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  Could Lithuania help Turkey step up EU accession?

Viktor Denisenko
2013 05 01

The visit of the Turkish President Abdullah Gülo to Lithuania at the beginning of April was important not only for the bilateral relations but also with respect to the approaching Lithuania‘s EU presidency. Some time ago Lithuania has expressed its clear position on Turkey‘s membership in the EU. During the visit President Dalia Grybauskaitë reassured Abdullah Gülo that one of the strategic aims of Lithuania‘s presidency is „not only to resume but also to step up the negotiation process between Turkey and the EU“.

Of course, it will not be enough to get the support of Lithuania to make Turkey‘s membership a reality in the near future. In order to understand this it is worth recalling the history of the Turkey-EU relations. 

Turkey has been lingering on the threshold of the EU for many years. The country has been given candidate status in 1999 at the Helsinki Summit. Ankara started active negotiations on membership in 2005 but the country didn‘t manage to reach major progress.

In fact Turkey hasn't taken enough efforts to make negotiations on membership successful, but the EU Member States also cannot reach consensus on this issue: some states don‘t want to see Turkey in the united Europe.

The major problem regarding Turkey‘s integration is the problem of Cyprus. The Greek section of the island (The Republic of Cyprus) joined the EU in 2004, whereas the northern part of the island has been occupied by Turkey since 1974. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was established in the above territory. Turkey has no diplomatic relations with the Greek Cypriot administration and this also aggravates negotiations with the EU.

France and Germany are reluctant to accept Turkey as a full member of the EU. Former President of France Nicholas Sarcozy had openly said that Turkey should never get into the EU. Today the resistance toward Turkey’s membership is declining. A new French Government is inclined to revise the French policy with respect to Turkey but there are no guarantees that this will be the case.

Turkey’s economic situation cannot become an obstacle to join the EU: the country has the world’s 17th largest nominal DGP. In 2012 Turkey’s GDP has increased by 3 percent, whereas the GDP of problematic countries has decreased. The current EU problems could hardly close the door to Turkey as well. Croatia will join the EU on 1 July and this means that the EU, irrespective of problems in Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, is open to the enlargement processes.

But major problems are related to legislation and Turkish values. Although the country considers itself part of Europe and officially declares similar values, protectors of human rights have many questions to Ankara. For instance, pursuant to the information of the international organisation „Committee to Protect Journalists“, by 1 December 2012, Turkey held 49 journalists in prison.  

The problem related to the Kurdish separatists is also unsolved (Turkey has been suffering from this for several decades). By accepting Turkey the EU will have to solve this problem as well.

On the other hand, nobody wants to discourage Turkey from joining the EU. Turkey and the EU have strong trade relations; besides, Turkey has a unique strategic position between the Balkans, the Black Sea and the Middle East. Besides, as a member of NATO, Turkey is an important chain in the entire security system of the Western world.

In conclusion it must be said that the EU didn‘t shut the door on Turkish membership, but there will no hurry in opening the door. It is difficult to say on how strategically well considered could be Lithuania‘s proposal to raise the question on a more active dialogue between the EU and Turkey. Vilnius might successfully play in this field for it seems that the internal EU‘s resistance on Turkey‘s membership is slightly declining. 

If Lithuania manages to step up EU accession talks with Turkey it would be a diplomatic achievement and Vilnius needs such achievements. Lithuania would hardly facilitate Turkey‘s membership in the EU during its Presidency (quite a lot depends on Turkey itself), but positive steps in the above sphere could be evaluated as a very important achievement.

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