Cold Turkey: The Gradual Freezing of Turkey’s EU Prospects

Protests again Turkey primeminister Ergonan on Trafalgar Square in London, spring 2013 (2)

Solidarity rally in London against Prime Minister Erdogan and in support of the Taksim Gezi Park protests. June 8, 2013 (Chmee2/Wikimedia Commons).

Gaining membership to the European Union (EU) has been a frustrating process for Turkey. The Near East nation began its campaign for EU membership nearly 30 years ago under the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community. In 2005, 18 years after beginning the application process, Turkey was finally invited to enter accession negotiations. The protracted delay was a result of unfavorable economic conditions in Turkey as well as Turkey’s tumultuous relationships with EU members Greece and Cyprus. Yet, the question remains: why hasn’t Turkey been granted membership to the EU?

The answers are many and complex. First, geographically, Turkey is located between the East and the West, yet only 3% of Turkish territory actually lies within Europe. The rest of the nation borders hostile neighbors such as Iran, Iraq and Syria. Second, Turkey is culturally aligned more with the East than with the West. The majority of the Turkish population is Muslim, whereas most EU nations are home to a Judeo-Christian cultural tradition. Third, EU leaders are wary that Turkey’s fragile economy could place a heavy financial strain on the EU. In recent months, Turkey’s inflation has reached 7%, the value of the lira is slipping, and foreign investors are fleeing. However, the most glaring explanation for Turkey’s delayed entry seems to be its increasingly autocratic government.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime has committed countless human rights violations, and thus jeopardized Turkey’s chances of joining the EU. Last summer, peaceful demonstrators staged a sit-in to show their disgust with the government’s encroachment on civil liberties. The government responded with violence, using water canons and tear gas to forcibly remove the protestors. The police killed four and injured thousands. Since a major criterion for admission to the EU is high human rights standards, the government’s brutality elicited a negative response from EU officials and prompted German leaders to question Turkey’s eligibility. Further, EU leaders voted to delay accession talks that had been months in progress. Presently, corruption is corroding the government and Prime Minister Erdogan’s reputation. Last month, the Turkish government blocked websites such as YouTube and Twitter. Yet, censorship of social media platforms is but a fraction of the abuses in Turkey – a nation where journalists are routinely arrested and incarcerated for criticizing the party.

While the EU is not ready to accept Turkey, the Turkish public is hesitant to join the EU. Recent polls have shown public frustration toward the accession movement. Additionally, Turkey has experienced spurts of economic growth in the last decade thanks to a customs agreement with the EU that has facilitated, among other things, the development of a sophisticated export trade. Turks might feel that the country doesn’t need the EU to be successful. Prime Minister Erdogan and other top Turkish officials have recently expressed disdain toward the EU, with one minister even being quoted as saying: “Turkey doesn’t need the EU, the EU needs Turkey. If we have to, we could tell them ‘Get lost, kid!’” Although Turkey has seen considerable economic growth in recent decades, the economy is still underdeveloped and could benefit greatly from EU accession. However, the rhetoric of Turkish leaders indicates a turn away from Europe. 

It is clear that Turkey’s gradual abandonment of democratic principles is likely to hinder the progress of their EU membership bid. Regardless of posturing by Turkish leaders, the economic benefits of EU membership are undeniable. Yet, it is clear that the Turks have a long way to go before they will be able to join the EU, if ever.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

Improving Economic Prospects in the Land of Silver

Plaza Congreso BA

The Thinker in El Plaza Congreso, adjacent to official government buildings in Buenos Aires, Argentina. December 9, 2010 (David Berkowitz/Wikimedia Commons)

Argentina was a gold mine of economic opportunity in the early 20th century. Blessed with trade surpluses in commodities, an influx of foreign technological innovation and development, and a growth rate of 6% (the fastest in the world at the time), Argentina attracted hundreds of thousands of European immigrants.

With the exception of commodity exportation, Argentina’s recent economic condition has soured. The last half-century has been marked by economic decline, political instability, and diminishing geopolitical influence. Consider that when President Obama visited the Southern Cone in 2011, he flew from Chile to Brazil deliberately passing over Argentina. While significant capital inflows from China largely insulated Argentina from the global economic crisis, economic and political turmoil persist to this day. Inflation estimates are above 30%, its expropriation of Spanish petroleum giant Repsol have made those in the international business community wary of FDI, and its export and import quotas have proven disastrous to farmers, businessmen, and consumers alike.

If President Kirchner’s successor seeks to guide Argentina towards a path of economic and political stability, he/she must assuage concerns of an impending crisis, and work swiftly to ignite a stagnant economy. Reviving the economy will be easier said than done in a country whose Ease of Doing Business ranking is 127 out of 189, trailing, among others, Nigeria and Pakistan. A more challenging hurdle will be reducing Argentinean dependence on natural resource exports. As tempting as it may be to ride the commodity wave to economic solvency, diversification of the nation’s income will prove imperative to Argentina’s future growth and stability. Developments in added-value manufacturing and the service industries will better isolate Argentina’s economy from fluctuations in global commodity prices. Diversification will also require improvements in education and infrastructure, areas in which Argentina is particularly deficient.

ArgentinayChile1929.TouringclubitalianoMilano

Map of Argentina circa 1929 depicting recent territorial acquisitions (Ufficio cartografico del Touring Club Italiano/Wikimedia Commons)

One thing Argentina is not deficient in is unfounded optimism. An Argentinean economist once lamented that his nation is destined for lackluster development, positing, “Argentina has always been a country with mediocre growth, believing that spectacular growth and riches are right around the corner, and when a good year comes, Argentines say, ‘Ah, here comes the life we’ve been waiting for and so deserve.’” Such misguided expectations must be replaced by shrewdness and sacrifice. Recovering from the current economic turmoil and moving towards a trajectory of sustainable growth will require drastic fiscal and monetary reforms.

Attempts to curtail government spending will likely aggravate an already sluggish growth rate, particularly after several years of costly welfare programs and President Kirchner’s wasteful spending. Also unpopular will be the inevitable currency devaluation once Argentina’s currency exchange is liberalized. Such unpopular policies have been postponed for far too long. Argentina must follow in Chile’s footsteps by increasing economic competitiveness in the global arena. For a country blessed with bountiful resources, its political malfeasance and bureaucracy remains the only thing slowing down what would otherwise be impressive growth. By fostering more competitive industries and implementing basic economic reforms, Argentina may become the gold mine it once was.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.