There are three kinds of people in Turkey who most look forward to the country’s membership of the European Union. The first group, most obviously, comprises big businesses — “Istanbul” capital as opposed to small and medium domestic market-oriented Anatolian capital. The other two groups are rather less obvious, and it is their views which I want to challenge here. The second group is left/liberal opinion, ranging from social democrats and parts of some socialist organizations, to trade union leaders and activists of the various human rights organizations. The third group, broadly speaking, is the Kurdish movement.

Clearly these latter groups support membership for different reasons than the first group. Whatever the specifics of their arguments, liberal Turks who support membership do so on the basis of the expectation that this may lead to a process of democratization in Turkey, to a greater respect for human rights and the rule of law, to better industrial relations legislation. Many Kurds entertain similar hopes that EU states may be able to exert greater pressure on the Turkish government to resolve the Kurdish issue more quickly and by more peaceable means.

The expectation that Western governments will compel or cajole a Turkish government to democratize and make peace is misplaced. Such naive hopes are based on two distinct misconceptions. One is that European states care about democracy. The other that the Turkish ruling class is a passive recipient of orders from above.

It is undoubtedly true that most European states most of the time run their affairs more democratically than the Turks. However, European states are democratic until their interests are challenged by a threat that cannot be countered in a democratic manner. Take Britain and Northern Ireland. The provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Britain are precisely as draconian as those of the “Struggle Against Terrorism Law” in Turkey. The number of Irish men and women killed by British troops is smaller than that of Kurds killed by the Turkish armed forces only because the latter have faced a mass movement, vastly more popular, better armed and fighting on more convenient terrain than the Irish republicans. Faced with a commensurate threat, the British state would respond no less ruthlessly and undemocratically.

Secondly, relations between European states and the rest of the world are clearly not characterized by an export of democracy. The interests of European capital dictate the need for a strong, stable, pro-Western Turkey. These interests would hardly be jeopardized to save a few Turks from jail and a few Kurds from death. As I write, some 700 German police are searching for arms in the country’s main reception center for 300 mostly Kurdish asylum seekers and Germany, the largest supplier of Turkish imports and the leading buyer of Turkish exports, has reportedly put out an arrest warrant for Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party.

The widespread view that the Turkish ruling class will do what Europe (and, of course, America) wants it to do is based on the habit of seeing Uncle Sam behind all the country’s ills (thus absolving your own “national” bourgeoisie with which you hope to be in a popular front). This is a variant on the Maoist “three worlds” theory (in the “third world” we are all progressive, regardless of class; America is the enemy, not our ruling class).

In reality, of course, the Turkish ruling class is a fully paid-up member of the club. Though not on the board of management, it shares the club’s general interests. Furthermore, it has its own and is prepared to stand up for them.

When Sabancı sets up an automobile factory in partnership with Toyota, it is a 50-50 joint venture. Each put down $300 million. This is no isolated example. Sabancı has similar partnerships with DuPont, Firestone, Bekaert and Banque National de Paris. Koç, Eczacıbaşı, Doğuş, Anadolu and other leading companies are involved in similar joint ventures. Turkish banks have branches throughout Europe, and they have been buying up European banks in Germany, France and Holland. Iktisat has brought a bank in the United States.

In addition, the Turkish ruling class is currently in a self-confident and ambitious mood. The collapse of the Soviet empire and the emergence of the Turkish republic has given Turkey potentially large economic and political opportunities. While talk by Turkish leaders about a Turkish commonwealth ranging from Cyprus to Kazakhstan is part bravado and part wishful thinking, it does give an indication of their mood.

In short, Turkish membership in the EU would help to bring neither democracy to Turkey nor peace to Kurdistan. That job will continues to rest with the people of the region themselves, even after the membership.

How to cite this article:

Ronnie Margulies "Turkey and the European Union," Middle East Report 199 (Summer 1996).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This