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It_has been around 50 years since Turkey has begun its EU membership story (Paul, 2012, p.25). As it is well known, this situation has made this membership process arguable for both Turkey and EU. There are many contentious topics that play role on the process of membership, such as geography, politic, economy, history, culture, and religion. It seems these topics are also barriers of the membership of Turkey, and it is going to continue to be barriers for a long time. Additionally, there are progress reports that ask for more improvements from Turkey in this context.[1] Also, domestic, and international crisis around Turkey has made EU members pessimistic about the membership of Turkey. These topics are closely related to these incidents as well.

In this study, it is going to be focused how contentious topics like geography, politic, economy, history, culture, and religion effects Turkish EU membership process. Each topic will be analyzed under separated chapters, and it will be shown that these topics are barriers for the membership of Turkey.

Barriers of the Membership of Turkey

1-  Geographical Barriers 

At the beginning of the chapter, it would be better to mention about the importance of geography. Geography is one of the basic factor that determines countries’ identity in international area (Knight, 1982, p.514). South-North debate can be an example for this. While northern countries are generally more developed, democratic countries, southern countries are relatively developed or developing countries, and they are countries that has to improve its democracies. This can be debated in East-West context as well. It can be said that North West countries are more developed and prosperous comparing to South East countries (Chichilnisky, 1982, pp.2-3).

Europe is geographically very important area for Turkey, but it is a fact that the main part of Turkey overlaps Asia. In fact, the term “Eurasia” has a role to explain where Turkey belongs to. In other words, “Eurasia” is used to explain where those countries that belongs to both Europe, and Asia. Russia, and Turkey can be very good example for that (Flanagan, 2013, pp.163-164). Moreover, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, which have close political, and economical relations, can be considered in this context. For instance, their membership to UEFA can be considered as an example as well. Therefore, it can be said that the membership of Turkey would have a geopolitical effect that is starting from Cape Verde to Astana.

Additionally, as it is known, Morocco’s membership application to European Economic Community in 1987 was refused because it was not accepted as a European country (Good to know about EU enlargement, 2009, p.10). Thus, the membership criteria is regulated for only European countries. Therefore, it should be said again that the membership of Turkey would have geopolitical effect.

Turkey can be considered as a Middle East country as well. It has common borders with important Middle Eastern countries like Syria, and Iraq. It is probable that EU wants to prevent its borders from the area, which consist of both undeveloped, and anti-democratic countries (Del Sarto, 2009, pp. 2-3). Civil wars in Iraq, and Syria, terrorist groups like ISIS, or the instability of the area may give EU a very good reason to prevent its borders.

As it is emphasized above, the membership of Turkey means that EU will have neighboring countries like Iraq, and Syria, which does not have a good impression these days. The walls that Hungary, Bulgaria, and Greece put up against illegal migrants to the Eastern borders reveals this fact as well.[2] Refugees, or asylum seekers who flow from Africa, and Middle East to Europe through Italy, Greece, and Bulgaria makes EU members anxious. Thus, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Lisbon agreements, and Hague, Stockholm Programme are regulated against these problems (Özerim, 2014). Therefore, it must be thought by EU if the membership of Turkey increase illegal migrant problem, or not. It seems Turkey that has around 2.000.000 Syrians do not look much attractive as EU member (Suriye’li Sığınmacıların Türkiye’ye etkileri, 2015).

2- Political Barriers

Democracy is a problematic issue for Turkey as well. Military coups, human right abuses in Turkey can be considered as some examples. EU’s 2014 Turkey report points out these undemocratic incidents in Turkey as well.[3] Although, military coups seems to be over, new regulations like internal security law do have many undemocratic points. Moreover, the traditional struggle between secular, and Islamist people in Turkey is not a desirable fact. The Gezi movement in 2013 against conservative government-AKP[4]– may be considered in this context.

Reforms that is done right after AKP came to power in 2002 were appreciated by EU, and thus negotiations between EU, and Turkey have started in 2005. However, AKP did not proceed this process well (Paul, 2012). Human right abuses like prisoner journalists, torture in jails, unfair judgements, fails in women’s rights are revealed in the reports of Amnesty International.[5] Therefore, it seems Turkey has much far way to fulfill EU criteria.

Starting from 1999 when Turkey gained the EU candidate status, EU follows the attitudes of Turkey toward Kurdish issue as well (Kurban, 214, p.20). There has been similar problems in EU like in Spain, France, and Great Britain. In this context, Turkey that cannot solve its Kurdish issue may not look like desirable for EU.

One of the most problematic issue between Turkey, and EU is Cyprus (Sandıklı and Akçadağ, 2011). While it was a problem of Greece, and Cyprus, it became EU’s problem as well after Cyprus gained EU member status in 2004. It is very predictable that Cyprus, and Greece will not be positive for the membership of Turkey, while a consensus among EU members is needed for the membership of Turkey.

One of the political reasons is about the population of Turkey. This is a very crucial point because Turkey is a very huge country with its 77.000.000 people. It is predicted that this number will reach 94.000.000 in 2050.[6] This fact cannot escape from the attention of some countries like Germany, and France. As it can be easily predicted, the membership of Turkey will significantly affect the seat numbers of the EU countries in EU parliament because seats are given according to population number in EU parliament. Therefore, Germany, and France will be affected too much from the membership of Turkey. It does not seem like these countries will be much optimistic about this.

Lastly, Turkey may wait a conjuncture that is like its memberships before NATO. As it is known, the application of Turkey was declined couple of times, but the Korean War was a positive development for the membership of Turkey. Therefore, a right conjuncture may be helpful to Turkey.

3- Economic Barriers

Turkey does not look like positive in economy as well. Although some developments in economy recently, it still looks like an undeveloped economy. Economic growth is not stable, and it is still based on external financing (Yüceol, 2014). While, the income per capita is around 10.000 dollars in Turkey, this number is under many EU members.[7] Since there are already some economic problems within EU-like in Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Greece-, economical problems in Turkey are not desirable for EU. At this point this question can be asked by EU: What can Turkey provide us with its undeveloped economy?

Poverty, and unemployment are also huge problems both in Turkey, and EU. It is obvious that the membership of Turkey will not have a positive effect in EU in this manner. Many people from Turkey may migrate to Western Europe with a hope to find job. This situation may make EU members that already struggle with financial problems, reluctant, and pessimistic about the membership of Turkey.

Additionally, Turkey has to complete Copenhagen criteria first. It is asked that Turkey has to have a functioning market economy that can cope with competition and market forces in the EU.[8] There are many other criteria that Turkey has to succeed. For instance, according to Maastricht criteria, Turkey-at most- has to have 1,5 point higher inflation rate than those 3 EU members, which have the lowest inflation rate among EU members.

According to OECD, the economical rates of Turkey are declining.[9] In the lights of this knowledge, Turkey need much more improvements in economy, and it does not seems like it is going to happen in short term.

Lastly, it may be argued that energy may play a positive for Turkey. It is known that EU considers Turkey as a very important transit country for energy transfer. It is important for EU that the oil, and natural gas that comes thought Caucasus, and Middle East have to be secured (Efe, 2011). However, there is a good example- that is Ukraine. Although, Ukraine is a very important transit country, this situation does not play an important role for the membership for Ukraine.

4- Historical, and Cultural Barriers

Until this chapter, geographical, political, and economic reasons are analyzed. Some other reasons that are also related with these reasons will be analyzed under this chapter.

Turkey is a state that is established on Ottoman Empire’s heritage. Its political, and military battles against West for a long time are argued as a barrier that prevents the Europeanisation of Turkey. In this context, Ottoman Empire missed the renaissance, and enlightenment eras, and tried to create its own model against Europe. Therefore, this heritage metaphor that effects the future of Turkey. For instance, Turkey does not accept any Muslim minority-such as Kurds- in Turkey; however, Greeks, Jews, and Armenians are accepted as minority-some minority rights are given but they are like second class citizens because of some unofficial restriction. This law is rooted in traditional Ottoman millet system (Kurtaran, 2011).

Ottoman history also effect also Turkey’s relationships with some post-Ottoman countries. These countries are reluctant about the membership of Turkey (Hatipoğlu, Müftüler-Baç, and Karakoç, 2014, p.9). In other words, these countries like Greece that gained their independence from a long struggles created reluctant relationships.

Religion should be analyzed as well. Turkey is a country with its 99% Muslim population-including Alevism. However, there is no Muslim dominant country in EU yet (Brzezinski, 2003, p.7). Therefore, it is asked if there is a religious, or sociological reason behind Turkey’s EU membership process. Religion is also a cultural fact as well (Bonney, 2004, p.25). Therefore, it is seen that Turks in EU have some problems, or EU has some problems because of some cultural facts. For instance, Turks in Germany-with its 3.000.000 population- are still a problem in Germany. Although, it has been more than 50 years since Turkish migration to Germany started by the labor agreement between Turkey, and Germany, the integration of Turks are still a problem. Even it is seen that there is very high religious, and nationalist tendencies among third generation German Turks. Although, Germany tries to integrate Turks to Germany, Turks in Germany have still the lowest education level, and highest unemployment rates. Turkish woman in Germany lives very isolated life. A Muslim community that is very distinct from German society still could not integrated to Germany, and still lives in ghettos (Perşembe, 2005). If German Turk example is considered by EU, they can see that there might be cultural, and integration problems between Turks, and Europeans when Turkey joined EU.

Additionally, in the case of the membership of Turkey, there may be vast migration to Germany from Turkey again (Taras, 2012, p. 184) because migration will be much easier because of EU membership, and the connection-or kind redness- between those Turks in Germany, and Turkey.

Increasing Islamophobia in Europe is another fact for Turks as well. Increasing radical Islamist movements in Africa, and Middle East are catalyst for that. The last Charlie Hebdo incident is also a last example that prepares a pessimistic view against Muslims.

Lastly, EU is interested in Armenian issue as well, although Armenia is not an EU member. As it is known, right after EU parliament recognized Armenian genocide, the relationships between Turkey, and EU are deeply affected because of that. Recognition of the Armenian genocide may ease the membership, but it does not seems like possible now (Boekestijn, 2005)


While the membership of Turkey has become a complex puzzle for a half century, the barriers that prevent this membership could not be solved yet. Turkey, which is geographically and regionally separated from Europe tries to make this membership happen. A very important factor that prevent this membership process is that the main part of Turkey is in Asia, and it has a very long common border with Middle Eastern countries like Iraq and Syria. This reason is followed by political, economic, cultural, and historical reasons. In the light of these information, there is a reality that shows Turkey is going to be EU candidate country for a long time.

2004 has a crucial point for Turkey because Cyprus became an EU state, thus the membership of Turkey is imperiled. Both Greece, and Cyprus has to vote in favor of Turkey for Turkey to make it a member of EU. However, it seems their position against Turkey unlikely change.

Turkey is economically not desirable as well. Current economic data reveals that Turkey has lower rates than many EU members. It seems the economy of Turkey cannot play an important role in the process of membership.

The reasons that are mentioned makes the membership of Turkey much possible in short term. However, if Turkey complete the EU criteria, and continue negotiations with Cyprus, this conjuncture may change in long term with some important compromises.

Lastly, Turkey has many barriers in the process of EU membership. The population of Turkey, current economic problems show that Turkey is not ready yet for the membership of EU.



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[1] Progress reports of the 2014, and 2013 can be found on the following links:

[2] Some of the news about walls can be found on the following links:

[3] This report can be found here as well:

[4] AKP is a political party that is in power since 2002.

[5] This report can be found here:

[6] The numbers are taken from the official statistics institution of Turkey. It can be found here as well:



[9] OECD report can be found here:

BOEKESTİJN, A. (2005). Turkey, the World, and the Armenian Question. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from


BONNEY, R. (2004). Reflections on the Differences Between Religion and Culture. Clinical Cornerstone, 6(1), 25-33.

BRZEZINSKI, Z. (2003). Hegemonic Quicksand. The National Interest, 5-16.

CHİCHİLNİSKY, G. (1982). Basic needs and the North/South debate. New York: World Order Models Project.

DEL SARTO, R. (2009). Borderlands:   The Middle East and North Africa as the EU’s Southern Buffer Zone. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from sarto_03H.pdf

EFE, H. (2011). Turkey’s Role as an Energy Corridor and its Impact on Stability in the South Caucasus. OAKA, 118-147.

FLANAGAN, S. (2013). The Turkey–Russia–Iran Nexus: Eurasian Power Dynamics. The Washington Quarterly, 36(1), 163-178.

Good to know about EU Enlargement. (2009). Retrieved August 16, 2015, from

HATIPOGLU,, E., Müftüler-Baç, M., & Karakoç, E. (2014). Explaining Variation in Public Support to Turkey’s EU Accession, Turco-skepticism in Europe: A Multi-Level Analysis. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from

KNIGHT, D. (1982). Identity and Territory: Geographical Perspectives on Nationalism and Regionalism. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 72(4), 514-531.

KURBAN, D. (2014). Europe as an Agent of Change: The Role of the European Court of Human Rights and the EU in Turkey’s Kurdish Policies. Retrieved August 17, 2015, from

KURTARAN, U. (2011). The System of Nation in Ottoman Empire. Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi, 8, 57-71.

ÖZERİM, G. (2014). Avrupa’da Göç Politikalarının Ulusüstüleşmesi ve Bir Güvenlik Konusuna Dönüşümü: Avrupa Göç Tarihinde Yeni Bir Dönem Mi? Ege Stratejik Araştırmalar Dergisi, 5(1), 11-48.

PAUL, A. (2012). Turkey’s EU Journey: What Next? Insight Turkey, 14(3), 25-33.

PERŞEMBE, E. (2005). Almanya’da Türk kimliği: Din ve entegrasyon. Ankara: Araştırma Yayınları.

SANDIKLI, A., & Akçadağ, E. (2011). EU-Turkey Relations in the Context of the Cyprus Problem. Bilge Strateji, 2(4), 1-17.

Suriye’li Sığınmacıların Türkiye’ye etkileri. (2015). Retrieved August 17, 2015, from

TARAS, R. (2012). Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

YÜCEOL, H. (2014). Türkiye Ekonomisi Üzerine Genel Bir Değerlendirme 2014 Yılı ve Sonrası. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from

Şahin Keskin Hakkında

Şahin KESKİN: (Niğde) Niğde doğumludur. Atatürk Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü (2013) mezunudur. Yüksek lisans eğitimini, Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi Avrupa Birliği Anabilim Dalı’nda Avrupa Birliği programında "Ukrayna'daki Kriz ve AB-Rusya İlişkileri" başlıklı tez ile tamamladı (2015). Aktif katılım göstermiş olduğu birçok kongre, konferans ve sempozyumda tebliğler sunmuş; çeşitli akademik ve yerel gazetelerde yazıları yayınlanmıştır. İlgi alanları arasında; başta Avrupa Birliği olmak üzere, Ukrayna ve Rus Dış Politikası bulunmaktadır.


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