Union for the Mediterranean must not be an alternative to Turkish membership

Çiğdem Üstün
Turkey started its accession negotiations in 2005 and since then Turkey has been more interested in its accession process than the enlargement debate regarding other countries, i.e., Iceland and Croatia. It has been perceived that Turkey’s accession to the EU is not considered part of any previous enlargement rounds (i.e., 2004, 2007) or any future enlargements either. In this framework, Iceland’s membership to the EU was not widely discussed in Turkey. Iceland’s membership has been seen as a consequence of the economic crisis affecting the whole world and Europe as part of it. It has been argued that Iceland’s integration to the EU would have a minimum effect on the EU’s governance structures due to its small size. The main problems seen in the accession negotiations are related to agricultural and fisheries policies due to the common market and regulations on fishing, i.e., whales.[1]
Turkey has been supportive of the EU’s enlargement to the Balkans, and, therefore, Croatia’s membership to the EU has been perceived as a positive step towards unifying Europe. However, Croatia’s faster accession negotiations have been disappointing for Turkey. As Croatia and Turkey started the accession negotiations at the same time, there had been hesitation and negotiations came to a halt frequently in Turkey’s case. It has been argued that the main reasons for slowing down Turkey’s accession negotiations and speeding up Croatia’s are: population, relatively easy integration of Croatia in the EU, cultural and religious values, and identity.[2]
European Neighbourhood Policy
Turkey has been attentive to European Union’s policies towards the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions. When the Mediterranean Union debates started after Nicolas Sarkozy suggested a separate union for the Mediterranean countries, Turkey perceived this as an alternative to its EU membership and opposed this idea. The Turkish government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, civil society organisations and the public in general criticised the Mediterranean Union. Sarkozy’s opposition to Turkish membership in the EU and Sarkozy’s statements, such as “Turkey would instead form the backbone of the new Mediterranean Union”, created discomfort and disappointment in Turkey. Turkish President Abdullah Gül stated, “Turkey is a country that has started [accession] negotiations with the European Union. The negotiations started on the basis of a [European Union] decision which was taken unanimously, including France.”[3] However, after France gave assurance that the Mediterranean Union is not an alternative for Turkey and would not hamper Turkey’s accession negotiations, Turkey, as a Mediterranean country which does not want to be excluded from the regional cooperation mechanisms, decided to join the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). In the statement given by the Prime Ministry of Turkey it is clearly stated that the UfM is a continuation of the Barcelona Process and that “Turkey decided to participate in the Barcelona Process and the Union for the Mediterranean project, which has been established by the EU for rendering the Barcelona Process stronger and more effective.”[4] Although Turkey has accepted to participate in the UfM, the criticism over this mechanism continues. The assurances given by Sarkozy and the French government are not perceived as totally convincing;[5] however, as a Mediterranean country, Turkey feels it necessary to participate in international mechanisms such as the UfM.
Regarding the Black Sea region, Turkey welcomed the EU’s efforts to establish more cooperative relations with the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) as part of the Black Sea Synergy which was initiated in 2008. It has been argued that stronger cooperation between the EU and the BSEC could bring stable relations between EU and non-EU Black sea countries, including Russia and the Caucasus. However, the EU’s ensuing steps establishing the Eastern Partnership (EaP) have been criticised by Turkey because the partnership initially excluded Turkey and Russia. It has been the general perception that any policy which excludes these two countries is doomed to be unsuccessful. After negotiations between Turkey and the EU, the EU decided to include Turkey as well as Russia in some projects. However, this attempt by the EU was not enough to change the Turkish attitude towards the EaP. Turkey still supports the Black Sea Synergy and closer relations between the EU and BSEC in the region. It has been argued that it is important to keep the relations between the EU and Black Sea regions at an institutional level, which would not disturb any of the countries’ interests in the region, including Russia. Turkey’s policies towards the region aimed to keep the status quo which prevents the EU from creating a sphere of influence around its borders which may clash with the interests of Russia and create disturbances in the region as a whole.

[1] AB Haber EU-Turkey News Network: İzlanda AB Yolunda, available at: (last access: 31 May 2010).

[2] S. İdiz: Hırvatistan AB’de niçin Türkiye’nin önüne geçti?, Milliyet, available at: (last access: 31 May 2010).

[3] Renata Goldirova: Turkey Slams Sarko’s “Mediterranean Union”, businessweek.com, 18 May 2007, available at: (last access: 31 May 2010).

[4] Turkey assured, ready to join Mediterranean Union, 12 July 2008, available at: (last access: 31 May 2010).

[5] Mensur Akgün: Akdeniz Birliği’ne katılmasak ne olur?, Referans Daily, available at: (last access 31 May 2010).