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At Europe’s Gate: Turkey Seeks Closer Ties To Western Allies

August 8, 1987

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ On its long march out of the economic wilderness toward the Western camp of industrial democracies, Turkey has spotted a shortcut.

It’s called membership in the European Economic Community, or Common Market.

As the world’s largest trading bloc and a powerful vehicle for industrial development, the EEC could be Turkey’s best hope for modernizing an economy that is, by many measures, the most backward in the West.

But unless the government can get past piles of political obstacles at the gate to EEC membership, the shortcut may turn out to be a dead end.

Greece, traditional rival of Turkey, tried unsuccessfully to kill the membership bid almost as soon as it was formally entered last April 14. Denmark has raised doubts about Turkey’s human rights record, and the Netherlands says the EEC is having too much trouble assimilating new members Spain and Portugal to consider adding yet another.

No member has publicly said, or even suggested, the Turks should be welcomed.

The EEC’s Executive Commission in Brussels is expected to take at least two years, and possibly much longer, analyzing Turkey’s request before the member governments decide whether to open talks on membership terms.

Turkey, which has maintained political links to the West since it joined the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1952, is counting heavily on gaining acceptance as the 13th member of the Common Market.

Many Turks feel that if they’re good enough to defend Western Europe on the battlefield, beside their NATO partners, then they ought to be acceptable members of the Europeans’ main economic alliance.

″Turkey ... deserves equal rights in the European movement for political and economic union,″ former foreign minister Hasan Esat Isik said recently.

The only other European NATO members not in the EEC - Norway and Iceland - have stayed out by choice.

Turkey views EEC membership not only as a fast track toward economic prosperity, but, perhaps more importantly, as a means of moving closer to the fully democratic political systems of its NATO partners.

″We want to institutionalize democratic traditions in Turkey,″ said Adnan Kahveci, chief adviser to Prime Minister Turgut Ozal and the main architect of the government’s campaign to win EEC membership.

″Gaps in economic development have led to social instability″ in the past, Kahveci said in a recent interview. He was referring to Turkey’s three military coups over the past three decades, the latest in 1980.

Civilian rule was restored in 1983, although martial law remained in effect in four provinces until last month, when it was replaced with emergency rule under which special powers were granted to civilian authorities.

Leaders of the main opposition parties are banned from politics until 1992. In September, Turks are to vote on whether to lift the ban.

Within the government, officials speak of the EEC almost as if Turkey already were a member. They see it as a matter of when, not whether, the current 12 members decide they’d rather have Turkey in than out.

″The Community ... needs Turkey, which is one of the largest markets in the world,″ Kahveci said.

The conventional wisdom in European diplomatic circles, however, is that Turkey stands little chance of entering the Common Market as a full member before the start of the 21st century. It’s not yet clear whether the EEC governments will even agree to negotiate the matter.

″A Turkish entry could create more burdens″ for the EEC, said Michaela Geiger, foreign affairs spokeswoman in parliament for West Germany’s governing Christian Democrats. ″I think deliberation over this application will take a long time.″

West Germany and other EEC governments say their organization cannot afford the huge cost of bringing Turkey’s economy up to European standards.

Officials in Ankara tout the country’s extraordinarily high rate of economic growth - averaging 4.9 percent a year between 1980-85 compared with a 1.1 percent average for the EEC over the same period.

Gust Janssen, an economist in the Brussels office of Chase Econometrics, a private consulting firm, says the main reason for Turkey’s high growth rate is its unusually low labor costs and its exceptionally high inflation, which is 10 times the EEC average of 3 percent.

Turks earn an average of $1,057 a year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That is the lowest yearly income among major Western nations and only half that of the next poorest, Portugal. The EEC average is $9,404 a year.

Even Ozal admits Turkey is not ready to step immediately into the EEC. He also acknowledges political and cultural barriers to membership.

Not the least of these is a widely held impression in Western Europe that Turkey, as a Moslem nation, does not belong in the European family.

Turkish sensitivity to the religious issue was underscored in a recent comment by President Kenan Evren in response to a European Parliament resolution calling on Turkey to acknowledge the Ottoman Empire’s role in the killing of masses of Armenians in Turkey in 1915-16. The resolution, passed on June 18, also linked consideration of Turkish membership in the EEC to withdrawal of its troops from Cyprus.

″What lies behind this is a religious difference,″ Evren said. ″They (the Europeans) are all Christian and we are Moslem.″

Religion is not supposed to figure in the EEC’s consideration of a membership request; an applicant nation need only be democratic and European.

Yet even the Turkish government itself seems to recognize that the cultural gap is an obstacle, that West Europeans are not entirely comfortable with the fact that Turkey simply does not appear Western.

″We will have to have more of a European look,″ said Ozal’s adviser Kahveci. ″If you want to be part of Europe you have to look like Europe.″

End Adv Aug. 8-9

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