Negotiations For Turkey’s Entry About To Begin?

Not if people like single market commissioner Frits Bolkestein gets his way they aren’t. According to the FT the European Commission is expected to say on October 6 that Turkey has reformed enough for membership negotiations to begin. If this happens EU leaders will then decide in December whether to endorse those conclusions and when to start the talks with Ankara. Mr Bolkestein seems to have problems with this:

A senior European commissioner has warned against the “Islamisation” of Europe, casting doubt on Turkey’s drive to join the European Union at a crucial time for its campaign for membership.

Frits Bolkestein, the outgoing single market commissioner, made the comments as his colleague G?nter Verheugen, the enlargement commissioner, visited Turkey ahead of a key Commission report next month on the country’s preparations for joining the EU.

In his comments, circulated by the Commission yesterday, Mr Bolkestein said Europe would be “Islamised” because of demographic and migration changes. He added that if this occured, “the liberation of Vienna [from the Turks] in 1683 would have been in vain”.
Source: Financial Times

Mr Bolkestein’s problem would therefore not appear to be connected with the legitimate question as to whether Turkey is, or is not, complying with EU criteria on human rights, treatment of minorities etc, but with something which sounds remarkably like an objection in principle. In this sense it is noteworthy as it is clearly a somewhat crude expression of a much broader popular sentiment which Europe’s responsible political leaders need to do much more to combat. My interpretation of the above statement is not altered by the clarification from a spokesperson that the commissioner does “not oppose the accession of Turkey to the EU”, which I take to be spin in the face of what must otherwise be considered in Commission terms a diplomatic gaffe, since if he is not opposed to membership then what the hell is he talking about?

And, oh yes, don’t miss the point about demographic trends. I hazard to suggest that this is going to be the topic of the decade, both economically and politically.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

21 thoughts on “Negotiations For Turkey’s Entry About To Begin?

  1. Uhm, Bolkestein should visit Turkey, or check actual statistics on the religiousness of Turkish immigrants and their descendants; it’s more the case of Europe secularising Turkey and Turks. (I am also curious how even 80 million Turks can ‘Islamize’ 500 million other Europeans, especially if they don’t want to be Islamized.)

  2. The ironic thing is that the Islamic nature of the Turkish government is a direct reflection of attempts to remove the secular influence of the military from the political sphere–at the EU’s request.

  3. “The ironic thing is that…………”

    Well I’m afraid it isn’t really ironic Sebastian, it may even be logical and natural in the evolution of a society. In fact the US may be provoking exactly the same outcome in Iraq.

  4. Frits Bolkestein is also the commissioner who, when the European Parliament passed some sensible amendments on the proposal for software patents, got in a huff and implied that the people of Europe have no right to interfere with what the Commission does.

    In short, he’s an arsehole.

  5. Already when he was a (Eurosceptic!) Dutch politician I used to refer to him as ?Frits the populist?. Main reason for that was his plea for strict measures against misbehaving (children of) immigrants in which he called to implement rules that were already long in practice.

    His words have a special meaning for the VVD, the party he led for some years, now facing an interesting conflict with a much more explicit populist. Just a couple of days Dutch VVD-MP Geert Wilders left this party but announced he will remain in parliament. Wildes is a caricature of a real right-winger. He drives a sports car while on his own weblog (now unavailable; apparently it was hosted at the VVD) he made explicitly explained that one of his major proposals, or slogans to be more precise, -raising the maximum speed on highways-, was prompted by his frustration over the time he had to spent commuting between his living town and the Hague…

    One of his other slogans however is: ?Turkey can never be a member of the EU?.
    Although the VVD did not make a final decision on this issue the leaders of the party did not accept it that Wilders had announced that whatever the outcome of discussion within the VVD, he would remain opposed.
    It’s an ugly conflict.
    There can be reason to raise some doubts on Turkey – the abovelinked article did that
    “Turkey’s diplomatic drive has also been hobbled by government plans to outlaw adultery. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the socially conservative prime minister, argued yesterday that outlawing adultery would protect women from unfaithful husbands.
    but there seems to be so much reluctance to address this issue properly.

  6. In this sense it is noteworthy as it is clearly a somewhat crude expression of a much broader popular sentiment which Europe?s responsible political leaders need to do much more to combat.

    Ah. EU bureaucrats must educate the simpleton EU public at large. How arrogant.

    I wasn’t aware that Turkey kept statistics on the ‘religiousness’ of it’s citizens. “On a scale from 1 to 10, how religious are you.” Do you make this stuff up DoDo?

    As for the EU secularizing Turkey, I would beg to differ. Turkey and the Middle East at large is becoming more religious, not less. Demographic trends favor the Middle East. European women average about 1 child per woman. 70 million Muslims may not Islamize the EU, but 50 years down the road, when Germany, France, and Italy have all experienced massive population declines, then what?

  7. In Turkey the fertility rate is just a little bit above 2. Their babyboom of course will have its effect in the coming decades but the growth is slowing down quickly.
    A -non arrogant- advice: go read previous posts of Edward.

  8. “EU bureaucrats must educate the simpleton EU public at large. How arrogant.”

    I think you are misquoting me rather here. What I said was “Europe?s responsible political leaders need to do much more to combat.”

    What I was talking about were democratically elected politicians (not Commission members – a subtle but important distinction – who, like Bolkestein, really don’t have the brief for saying the kinds of things he is saying). I think our politicians have a responsibility to stand up and be counted on this. The EU voters – who I certainly don’t consider ‘simpletons’ – can then express their opinions at the ballot box.

    One statement which I think a Commission member can reasonably make is this:

    “Religion is not a condition for membership,” said one Commission official. “The important thing is whether you share the values of democracy and tolerance.”

    which can be found in this article today:

    where you will see that agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler has also joined the fray.

    The commissioners do have a responsibility to monitor and report on Turkeys progress in complying with democratic and human rights criteria, and this I am absolutely in favour of. This should not be fudged in the case of Turkey in the way that I feel an opportunity may have been lost in the case of Cyprus for forcing a more lasting solution there.

    So I am not saying ‘carte blanche’, but simply that Turkish membership is something we should be actively working for, and not something to be ‘fearmongering’ about.

    So yes Frans, I agree:

    “There can be reason to raise some doubts on Turkey”

    The new proposed legislation about adultery is clearly something we should be expressing opinions about. My argument would be that these opinions could lead to much more positive outcomes in the context of an active membership approach.

    Fischler’s point is this one:

    “”There remain doubts as to Turkey’s long-term secular and democratic credentials,” he says. “There could . . . be a fundamentalist backlash”.”

    This danger would become much greater were the distance between the EU and Turkey to increase rather than reduce.

    “In Turkey the fertility rate is just a little bit above 2”.

    Thank you Frans for this, my whole argument has been that Turkey is in an advanced stage of the demographic transition, and this is why serious economic growth, rising living standards, and important modernisation socially and politically are now realistically on the agenda. This is an opportunity where, as they say, we have to ‘grasp the nettle’.

    Going back to Sebastian, the really big wild card here is, of course, Iraq. One possible scenario (and this should be the subject of a separate post), could be an ultimate disintegration into a set of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish ‘proto states’. If this happened then the impact on Turkish political life might be important, and all short term bets would have to be off.

  9. From Edward:

    “Going back to Sebastian, the really big wild card here is, of course, Iraq. One possible scenario (and this should be the subject of a separate post), could be an ultimate disintegration into a set of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish ‘proto states’. If this happened then the impact on Turkish political life might be important, and all short term bets would have to be off.”

    Let’s be honest about what we are talking about here. The EU is considering Turkey for membership, at the same time that Turkey is occupying the territory of another member state, which is an action condemned by every other country in the world. Should a long-repressed minority (the Kurds) obtain true or proto-independence in _another country_, no one is sure that the Turkish military and government won’t invade that third country or brutally repress (i.e. murder) its own citizens to prevent any spread in Kurdish cultural rights.

    Doesn’t this seem a little strange to people? I would think that a simple requirement for EU membership for a country would be a pledge not to invade or occupy neighboring countries. Judging by people’s comments, Turkey is not willing to give such an assurance.

    It seems to me like Turkey has to choose. It can choose the path of militarism, occupation, and repression, or it can choose democracy, peace, and human rights. Is the EU willing to force Turkey to make the choice?

  10. This is a joke. Turkey is a dictatorship in everything but name and always has been. The army more or less controls the government.Human rights are not respected, especially for women. Minorities like the Kurds are repressed and it does not seem to me that the European Union should be sending out the message that one country can invade its neighbours, abuse human rights, institutionalize the mistreatment of women and still be welcomed into Europe purely because it’s a big market for European products.

    On a personal level, as a European, I don’t feel I have a lot of things in common with people who make their women walk 2m behind them and I certainly would not wish to have people like that deciding my future should they enter the EU and start excercising their voting rights.

  11. Dennis, I suspect that you have more in common with people that want women walking behind them than most of Turkey citizen. And, please, learn to count, Turkey might be the biggest state in the EU she still would not decide for all the rest, unless she could form a majority with quite a few of the rest of members. After all today Germany is a bigger part of the EU than Turkey would be in case of being accepted.


  12. “”Is the EU willing to force Turkey to make the choice?”

    I certainly hope so.”

    Hektor after a sound nights sleep this seems to me a totally inadequate answer from me to your entirely legitimate point. You would be certainly within your rights to point out that looking at the continuous fudging which goes on at Commission and Council of Ministers level (and the growth and stability pact is only the most topical in a long line of problems) that it may not be reasonable to ‘hope’ that the EU force anyone to do anything. This indeed is our quandry.

    My defence would be that sometimes you need to take risks, and sometimes you need to look at the consequences attendant on not taking them. In other words we need to consider not only the pros and cons of ‘fast-tracking’ Turkey, but the pros and cons of not doing so.

    If the fear is of a growing fundamentalist influence in Turkey (of which I am not terribly convinced), then it would seem to me that pushing Turkey away from us would make this problem greater not less. Ditto for all the human rights questions. This is why I think we should take the risk.

    It would also send out a clear message across the globe that, as the Commission official said, religion is not a condition for EU membership, whilst democratic values and tolerance are. This is what we need to insist – not hope, insist – that those negotiating on our behalf do not fudge.

  13. Antoni Jaume,
    you miss my point completely. My point is that in Turkey human rights are not respected. As about your comment that I may have more in common with people who make their women walk 2m behind them than most citizens of Turkey (are you implying that I have racist motives? please attack my views not me) I can only say that the majority of Turks voted for Erdogan whose wife wears the headscarf and walks 2m behind him so by definition the majority of Turks condone this sort of treatment of women.

    I cannot see why I should accept this in Europe, as far as I’m concerned all people should have the same rights regardless of race,creed or sex and they should have the same opportunities and freedoms which in Turkey it clearly does not happen for women and minorities. This is the standard that we should be setting for entry in the EU and I cant understand why things as basic as that are being swept under the carpet.

    As far as your second point about Germany, well there really is not comparison between Germany and Turkey. Germany has acknowledged and apologised for the atrocities its army commited during the war and it has been on the forefront for the protection of human rights worldwide ever since.

    Has Turkey acknowledged and apologised for the Armenian genocide ? Nothing of the sort, if anything they viciously attack anyone who even hints that it even happened. Were the people who got killed lesser people than the rest of us, they deserve as much respect as the victims of the holocaust.

    My point is that I do not want people whose priorities are not the protection of bacic human rights voting for my future.

  14. The problem with Erdogan is that he ran on an EU platform and its not a good idea to promise something that is not in your hands to deliver. He should have introduced the reform packages to the public not as a means of getting into the EU but as a means of doing what is absolutely necessary to remain a credible country in the developed world. I don’t think its in our best interest to rush into the EU. Strengthening economic ties should take precedant over issues such as freedom to work and reside. One of the benefits I would be looking forward to though if we got into the EU would be the environmental regulations.

    “I can only say that the majority of Turks voted for Erdogan whose wife wears the headscarf and walks 2m behind him so by definition the majority of Turks condone this sort of treatment of women.”

    The votes also include some of the pro-Cyprus-reunification, pro-EU crowd. A lot of people have gotten pissed off at the center-left oppposition CHP party because of their objection to every (literally) AKP proposal no matter how sane or insane it is (it intensified when the CHP came out against the Annan Plan). As a result a lot of the traditionally CHP politicians ran as AKP candidates.

  15. Despite Rupter’s tone, and willingless to generalise, quoting some statistics might make sense.

    Immigrant Muslims, example: Germany
    Muslims in Germany are overwhelmingly of Turkish descent. One 2003 study (see in counts 3,112,000 inhabitants with a Muslim cultural identity, of which 2,365,120 (76%) profess a Muslim religious identity, but only 309,000 (9.9%) are organised. Even in the year after 9/11 and up to the Iraq War, the number of Friday prayer attendants is just 464,000 (14.9%), and that of daily prayers in a mosque 185,000 (5.9%) – not dissimilar to similar numbers in the ‘Christian’ population. (Prior, weekly attendance was about 9%, down from 22% measured in a study in the middle of the nineties, see towards the end in,3,0,Reaktionen_auf_muslimische_Zuwanderungin_Europa.html#art.)

    Muslim immigrants’ children
    From more (and more correct) details of the study referred to in the above link [to which my source is in print – no link, sorry], of under-16 children of Muslims in Germany, 58% have broken with their parents’ religious traditions, 12% consider to do so; and of the 42% still holding to the traditions, 22% percent do so at parental pressure. Another 1997 poll for the Berlin local government asked youth of Turkish origin about membership in an assotiation – 23.5% were, but of these, 19.2% were members of sports assotiations, and a mere 0,4% of a religious assotiation.

    Strength of faith of Turkish Muslims
    Rupter misrepresented my claims that referred to stats only in case of immigrants from Turkey, while in case of Turkey proper I only encouraged a visit to Turkey. (In my circle of acquitances, there were four recent trips to Turkey [with no matching participants], all leaving similar impressions on the participants.)
    However, though scant, there are a few polls to consider. I found one from the sixties in which 50% preferred the “Turk” identity and 37.5% the “Muslim” one, and one from 1993 in which 69% preferred “Turk”, 21% chose “Muslim Turk”, and 4% chose “Muslim” – however, the significance is heavily limited by the fact that these were local samples, taken at two different locations. And a 2002 Gallup poll indeed found that 37% say religion is ‘very important’, 41% say it is essential to life, and for 27% it is the most important thing in life. However, the strong decrease with age of those who think prayer at work is important in a 2000 study of factory workers (on page 9 of this pdf: indicates a decline, whose importance is heightened by strong population growth.

    Population growth
    Beyond the points raised by Edward and Antony Jaune about the slowdown in population growth and the comparison with Germany’s weight within the EU-15, some numbers. Population growth is down from 1.47% in 1998 to 1.16% last year and 1.13% this year, with children per woman declining from 2.5 to 2.03 last year and 1.98% this year (CIA Factbook). Projections for the 2050 total now range from 87 to 99 million.
    As for the current EU-25, the 2000 total of 451 million is projected to decline to just above 400 million in 2050. That is, Turkey would be less than 20% in 2050 (much less if in the meantime more countries, say Romania join too), while 82-million Germany was 22% of the 376-million EU-15 in 2000 (see f.e.

  16. “The votes also include some of the pro-Cyprus-reunification, pro-EU crowd.”

    Indeed, there have been more advances on rights issues, Kurdish issues, Greece relations than any previous Kemalian government. And, while Western Europeans (especially Britons) might dismiss this, but aegean disclosure should correct me if I am wrong: the Eurovision song contest had a great significance for Turkey, due to the acceptance in hosting an international event, thus the face of Turkey chosen to be presented says something – and I saw quite some female flesh.

    Regarding the adultery ban proposal, I would remind of similar lawas not long ago in EU members, or the abortion ban in Ireland – I’m not at all saying that this is not a negative, but that it is not of an insurmountable quality. More – read I quote three sections from a BBC article on the issue (see

    The adultery law is part of a package of sweeping changes to the penal code, which include the abolition of torture and the expansion of individual liberties. The changes are an effort to bring Turkey’s legal code into line with European human rights legislation.

    The above could be headlined “don’t miss the big picture”.

    Mr Verheugen, who has spent the last few days touring Turkey, expressed his concerns in an interview with the Turkish Vatan newspaper.

    “If Turkey tries to include crimes that are not in other countries’ laws in its penal code, European Union countries could interpret this as Islamic law entering Turkish law,” he told the paper.

    He added that he was not “defending adultery”, but said “Turkey should not give the impression… that it is introducing Islamic elements into its legal system while engaged in a great project such as the EU”.

    So yes, the EU does exert pressure on Turkey in this issue.

    On the other hand, I submit to Edward and Hektor that EU pressure on accession countries was not consistent, for example, after nothing much happened about the bad treatment of Gypsies in my region, despite pressure, we could still join. Hence with the benefit of hindsight, I agree with aegean disclosure that joining shouldn’t be (our own shouldn’t have been) rushed (should take a decade or two); on the other hand, I disagree on using future EU membership as an argument for reforms: I think that is a good thing, it worked on some issues here, and fulfilling EU membership criteria and being credible in the developed world are not separated terms.

    But the main opposition party says it will not challenge it, provided men face the same penalties as women.

    The BBC’s Virginia Gidley-Kitchin says adultery used to be illegal in Turkey until 1996, when the Constitutional Court struck the law down because it penalised women more than men.

    …so the ‘secular establishment’ is not necessarily better. Actually, on the issue of Cyprus, it is worse, sabotaging Erdogan’s efforts to get peace.

  17. “I disagree on using future EU membership as an argument for reforms: I think that is a good thing, it worked on some issues here..”

    If EU membership is not delivered though Erdogan will be blamed for empty promises.

    “and fulfilling EU membership criteria and being credible in the developed world are not separated terms.”

    Right, thats why I think the latter is the stronger road to take because if you get into the EU you don’t lose anything but if you don’t get into the EU you’ve already stated that there is a “higher reason” for the reforms.

    As for the adultery law proposal its being atttacked from all sides and pretty furiously by the media. The CHP has finally picked the right argument and the AKP has been backpedalling and clarifying ever since the word got out. In a debate, one AKP politician said that the fact that Europe does not have such a law is not important because some countries in Europe approve gay marriage, so does that mean Turkey must? And he continued by saying that family values in Europe are deteriorating rapidly and this law protects the family. The CHP politician countered by saying that, first of all, not all European countries approve gay marriage whereas all countries reject adultery as a crime, and that if European society and families are in such an absymal state as described by the AKP, why the hell are we trying so desparately to get into Europe for the last sixty years in order to mingle and integrate with such people?

    The AKP guy couldn’t really answer but said the law is aimed to protect women in the rural areas who are afraid to ask for a divorce. The CHP guy shot that down by asking how on earth a woman who is afraid to ask for a divorce could possibly gather the courage to report her husband to the police. He ended by saying that no public organization, including human and women’s rights groups, asked for such a law change and accused the AKP of attempting to “rally their hardcore conservative base” and shooting down Turkey’s EU prospects in the process.

    “the Eurovision song contest had a great significance for Turkey, due to the acceptance in hosting an international event, thus the face of Turkey chosen to be presented says something – and I saw quite some female flesh.”

    Turkish people are surprised when others are suprised by this, but then again, most people don’t know that Turkey had a thriving porno industry in the 70s either–although for years Europeans have been coming to our beaches in order to take their tops off because they prefer not to do so in their own country.

  18. Heh, thanks for the account of the CHP guy vs. the AKP guy! If I interpret this correctly, there is a good chance the adultery law will never go ahead?

    Your comment to female flesh at the Eurovision song contest should surprise Rupter or Dennis, not me 🙂 I would like to add another fact that might surprise them. Turkey has become a target for retiring or just emigrating Germans, about 20,000 permanently live there. So what do do about the new Christian population? The major of Alanya built a church for them.

  19. I have nothing special to add to what has already been said. I would simply like to thank all the contributors to what I feel has been a reasonably civilsed and informed debate.

    There is no ‘silver bullet’ here, and there are no guarantees, but if we all make the effort of trying to understand one another, and try to agree on a common goal – a free and democratic modernised Turkey in ongoing dialogue with other members of the EU – even while differing on precisely which may be the best road to get there, then we may be getting somewhere.

    This involves addressing – as we can see – stereotypes on both sides of the fence. It was for propagating what I consider to be a useless and harmful stereotype that I pointed the finger at Bolkestein in my original post.

    I cannot help feeling that quite a lot hangs on how we move forward from here on in.

  20. Bolkestein has the guts to talk about this issue, all you lefties follow the herd without standing up like a man, without willing to see where you may not see. Because ask yourself, do I want to live in a muslim society? Is muslim society going to change, or can it not because the koran is the koran? Then investigate further, because islam is an aggressively expanding religion. Here’s a website which shows you the islam critics’ points.

    From personal experience (I live in the centre of Rotterdam with many muslims) I can say the muslims here are a group that I don’t like, while I like interacting with any non-muslim. This is just because that’s the way it is. I’m still forming my views on this matter, you form yours.

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