Turkey has been trying to join the European Union for almost thirty years. The first application was to join the European Economic Zone was back in 1987.

Since then, the European Union has more than doubled in size but Turkey has been left out in the cold.

Turkey’s Prime minister, Erdogan, recently pointed out that Turkey’s economy is far stronger than many of the current members and continues to be baffled at hurdles placed in Turkey’s way.

In bilateral talks as recently as October, Angela Merkel stated that Turkey’s accession bid should be restarted and she gave it her full support. This comes after recently and publicly stating her doubts that Turkey would ever be able to join the club.


Merkel and Erdogan at the recent G20 talks. Compare the body language, above, with the pictures of Erdogan together with Putin or Obama where the body language seems strained. Here, both look at ease.

During these talk between Merkel and Erdogan, Turkey – according to the EU Observer – demanded a liberalisation of the visa regime in 2016 for Turks coming to the EU, a €3 billion aid package and a participation of Turkish leaders in EU summits.

A shift in power

Since those discussion in October, Turkey’s demands have been credence. Unbelievably, this recent development is thanks, in part, to the migrant and refugee crisis.

Despite efforts to curb the migration and despite the onset of winter, the migration flow to the EU from the Middle-East (and beyond) has actually increased.

Behind the scenes, EU officials suspect that Erdogan could be easing the migrants’ journey towards Europe.

Either way, according to the Financial Times, the migration situation has caused political panic and now “Europe are on their knees” in front of Erdogan who, seemingly, is the only person who can resolve the migrant situation.

The aim is to create a deal to allow Syrian migrants to enjoy work, health and education rights in Turkey.

Security is often not a major concern for the refugess who are already in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. According to Glada Lahn, Chatham House, some of the main problems refugees face are weather, energy and health. Lahn further pointed out that last winter saw temperature plummet to below -10ºC, even in Turkey.

As a result of the negotiations, Europe will be aiming for tighter border controls. Turkey would therefore be a buffer to Europe.

To begin with, Europe has offered Turkey €3bn over the next two years. Also on the table is, as mentioned previously, is the visa-free access to the EU’s Schengen Zone, i.e. a passport-free / visa-free flow between Member States (Britain is not a member of the Schengen Zone). However, whether the borderless Schengen Zone can continue in the aftermath of the migrant crisis, culminating in the Paris attacks, remains to be seen.

Interestingly, the sudden flexibility to ease Turkey’s entry confirms Erdogan’s suspicion that the EU’s bureaucracy was simply to cloak their anti-Turkish prejudice.

The partners of HandsOnTurkish (a consoritum of five organisations from the UK, Germany, Italy and Netherlands) would like to point out – at this point – that this project, which was co-funded with support from the European Union, could not have materialised if there was an anti-Turkish prejudice within the EU. In fact, Europe’s eagerness to engage with Europe is reflected by Government agencies actively promoting trade and ties with Turkey.

The HandsOnTurkish project seeks to promote such ties through language-learning and a sound knowledge of cultural and business etiquette, thereby fostering greater trade and cross-cultural understanding. Learners can register online, start learning and work towards a certificate.

Will Turkey ever join the EU?

There are two on-going issues which face Turkey before she will be welcomed to the join the European club. Firstly, a matter of bureaucracy: the number of MEPs in the European Parliament reflect Member State population. With almost 80 million citizens and, crucially, a population growth faster than any other country in the EU, Turkey could quickly find itself having the largest number of MEPs in the European Parliament and thus considerable sway – despite being a new member. Currently, Germany has the largest number of MEPs. Being a founding member, the largest population and the economic powerhouse of Europe, Germany has sway within the EU and this could be potentially diminished somewhat with Turkey’s accession. Nevertheless, Germany and Turkey have long held close economic and diplomatic ties and Turks form one of the largest migrant communities in Germany. Merkel’s recent statements are therefore noteworthy.

Secondly, Turkey’s handling of the Kurdish Question has often raised concerns about human rights. However, as stated by Fadi Hakura, a Turkey analyst at Chatham House, “The European union has downgraded issues related to human rights and democracy in Turkey. The number one issue for Europe is to stem the flow of refugees.”

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