something much deeper and well defined." You make me smile. If you had something indeed well DEFINED, you'd express it as such, not just by hand-waving. What is so well defined, please, define?

    This article is an astounding example of how we, citizens of various countries, are treated like fools and made to swallow totally undefined, vague, metaphysical nonsense from some idiocrats who in one way or another arrived at the power levels. Well, if we do swallow it, we do deserve it.

    June 19, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  3. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    Why Turkey must join the European Union.......?

    To ensure:




    d) REDUCE EUROPE (& AMERICA) TO MIDDLE INCOME NATIONS....uch like S.Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Turkey etc.


    Check these out:


    How even MUSLIMS ACCUSED OF TERROR are (mis) using Europe’s lax Immigration laws into gaining citizenship!



    Income& Educational achievements of AMERICAN MUSLIMS (the most progressive Muslim community). They lag behind Hindus, Jes by a ratio of 5 to 1. And ethnic whites by a factor 2 to 1…….PEW Research:



    June 20, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Reply
  4. RICE

    Turkey was a civilization before majority of the European countries became civilized? Like Greece for instance? Hm let me see, science, philosophy, arts, literature, technology, what else? Ah yes living by the sward Mr. Solana, really do you want to import young and virile turks? Wonder why...

    July 19, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  5. Revolution

    When i see following posted comments right down here, I understood that how important to stay away from Eu.. They still couldnt get rid of their facist sides. Lots of them has a crusader soul inside. I am really happy in my own Country without any union. With a multi cultural history. With 36 different nation under one flag. Without trouble.. I am happy to live in a city which has all religion in different corners. Yes guys. I am talking about istanbul. The city which you keep your mouths open when you see it.. This mentality which you has in your genetics coming from your past. You have to get rid of them firstly. We are happy to live together With Turks Kurds Greeks Armenians Laz Cerkez Georgians together. AHHH I ALMOST FORGOT.. YOU WERE THE ONE WHO WERE TRYING TO MAKE TROUBLE BETWEEN THOOSE PPL right. Armenian Genocide AND Kurdistan maps bla bla... Turkey is not a country what you have in your brains. Turkey woke up. Turkey stood up. You just keep rolling troubles against Turkey. Like armenian genocide or kurdish rebels ( We call them TERORIST PKK) maybe one day in your dreams you will get a line with that.

    February 3, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Reply
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  9. grey wolf

    funniest part in here people say Turkey cant be in eu because of the "so called armenian genocide",
    WHY germany is in eu ? adolf hitler was a peace bringer ?

    Eu says :Turkey must solve the cyrprus problem before enter Eu
    it looks cyprus has a problem with Turkey right ?
    why eu U took Cyprus as a member without solve this problem ?
    they give condition to cyprus for solve this problem and later we will accept you.
    it is double standart to making to Turks
    all eu contries work for Germany,France and UK,
    thesee countries rising up but others falls down.that is eu strategy for example looks greece.UK is unconfortable to french and german brotherhood and they want to end it.

    Also new members of Eu countries have better conditions than Turkey ? ,their GDP ,economy,rights,wages better than Turkey ? Estonia,Lithuania,Letonia,Romania,Crotia,Bulgaria
    Also İstanbul is the capital city of East Rome Empire,it shows us Turkey is totaly a European and Asian country.

    What Turkey Need to Do ?
    Turkey must withdraw the custom union agreement rapidly against the eu,this double standard must be end.Or turkey should member of Shanghai Five with Russia ,China

    May 11, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Reply
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