It's time for the EU to stop membership talks with Turkey

It's time for the EU to stop membership talks with Turkey


Christoph Hasselbach

Turkey wants to become an EU member in just a few years, but the gap between the two sides is growing ever larger. DW's Christoph Hasselbach thinks it's time to be realistic and end this disgraceful charade.

You could laugh about it if it wasn't so serious: Turkey's EU Ambassador Selim Yenel told Germany's "Die Welt" newspaper that he wanted his country to be a full European Union member by 2023 – the Turkish Republic's centennial year. Which Turkey will it be?

The country's founder, Kemal Ataturk, established a secular state in 1923. The current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is willing to put religion ahead of everything else. The current Turkey is undergoing a political purge – the media is being suppressed, and according to Germany's interior minister, the country is making common cause with Islamists and terrorists. This country wants to have a regular seat at the table in Brussels?

Schröder, Blair and Chirac were in favor of membership

Such a concept sounds strange today, but that was not always the case. The leaders of the three most important EU nations – Germany's Gerhard Schröder, Britain's Tony Blair and France's Jacques Chirac (a conservative!) – were promoting accession around the turn of the millennium.

In 2005, the then 25-member bloc gave the green light for accession talks. It was clear back then: "The goal of the talks is membership."

But it also stated in the text that the EU should only vote in favor of accession if the candidate was viable economically and politically.

That is less the case today. And one of the most important arguments against membership has not changed. A country of nearly 75 million people that could, in a few years, overtake Germany as the most populous nation in the EU would have visa-free work and travel for its citizens throughout the bloc. Taking this point against the backdrop of the current migration debate in Europe, it is clear how absurd it is to give Turkey full EU membership. Any European government that backed today what Schröder, Blair or Chirac called for ten years ago would be finished politically.

That means Turkey does not come close to fulfilling the membership requirements, Europe does not want Turkey, and Erdogan himself has made it clear he does not find membership that important.

Europe feels obligated

Nonetheless, the negotiations continue and according to the recent refugee deal, they will be expedited.

What kind of farce is this? The answer is simple: Turkey can apply immense pressure on the EU. Europe feels guilty because they proposed Turkey's accession in a much different time, under much different circumstances, and because of the current refugee agreement with Ankara, they feel obliged to act.

But that is simply not a reason. The EU should not just suspend accession talks; they should halt them entirely. Full membership would never come into question even if Turkey unexpectedly met all conditions. A close relationship, yes, by all means offer it; it is not about all or nothing. But the resulting demands of Turkey's full membership would fracture the EU immediately. Even the mere prospect of a full membership only fuels political extremism in the EU countries. Therefore, it is time to clear the table and end this disgraceful charade once and for all.

This article first appeared on DW.com on August 20, 2016 and was reposted with permission.