Turkey and the EU: It’s Time to Integrate

By Kiersten Tibbetts, Transatlantic Community Analyst

In July, the United States and the European Union began talks to conclude a far-reaching trade agreement: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). While Turkey is not included in the negotiations, both it and the U.S. created a high-level committee to negotiate a separate trade deal. This would prevent Turkey from losing an estimated 2.5% of its GDP when the TTIP is concluded.


Turkey’s current trade deal with the EU allows third parties (with which the EU has trade agreements) to export to Turkey with customs duties that are determined by agreement, but third parties do not have to extend the same privileges to Turkish goods. Under the TTIP, U.S. products would enter Turkey without any customs duties, but Turkish products entering the U.S. would face tariffs. Considering that last year Turkey invested 2/3 of its capital in the EU and U.S., and 40% of its foreign trade was with them, the new push for a U.S.-Turkey trade agreement is a positive step. At the same time, talks on Turkey’s bid to join the EU have resumed.


Yet it’s far from clear that the latter negotiations will not stall on issues that have derailed them in the past, including public and elite opposition within EU states, and the Cyprus issue. Given recent developments and declining public support for EU membership in Turkey, however, there is an urgent need for both EU and Turkish leaders to take the lead on integrating Turkey more deeply into the EU.  Polls conducted by the German Marshall Fund (GMF) show that Turkish public support for joining the EU continues to fall. The GMF’s Transatlantic Trends 2013 public opinion poll found that 44% of Turkish citizens want EU membership, down from 48% last year and 73% in 2004. The public is also unsure of NATO membership and increased transatlantic trade, and 38% feel the country should act alone in foreign affairs. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, moreover, has grown impatient with the West after stalled EU membership talks, exclusion from the TTIP talks, criticism of his handling of protests during the summer, and inaction on Syria. 


One manifestation of these shifting attitudes is Turkey’s recent decision to negotiate a defense deal with China. Last month Erdogan announced a $3 billion air and missile defense system contract with a Chinese state-run company. This decision came after his announcement in January that Turkey might join China and Russia in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization because of stalled negotiations to join the EU. President Obama warned Erdogan twice not to sign the deal, after which Erdogan said negotiations have stalled. The U.S. is concerned about the company’s ties to Iran and Pakistan, and that the Chinese would be granted access to top secret technology related to NATO missile defenses that should not be shared with non-members. 


As a NATO member with the seventh largest economy in Europe and the 17th largest in the world, along with significant influence in a rapidly changing Middle East, Turkey is a key player that cannot be left to strategic drift. While the EU is best by serious internal challenged and some aspects of Turkish policy require reform, both sides have a deep interest in ensuring that Turkey integrates into the EU and remain firmly anchored to the West.   

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