12 January 2007 - 14 January 2007

Turkey: the road to EU membership

Chair: Lord Hannay of Chiswick GCMG CH

Ditchley began the New Year with a characteristically topical examination of the prospects for Turkish membership of the European Union.  The EU’s decision in December to suspend eight chapters of the accession negotiations ensured that the strong feelings on both sides of this question were thick in the air and not likely to settle soon.  Turkey’s natural resentment at being so far behind the two latest EU recruits, Bulgaria and Romania, in the queue to join the EU also sharpened the atmosphere.  A Ditchley-sized conference was never going to be able to represent around the table at first hand all the varied perspectives on this subject.  But we had a lively exchange and the concluding debate was successful in shaping some cardinal points for the future. 

No-one was in any doubt about the importance of the issue.  With or without Turkey, the European Union was coming to an important crossroads over its own future, as well as its capacity for further enlargement.  Turkey’s geostrategic position and history linked it, and therefore its relationship with the EU, to a host of other important subjects:  growing instability in the Middle East;  Iraq’s eventual course;  developments in Russia and Central Asia;  the growing importance of the region in energy terms;  outcomes in the Balkans, Cyprus and Israel/Palestine;  the evolution of the Islamic world.  The list went on.  As for Turkey’s impact on the EU, it was the largest accession candidate in population terms so far, and the most different in character. 

The debate looked at three areas in particular:  developments inside Turkey itself;  the mood within the European Union and the EU’s capacity for long-term strategic position;  and the global context for both.  No-one believed that the challenges we were facing over Turkey could be sorted out in short order:  the passage of time was necessary both to accomplish huge amount of work involved and to evolve remedies which were not within sight now. 

In looking at developments in Turkey, we had the advantage of some spirited input from Turkish nationals with a varied background.  Listening to them, participants from other countries were impressed by the sense of dynamism and change in Turkish society as a whole.  With change came worry about the uncertainties;  and it was made very clear to the conference that the question of EU membership should be set alongside the desire of most Turks for a safe transformation to the next stage of their historical journey.  The Turkish military in particular, with their greater capacity, perhaps, than any other Turkish institution to look at the long term, were conscious of how the Soviet Union and Iraq had stumbled over transformation, and how China might still do.  In this respect the standards and norms of the European Union, and the hope it represented of stable economic growth, were an attraction.  That was one fundamental reason why Turkey was prepared to make a huge effort to take the accession requirements seriously.

There were, of course, trends and attitudes in Turkey going in the other direction.  The sense of looming rejection by some EU members was bitterly resented.  The Turkish people had a millennium of history and engagement with Europe behind them which, together with Turkey’s extraordinary geographical placing between east and west, north and south, created a feeling of uniqueness which would be hard to reconcile with being submerged in the EU.  The very dynamics of the Turkish mix, secular and Islamic, Turkish and Kurdish, traditional and modern, urban and rural, made it that much more difficult to add in the highly complicating factor of adjustment to the EU acquis.  What did this highly varied set of ingredients amount to as a united whole?  The discussion did not settle on a clear answer.

Most participants considered that Turkey had a strong motive to continue with constructive reform, including in the area of individual and minority rights, whether or not the country joined the EU.  Since Turkey was, compared with the EU, such a young country demographically, the momentum for change would anyway be strong.  In recent years the economy was beginning to look more solid, Turkey’s importance in the energy field was gaining attention and its range of different relationships with neighbours in every direction was beginning to create both political and economic advantages.  This threw up the question of whether Turkey had any substantial alternative to joining the EU.  The consensus was not, at least in the sense of an institutionalised attachment.  But most participants saw no reason why, if EU accession did not eventually happen, Turkey should not continue much in the same mould as now, as a distinctive individual state with its own set of interests and relationships.  Whatever else happened, Turkey would always be big, Islamic and placed between Europe and Asia. 

When the conference came to look at the EU itself, the word “fatigue” was quickly heard:  not just fatigue with enlargement, with the EU at 27 still having to find ways of working effectively, but also fatigue with the attempt to find purpose and structure overall in the EU.  Against that background, it was not surprising that what the European Commission called “integration capacity” appeared low at present, with polls showing EU-wide support for Turkish accession at 28%, with Germany and France at 15%.  The import of current attitudes to Turkey in the EU struck participants in varied ways.  Although there was no authentic French voice present, there were good accounts of French views available.  “Too big, too poor, too Muslim” came through as the most direct summary.  Many participants felt, nevertheless, that this said as much about France as about Turkey.  They did not see these attitudes as necessarily being fixed forever.  And those who knew the accession process well pointed to the difficulty of bringing it to a halt if, over time, the candidate country concerned actually met the requirements.  The German Presidency was intending to try to get three further chapters on the accession list and so the process would not be slowing down in any exceptional way, even though eight chapters had been suspended.  If Turkey responded steadily and efficiently, the wheels would go grinding on. 

There was another line of thought to temper the occasional outbursts of pessimism.  Those participants who had known the European story longest and best reminded us that there had never been a decade without a European crisis.  All of them had, in one way or another, been surmounted.  That did not mean that internal EU issues on the one hand, and the relationship with Turkey on the other, would not cause severe headaches for some time to come.  But most people expected that attitudes would evolve as time passed, as the context changed and as world developments delivered shocks which would be bound to affect both the EU’s and Turkey’s list of priorities.  Against such uncertainties, it was reasonable to suppose that the real global interests of the EU and its member states, taken together with Turkey’s significant geostrategic value, would eventually mean that Turkish membership was regarded as an asset. 

Then we returned to some of the hurdles.  The question of Cyprus loomed large.  There was no doubt that the issue presented an unusually large complication.  Given the unimpressive history of negotiations over Cyprus over the past forty years, there was unlikely to be a Cyprus solution soon, and certainly not until the coming electoral cycles in both Turkey and Cyprus were over.  The general view was that Cyprus was unlikely to reach a settlement unless and until Turkey’s accession to the EU was on the point of coming right;  and that Turkey’s accession could not be completed until Cyprus was also remedied.  This meant that the sensible way forward was to keep the Cyprus negotiations going, with the United Nations in the lead, even if in the next year or so they amounted to no more than keeping the pilot light lit. 

Another issue likely to cause trouble in the short to medium term was the Turkish wish to deal with the PKK once and for all.  It was not an easy issue.  South East Turkey suffered from very high unemployment, tribalism and poor education.  The increasing frustration of the Kurdish population in that region might tempt them to look at northern Iraq as a point of inspiration.  This could sustain support for PKK militancy, which had restarted its violent campaign in 2004 to complicate EU accession as well as closer relations between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds.  The Ankara-PKK ceasefire was not working well, with the fault lying on both sides.  The issue also affected US-Turkey relations, which participants recognised were currently poor already and could deteriorate further if Washington failed to respond to Turkish requests for assistance against the PKK.  The conference hoped that wiser counsels would eventually prevail, because the Turkey-Iraq theatre was a larger complicating factor than just the PKK or even Kurdistan as a whole;  and in the longer term participants could see a useful linkage between Kurdish/Iraqi oil production and Turkey’s growing importance as a distributor of energy resources from Russia, the Caspian area and the Middle East.  Hard-nosed calculations on energy, and indeed on Turkey’s capacity for economic growth generally, ought to have the potential to qualify short-term or hot-headed thinking in other directions.  But there was plenty of scope for irrationality also.

So, where did we feel that this impressive concatenation of interests and influences left the EU-Turkish relationship?  Both realities and perceptions were going to play a strong role.  The stakes were high;  and half-measures, pragmatic and partially attractive as concepts like “privileged partnership” might be, probably would not be sufficient, even to tide us over the medium term.  Good leadership in both quarters would be vital;  and yet public opinion would also make itself felt.  It would not be fair to pretend that every member of our group came out in the same position.  But there was a tendency towards the following:

  • A close EU-Turkish relationship would be an asset to both parties;
  • Turkish membership would change the EU significantly;
  • Public opinion in particular places would have a marked impact, but we should not assume that final referendums could only go in one direction;
  • Attitudes would evolve in time and unpredictable events would make their mark;
  • Therefore, responsible policy at this stage should aim at keeping the processes going on accession, Cyprus and regular EU-Turkish communication and business.

If Turkey could get itself into a frame of mind to refuse to take no for an answer, so much the better.  Turks should recognise that meeting the EU acquis might itself be incontestable.  The reforms they were conducting had their own intrinsic value.  They should see the value of good public diplomacy and try to introduce a more positive tone to it.  Above all, they should generate the confidence in their own minds that the overall value of Turkey as a partner would make its weight felt over the ten years or more that would inevitably elapse before accession was realised.

In this way, the conference managed to end on a reasonably bright note, even if the difficulties were not underestimated.  For that we have to thank the company’s strength in forward thinking and the firm hand of a Chairman capable of seeing beyond the immediate obstacles.  With the sun eventually shining on Ditchley Park at the end of a stormy winter weekend, this lifting of spirits was a good omen.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


Chairman:  Lord Hannay of Chiswick GCMG CH

Chairman, The United Nations Association of the UK (2006-).  Formerly:  Member, EU Select Committee, House of Lords (2002-06);  Member, United Nations Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Threats and Challenges (2003);  British government Special Representative for Cyprus (1996-2003);  HM Diplomatic Service (1959-95);  Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1990-95);  Permanent Representative to the European Community, Brussels (1985 90).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

HE Mr Jan Winkler
Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the UK, London (2005-).  Formerly:  Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (2003-05);  Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic (1997-99).

Mr Patrick Child

 Head of Cabinet to Mrs Benita Ferrero-Waldener, Commissioner of External Affairs and European Neighbourhood Policy, The European Commission.  Formerly:  Head of Cabinet to Mr Chris Patten, European Commissioner for External Relations (2003-04).
Mr Christian Danielsson
Director, Turkey, DG Enlargement, The European Commission.

Mr Robert Cooper CMG MVO

Director General, General Secretariat, External and Politico-Military Affairs, Council of the European Union (2002-).  Formerly:  HM Diplomatic Service (1970-2002);  Head of Policy Planning Staff (1989-93).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Ms Sara Tuerkan Erden

Journalist, Editor and Producer, AITV/RFO France Télévisions, Paris (1997-).

HE Mr Wolfgang Ischinger

German Foreign Service (1975-);  Ambassador of Germany to the UK (2006-).  Formerly:  Ambassador to Washington (2000-06).  A Governor and Member of the Council of Management, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Cem Özdemir MEP
Member, Greens/EFA Parliamentary Group, European Parliament, Brussels;  Member, Committee on Foreign Affairs and Member, High Level Contact Group for Relations with the Turkish-Cypriot community in North Cyprus.  Formerly:  Member, German Federal Parliament (1994 2002).
Mr Michael Thumann
Foreign Editor, Die Zeit, Hamburg (2002-).  Formerly:  Moscow Bureau Chief, Die Zeit (1996-2001);  Die Zeit Correspondent, South Eastern Europe.

Ambassador Alexander Philon

Director, Center for Analysis and Planning, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Athens (2002-).  Formerly:  Ambassador of Greece, Washington DC (1998-2002);  Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1998-98);  Director General for Political Affairs (1995-97);  Ambassador to Turkey (1993-95);  Ambassador to India (1989-93).

He Mr Akin Alptuna

Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1067-);  Ambassador of Turkey to the UK (2003-).  Formerly:  Deputy Under-Secretary for the European Union and Political Relations with EU Member States (2000-03).
Mr Egemen Bagis MP
Member of Parliament, Justice and Development Party, Istanbul (2002-);  Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister of Turkey.
Ambassador Cem Duna
President, AB Consultancy Investment Services;  Vice Chairman, Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists Association.  Formerly:  Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Turkey to the European Union (1991-95).
Ms Özgül Erdemli
Partner, Inside Consulting.  Formerly:  Secretary General for International Relations, ARI Movement, Turkey.
Mr Suat Kiniklioglu
Director, The German Marshall Fund of the US, Ankara;  Editor, Insight Turkey;  Columnist, Turkish Daily News.  Formerly Founding Director, Ankara Center for Turkish Policy.
Dr Sedat Laçiner
Director, International Strategic Research Organisation, Ankara.
Ambassador Ilter Turkmen
Columnist, Hürriyet;  Member, Foreign Affairs Commission, Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV);  Member, Greek-Turkish Forum.  Formerly:  Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and Commissioner-General of UNRWA (1991-96);  Ambassador to France (1988-91);  Permanent Representative to the United Nationals (1984-88);  Minister of Foreign Affairs (1980-83).

Mr Graham Avery

Senior Member of St Antony’s College, Oxford;  Secretary General, Trans-European Policy Studies Association.  Formerly:  Director for Strategy, Coordination and Analysis, European Commission (2003 06).
Dr Nicola Brewer CMG
HM Diplomatic Service (1983-);  Director General, Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2004-).  Formerly:  Director General, Regional Programmes, Department for International Development (2002-04).
Mr Chris Donnelly CMG
Senior Fellow, Advanced Research and Assessment Group, The Defence Academy of the UK (2004-).  Formerly:  Special Adviser for Central and Eastrn European Affairs, Private Office of NATO Secretary General (1989-2003).
Mr David Gow
European Business Editor, The Guardian (2000-).  Formerly:  Industrial Editor, Deputy Financial News Editor, Bonn Correspondent, Education Editor, Leader Writer, The guardian (1985-2000).
Mr Charles Grant
Co-founder and Director, Centre for European Reform (1996-);  Board Member and Trustee, British Council (2002-).  A Member, Ditchley Foundation Programme Committee.
Sir John Grant KCMG
HM Diplomatic Service (1976-);  HM Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the European Union, Brussels (2003-).  Formerly:  HM Ambassador to Sweden (1999-2003).
Sir John Holmes GCVO KBE CMG
Under Secretary-General (Designate) for Humanitarian Affairs, The United Nations, New York.  Formerly:  HM Diplomatic Service (1973-2006);  HM Ambassador to Paris (2001-06);  HM Ambassador to Lisbon (1999-2001).
Mr Daniel Lafayeedney
The Pluscarden Programme for the Study of Global Terrorism and Intelligence, St Antony’s College, Oxford.
Sir David Logan KCMG
Director, Centre for Studies in Security and Diplomacy and Honorary Professor, School of Social Sciences, University of Birmingham (2002-).  Formerly:  HM Diplomatic Service (1965-2001);  HM Ambassador to Turkey (1997-2001);  Minister, Washington (1995-97).
Ms Dianna Melrose
Head, Enlargement and SE Europe Group, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2006-).  Formerly:  Head, International Trade Department for International Development (2003-06).
Sir Kieran Prendergast KCVO CMG
Formerly:  Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs, United Nations, New York (1997-2005);  HM Diplomatic Service (1965-1997);  HM Ambassador to Turkey (1995-97);  HM High Commissioner to Kenya (1992-95);  HM High Commissioner to Zimbabwe (1989-1992).
Dr Julie Smith
Deputy Director, Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge (2004-);  Fellow in Politics, Robinson College, Cambridge.  Formerly:  Head, European Programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs (1999-2003).
Sir Peter Westmacott KCMG LVO
HM Diplomatic Service (1972-);  HM Ambassador-Designate to France (2007-).  Formerly:  HM Ambassador to Turkey (2002-06);  Deputy Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2000-01);  Director, Americas, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1997).

Mr Thomas Stehling

Director, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, London (2001-).  Formerly:  Director, Media Project, Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation in Asia;  Deputy Director-General, Norddeutscher Rundfunk.

Mr Fadi Hakura 

Associate Fellow European and Middle East Programmes, Chatham House (2005-);  Guest Lecturer on EU-Turkey Accession, Masters Programme, University College, London (2005-);  Founder, Conkura Consulting.

Dr Bulent Aliriza

Director, Turkey Project and Co-Director, Caspian energy Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington (1994-);  Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Dr Ronald D Asmus
Executive Director, German Marshall Fund of the United States, Brussels (2002-).  Formerly:  Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations (2000-02).  Formerly:  Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (1997-2000).  Author.
The Hon John Brademas
President Emeritus, New York University (1992-).  Formerly:  Chairman, American Ditchley Foundation (1990-2006);  President, New York University (1981-92);  Member, 86th-96th Congresses (1959-81);  House Majority Whip (1977-81).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Ambassador Marc Grossman
 Vice chairman, The Cohen Group.  Formerly:  US Foreign Service (1976-2005);  Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, US State Department (2001-05);  US Ambassador to Turkey (1994 97).
Dr Stephen Larrabee
Corporate Chair in European Security, RAND Corporation.  Formerly:   Vice President and Director of Studies, Institute of East-West Security Studies, New York.
Ms Vivien Ann Schmidt
Franqui Inter-University Chair, Free University of Brussels and Louvain (2007);  Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration (2001-) and Professor of International Relations (1998-), Boston University;  Visiting Professor, Sciences Po (2000-).

Professor Zehra Arat

Juanita & Joseph Leff Distinguished Professor, Purchase College of the State University of New York (1989-).  Formerly:  Chair, Women’s Studies Program, Purchase College (2004-05 and 1996-99).
Professor Ersel Aydinli
Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Department of International Relations, Bilkent University, Ankara;  Visiting Assistant Professor, Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University (2005-).
Dr Ömer Taspinar
Director, Turkey Program, The Brookings Institute (2003-);  Professor, National War College, Formerly:  Assistant Professor, European Studies Department, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.