Memorandum from Philip Poole
1. I have lived in Turkey for the last twelve
years working as a teacher of English as a foreign language. For
the last ten years I have worked at Bilkent University in Ankara,
My views are entirely my own and in no way represent Bilkent University.
My submission is largely observation and interpretation
and I realise that it may be very subjective however I offer it
as the reflections of someone who has lived here for some time
and represents no particular interest although I feel positive
about my life and work in Turkey.
My submission concerns the prospects for Turkey's
admission to the European Union and is divided into four parts:
Turkey's current suitability for membership, things likely to
impede progress, positive factors and finally conclusions
2. Turkey's suitability for membership of
the European Union (there is no specific data to support these
ideas but much is readily available)
Turkey is in a geographical position
that is very important for many reasons.
Turkey is almost certainly the most
secular and democratic of those nations that have an overwhelmingly
The Turkish people have a high regard
for Europe and the majority are enthusiastic about joining.
Turkey is a staunch member of NATO
and ally of the West.
Turkey has many historical and cultural
links with Europe.
Turkey is potentially a huge market.
Turkey has a much younger and faster
growing population than most of the rest of Europe.
The Turkish authorities are making
efforts to align standards in Turkey with those of the EU and
independently of that values are changing in the same direction
especially amongst the better educated.
Turkey is a relatively poor country
at the moment going through an economic crisis. The gap between
the more and the less developed parts of the country is growing
as is that in the distribution of wealth between the rich and
the poor. Standards of education vary greatly. A large percentage
of the population is still illiterate or educated to a low level
(relative to the norm in the EU)
There is only a partial democracy
in Turkey. This is partly because of the system which allows the
dominance of party leaders, partly because some of the rural parts
of the country are not much more than semi-feudal and partly because
ideas are less important than personalities.
There is very low public confidence
in politicians and the political system.
There is not always equality before
the law. The rich and influential are likely to be treated differently
by the courts, and probably police, from the poor and uneducated.
The military has a much more prominent
role in Turkish public life than it does in most member countries
of the EU.
The standard of human rights is often
low, eg the treatment of people in police custody or prison.
There is a vast inequality between
the sexes, especially in less developed areas. A very high proportion
of husbands use or have used violence against their wives.
The question of the status of Turkish
citizens of Kurdish origin (notably whether they should be recognised
as a minority) and the Kurdish language is likely to controversial.
Freedom of expression is limited,
at least in some areas. A large number of journalists are put
on trial and many have been put in prison.
Corruption is quite widespread.
Relations between Turkey and some
of its neighbours could create problems for the EU. A good example
is Greece and the issue of Cyprus.
3. Things which are likely to impede progress
The Turkish sense of identity and
belonging is very strong. The family is by far the most important
but loyalty to groups of various kinds is very important (football
fans have been known to commit suicideand murderfor
the sake of their teams). It is fairly easy to appeal to a rather
mindless sense of nationalism and/or religious allegiance.
Turkey has (relatively speaking)
a dependency culture. People expect some-one else to solve their
problems. In return unquestioning and often undeserved loyalty
is given to leaders.
Turkish people tend to be both fatalistic
and at times unreasonably optimistic. There is a tendency not
to think about the consequences of actions.
Generally, neither individuals nor
society is capable of being self-critical. Criticism is seen as
an act of unfriendliness.
Turkish society does not allow for
diversity within itself. In fact this is only half-true. As long
as things are not public many things are tolerated but, publicly,
just as criticism is unwelcome so is being different.
Turkish society is conservative
in all or most areas of life, they are not good at change or at
integrating with others.
4. Positive factors
Although the military has a major
role in public life and there have been several military coups
in the past, neither the military nor particular leaders within
it seem intent on hanging on to power. Given their relatively
powerful position the Turkish military seem as public spirited
as any in the world.
The military and the president are
the most popular institutions in the country. They are valued
for being more honest than the professional politicians. Perhaps
ironically, neither are elected by the public.
The economic crisis is being met
with determination, the banking system is being reformed and in
the longer run the economy has a good chance of getting stronger.
Turkish society has shown both stability
and resilience in the face of the present economic crisis.
Although most people are rather cynical
about the government an unlikely three party coalition has managed
to stay in office for over two years and could stay there for
some time to come. I think that it is a sign of developing political
It is in the interests of both Turkey
and the EU that there is some kind of special place for Turkey
and in many ways Turkey deserves it.
Full Turkish membership of the EU
has the potential for great success. If this were to happen it
would presumably have positive benefits for the relationship between
the West and the rest of the Muslim world.
There is also the potential for Turkey
to be the poorest (and therefore most expensive) as well as the
most difficult member of the EU.
Joining the EU before it is ready
could actually create problems for Turkey as well as the EU.
The most important thing is to judge
which direction Turkey is going in and how fast. This isn't always
clear and shouldn't be judged on a single issue (the Ottoman marching
band used to take three steps forward and one back but got there
in the end).
If, and when, Turkey manages to meet
the Copenhagen criteria (in deed as well as in word) it should
be admitted as a member but not before.
It is important that this message
is repeated consistently but in a positive manner.