On June 2, 2010, the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation in cooperation with the Olof Palme International Center and the Swedish Consulate General in Istanbul arranged a conference on the subject of Turkey’s membership to the European Union. While agreeing that Turkey should, indeed, join the Union, the participants disagreed on when and how this could be accomplished. Although Turkey is in the process of moving in the right direction, much remains unsolved, especially regarding human rights, corruption and the military influence in the civil society.
(In the photo: Göran Lennmarker, Chairman of the Swedish Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs as well as the chairman of the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation, discusses with Canan Kalsin, MP for the Turkish party in government, the AK Party and vice Chairman of the AK Party’s international office.)
“It is important that Turkey joins the European Union. All European countries have the right to do so [once all the criteria are met]. The European Union is a continental project, not a country club with the possibility to exclude and differentiate between applicants,” stated Göran Lennmarker, Chairman of the Swedish Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs as well as for the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation, as a part of his entrance speech.
In the introductory discussions, both Canan Kalsin, MP for the ruling AK Party and Ambassador Olof Ehrenkrona, agreed that Turkey would be an asset for the EU. In addition to the high annual growth rate, the low average age (28 compared to more than 40 within the Union) and the country’s geo political importance, Turkey may also build bridges between east and west and stand as a guarantee for a stable energy flow to Europe.
Having previously been characterized by a top-down structure, democracy development in Turkey has, since the beginning of the 2000’s turned in to a bottom-up structure, according to Sahin Alpay from the Bahcesehir University. He claimed that much has already been done to adapt Turkey to European Union standards, including the limitation of military power. Steps have also been taken towards recognizing the rights of the Kurdish minority.
Applying for membership already in the 1960’s, Turkey started negotiations in 2005. The negotiations are, however, progressing slowly and might stop completely in the imminent future, according to Cengiz Aktar, Professor in EU-relations from the Bahcesehir University. One of the reasons for this slow speed, explained a number of participants, has been the negativity towards Turkey voiced both by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy as well as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. However these individual politicians and administrative bodies that are negative towards a Turkish membership should not be confused with countries or even parties.
(In the photo: Göran Färm, Social Democratic MEP, to the left, and Christer Asp, Swedish ambassador in Ankara, Turkey.)
”Some people consider Turkey a threat to the previous balance of power within the EU,” Göran Färm, Social Democratic MEP from Sweden argued. Indeed, none of the newest EU members were, as they negotiated membership, even close to being as large and powerful as Turkey is today.
“Turkey would be as significant as Germany. This is cause for jealousy”, said Olof Ehrenkrona.
The Turkish opinion polls have shifted with regards to an EU membership. In the late 1990’s, 70 percent were in favor of a membership whereas 17 percent argued against. According to a recent poll, these numbers have shifted. Today EU membership is supported by a mere 44 percent whereas 40 percent are against.
(Sahin Alpay, from Bahcesehir University (left) and Thomas Gur, senior advisor to the JHF, participated in discussions on the Turkish EU membership.)
So what has happened?
One likely reason is the prolonged negotiations.
”Turkish people claim that the targets have been moved and I’m inclined to agree,” argued Christer Asp, the Swedish Ambassador to Turkey.
“When Sarkozy and Merkel stated that they do not accept Turkey, the polls changed. Turkish people started to ask themselves: ‘Do they not want us?’ It is crucial to show the Turkish public that Turkey is indeed important to the EU” Canan Kalsin emphasized, adding that many of the AK Party branches work with this very issue.
“Leaders come and go, but remember that the decision to initiate negotiations with Turkey was unanimous,” Göran Lennmarker commented. Cengiz Aktar explained that it is important to the Turkish public to have a time frame for concluding membership negotiations. “Some countries [that are positive to a Turkish membership], for instance Sweden and Spain, could state a time frame for concluding negotiations”.
The seminar touched upon what will happen if a Muslim country joins the EU. On one hand said some participants, EU member states need to decide if this is indeed what they want. On the other hand, as emphasized by several participants “we must show that Europe cherishes the freedom of religion”.