The decades long march of Turkey towards the European Union has been turbulent and controversial as the Continent has grapple with the idea of accepting a powerful, Muslim-majority country on the border of the Middle East into their exclusive Western club.
In recent times, Turkey has moved ever closer to full integration with the European Union after the signing of an agreement in 1995 that would allow the tariff-free movement of goods between Turkey and the EU as part of a wider Customs Union.
Furthermore, in 1999, Turkey was made an ‘associate member’ of the European Union. This post is largely symbolic, and this recognizes the closer ties between the Turkish state and the EU whilst also acknowledging that the path to membership is still long and complex.
Today, several issues continue to plague Turkey’s attempts to enter the European Union, the foremost of those being the extensions of EU borders well into the Middle East.
If Turkey were to gain membership, the border of the European Union would then reach as far as Iraq, Iran and Syria. Such a proposition would be unlikely to excite many capitals across Europe after the recent wave of anti-immigration, centre-right governments being elected across the Continent in counties like Finland, Denmark and the United Kingdom.
Turkey’s geographic, cultural and religious ties to the Middle East could be real advantage for the European Union.
Membership of the European Union would give Turkey a greater capacity to assert itself as a regional power and would also place a central ally of the West in the Middle East, which could prove essential in the fight against the spread of ISIS across Iraq and Syria.
Yet another issue that is presenting as a stumbling block for Turkey’s march into the European Union is its controversial stance on LGBT rights. In June, MEP’s banded together to condemn the Turkish government for the brutal crackdown on the Istanbul Gay Pride event and the subsequent ban on such events in the future.
“Istanbul is a city of diversity and has a long tradition of peaceful pride parades… I very much regret the unacceptable police violence yesterday against all the courageous marches”, MEP Kati Piri, who is also the Special Rapporteur on Turkey.
Turkey’s acceptance into the European Union is by no means inevitable and many within Europe will continue to actively oppose such a move, so the future of this complex relationship is likely to remain uncertain.