Turkey’s accession to the EU: A response to Prof. Alex Warleigh-Lack

In Episode 8 of the Politics Pod, Prof. Alex Warleigh-Lack is interviewed on the issue of Turkey’s accession to the EU. This interview is available to watch now on YouTube. Inspired by his expert analysis and in the School’s spirit of open discussion and the complementarity of ideas in a research community, it prompted our PhD student Anne Bostanci to respond and this response forms this piece for the School of Politics’ blog.

“Having taught on the ‘Idea of Europe’ module for two years and with a partly Turkish family background (although I have never lived there and don’t identify strongly as Turkish), I have watched this youtube video with interest and liked it very much: a very good summary of the most important points in the debate and some very good evaluation!

I did find, however, that two points were missing; one minor one, one more important one.

Firstly, it is true that countries like Germany (where I was born and grew up) worry about migration flows should Turkey join the EU. However, I think that point cannot just be stated and accepted. Firstly, migration flows from new member states have been regulated in the past, too, so that they would not pose an obstacle to accession (not that I think that this should be done, I am merely pointing out that it is a known practice). Secondly, however, it is such a crude argument to make, because it completely ignores the fact that once Turkey is in the EU many so-called Turks in the current member states, e.g. German-Turks, will go ‘back’ to Turkey. This is partly due to a sense of ‘patriotism’ that means they will want to work for ‘their’ country to do well in the EU. But more important is another reason, which already makes many of them take this path now: the fact that they are discriminated against in the German job market, even when well-educated, and that they find it easier to forge a career in Turkey (although they also often face prejudice there). Both motivations will be put into practice much more easily when these people no longer face huge bureaucratic hurdles to moving around and will have less fear of loss of opportunity if they leave the countries they currently live in. I believe that when this issue is discussed, it is only fair to mention both of the migration flows that can be expected.

Secondly, and more importantly for the EU and this debate, I think it important to mention the fact that both the people and the political class in Turkey are increasingly disenchanted with the EU after decades of wanting to join and being confronted with blatant stereotyping and prejudice (and double standards – seeing that countries such as Bulgaria and Romania were spared all this public humiliation). I agree that Turkey still has lots to do before it can join. And also that the political, cultural, etc. issues could be resolved at some point, thus making it possible for Turkey to join – even though I have yet to hear a constructive suggestion as to how to deal with the two main ones, namely Turkey’s size and the resulting impact it will have on EU decision-making and the widespread Islamophobia (often crudely politically instrumentalised and condoned by current member states’ politicians – completely ignoring that Turkey has been a secular state for almost 90 years, that there is a distinction between political and cultural Islam, that even political Islam does not necessarily have to be problematic, etc.). But I am worried, and know that some of the more far-sighted politicians at the EU and in the member states are, too, that Turkey might turn away from the EU if made to wait too long. I believe that this is a point that needs to be kept in the debate and taken seriously, for, as Alex says, Turkey could bring a lot to the EU and overlooking this point might make it lose out.”

You can read Prof. Warleigh-Lack’s response to Anne Bostanci’s comments here.