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ISSUE 57 page 5

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Turkish economy booms but reforms still needed to overcome EU snub

In our occasional series profiling our European neighbours we venture outside the EU and almost beyond the continent to draw a portrait of Turkey. The country applied for membership with high hopes in 2005 but various factors have brought the process almost to a halt. Nonetheless its economy has forged ahead as the present EU has stagnated; restrictions on press and trade union freedom remain an obstacle however.

 AT THE HEIGHT OF THE ENLARGEMENT OF THE EUROPEAN UNION in 2005, when ten mainly eastern nations had joined and another two, Bulgaria and Romania, were about to, it seemed logical that Turkey would be in the next wave. Despite its large and growing population, soon to overtake the now most populous Member State, Germany, its Muslim religion and relative poverty, the combination of democracy and Islam and its geographical position as a bridge to the Middle East made it seem a worthwhile new member for the then outward loooking EU. Gradually however circumstances turned against it. French reservations hardened after voters rejected the proposed Euro-constitution while Germany proposed a ‘privileged partnership’ instead of full membership amid fears of an influx of Turkish workers. The final nail in the coffin was the failure of the peace talks in newly-admitted Cyprus when Greek Cypriots voted down the United Nations plan. The subsequent isolation of the Turkish population on the island has led to a permanent veto from the  Greek side as Turkey has refused to open its ports to Cypriot ships. As a result only 13 of the 35 ‘chapters’ or subjects that Turkey needs to agree with the EU to adopt European law have even been opened.
Beyond the enclosed world of the negotiations however the Turkish crescent has been in the ascendant. While nearly all EU Member States suffered a deep economic slump followed in some cases by near-bankruptcy as a result of the financial crash, Turkey recorded growth rates of up to 11%. It is now the 15th largest economy in the World, the biggest producer of many agricultural products, a leading exporter of televisions, digital devices and ’white goods’ as well as $14 billion dollars’ worth of clothing every year, has the fourth busiest shipyards in the World and the second biggest construction industry.

Gül, A.

about 50% of its trade is with the Community but also because adoption of EU standards and values is seen as good for Turkey whether it joins or not. This desire addresses the more fundamental question about membership of the Western club, does Turkey abide by the democratic norms enshrined in the EU treaties? Although the rôle of the army appears to have reduced to more usual levels over recent years, two areas of civil society still give cause for concern: journalism and trade unions. To the unions barriers to membership such as the need to certify five copies of an application with a public notary, the exclusion of many civil servants and the outlawing of strikes in numerous industries are continuing frustrations. An even greater problem is the fact that the Turkish informal economy is bigger than the formal and only registered workers may be recruited. Despite these handicaps victories have been won, both on the ground at multi-national companies such as UPS (see our last issue) and at the European Court of Human Rights which outlawed a prohibition on ‘public servants’ from joining a national action day (see issue 47). There have been several cases of harassment and even assassination of journalists (see issue 52). Statute 301 which originally made it an offence to ‘insult Turkishness’ and caught world-famous novelist Orhan Pamuk in its web, was revised in 2008 but there have been more recent trials under anti-terrorist legislation.
Until Turkey abides by EU standards in freedom of expression and association there will remain obstacles to its accession to the EU even if ‘local difficulties’ involving Cyprus, France and Germany are surmounted. However its economic success in depressed times will ensure that individual Member States and businesses beat a path to its door.

President Abdullah Gül and Aghia Sophia in  Istanbul

In the service sector Turkish banks are well-regulated and have invested heavily in Eastern Europe and the Middle East while tourism attracts over 30 million visitors annually. With this economic strength in mind it might be asked whether Turkey any longer needs the EU but it is still a ‘strategic objective’ of the country, not only because

 

 




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