European Student Think Tank

Author: Serkan Bulut (Blogger European Student Think Tank)

“Turkey is not in Europe”. If you have ever found yourself in a discussion on the future of the EU enlargement and the Turkish case, I bet you have heard this over and over again. I did hear this a lot from the Turko-skeptics and every time I ask them the simplest yet most complicated question: which Europe are we talking about?

Myth 4: Turkey is not in Europe.

Is Turkey in Europe? If you ask Turko-skeptics, it definitely is not. The popular rhetoric is that only 3% of the Turkish land mass is in Europe and that does not qualify it as a “European” country. It is true that the percentage of Turkish territory on “European continent” is relatively small. However, if a country’s right to EU- membership would be based on territorial grounds than there would be even less justification for the membership of Cyprus, which has no land connection to “the continent”. However the problem with this argument – Turkey not being in Europe- is not about the percentages. The problem is limiting “Europe” to geography whereas ignoring political, economic, cultural, social, educational Europe and the Europe of values. In the following parts let us look at the reasons why a geographical approach to Europe is especially popular when it comes to countering the Turkish bid to the EU and then move on to the discussion whether Turkey is in Europe, or in what kind of Europe.

European Geography

The geographical frontiers of Europe have always been indeterminate and arbitrary. One historical geographer actually notes that the very term, the “Continent of Europe” is a misnomer, because according to the most recent, that is nineteenth century, recognized definition of ‘continent’, it should be a mass of land surrounded by seas: ‘The notion of a “continent” was formed in that Mediterranean civilization (The ancient Greeks and the Romans etc..) but does not fit its own self-description as the ‘‘continent of Europe’’.[1]

For the European political project which we now call the EU, geography is not irrelevant but as we have witnessed throughout its 60 years of history, it is not strict either. Starting with a limited number of core states, the project has expanded to include almost the entire “Continent” and even an island state with which it does not share any land connection at all. This is a clear indication that geography is a part of our understanding of Europe yet it does not have as clear and well defined criteria as in the case of the political, financial and normative aspects of the EU. Does this answer whether Turkey is in Europe or not? Not entirely, but when one asks if Turkey is in Europe the answer should include geography but should not be limited to it. Otherwise it will clearly underestimate the vision and true meaning of Europe and the Union.

Popularity of geography

Why is the geography argument popular? The answer is simple: this is the least favorable criteria for Turkey. Furthermore, unless they decide to “invade” (!) new territories in “Europe”, the Turks cannot solve this territorial problem. Naturally, even the Turks understand that this would not be a very bright idea.

It is true that Turkey does not lie at the heart of “European “geography” but it is equally true that when Cyprus, Estonia or Moldova received the ticket to the EU, the geography argument was not of great importance. There are various aspects of Europe and the new or potential members are expected to uphold certain criteria to be able to become a part of this community.

On the other hand, as Europe is an entity larger than the territorial understanding it entails, the involvement of Turkey in various complementary aspects of Europe are different. In other words, Turkey is a part of economic Europe, social Europe, educational Europe and it is trying to become a part of political Europe and Europe of values.

Many Europes

Without going into detail, I would say that it is a well established fact that Turkey is already an integral part of Economic Europe. Customs agreement, high volume of tourism industry and constantly increasing levels of trade has already made Turkey a part of Europe. Moreover, it could even be argued that Turkey is even ‘more part’ of Economic Europe than several members of the Union.

Every year thousands of European students come to Turkey and an even higher number of Turkish students go to various EU countries. Exchange programs, different EU-funded education projects that take place at various education levels, visiting and permanent scholars on each side, all strengthen the ties created via education and proof the fact that Turkey is already very much part of educational Europe.

When it comes to values, the reformation process which achieved significant progress during early 2000s, yet faltered in the last couple years due to issues and problems on both sides, provides the key for Turkey to improve its place in Europe of values. Turkey wants to be an inseparable part of the European values system and it has taken initial steps toward it even though significant issues are awaiting attention (Armenia, Cyprus, Kurds and other minorities). However, European ambivalence about the Turkish membership and the anti-Turkish rhetoric of the leading EU members cause fluctuation in Turkish governments’ efforts. It is diminishing the very much needed political morale to continue reforming the problematic areas.

Finally, Turkey is not entirely in political Europe but that is the point of aspiring to be an EU member anyway. Until a country is a member of the Union, its involvement in political Europe will be limited. The Turkish government is participating in various bodies of the European political system, the final step being full membership.

All in all, Europe is much bigger than the geography argument entails and Turkey is a part of different faces of Europe at different degrees. The geographical argument against Turkey is popular as it is more visible and more fixed yet it is also an area where in Europe has been relatively flexible in the past. What Turkey needs to do is to maintain and strengthen its position in economic, social, educational and especially normative Europe to pave the way to its integration in political Europe.

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[1] J.G.A. Pocock, ‘Some Europes in their History’, in Pagden (ed.), The Idea of Europe, p.57.

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