Sunday

23rd Jul 2017

Opinion

Did Barack Obama talk out of turn about Turkey?

On his tour of Europe earlier this week, US president Barack Obama spoke warmly about the prospect of Turkey joining the European Union. In address to members of the Turkish parliament in Ankara, he observed that "Turkey is bound to Europe by more than bridges over the Bosporus.

Centuries of shared history, culture, and commerce bring you together. Europe gains by diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith – it is not diminished by it. And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe's foundation once more."

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Those words have led him into a diplomatic and political storm.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy rebuffed his American counterpart in an interview on French television, saying on the subject "When it comes to the European Union it is up to member states of the European Union to decide".

His foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, echoed these remarks. "It's not for the Americans to decide who comes into Europe or not," he said. "We are in charge in our own house."

So what did Barack Obama think he was doing?

The facts about the relationship between Turkey and the EU are quite straightforward. Turkey first applied for membership in 1987 and negotiations are, after a fashion, ongoing. The Copenhagen criteria set down the economic and political conditions for membership and, right now, Turkey falls short of most of them. That in itself is not an obstacle to negotiations about membership, of course: the 10 former communist countries negotiated and reformed at the same time.

The negotiations with Turkey, however, have been remarkably slow, because the EU member states are themselves divided. Countries like Britain are firmly in favour of Turkish membership, while others such as France and Austria are against.

The reasons for these different positions have been well-rehearsed. What's more interesting today is the discussion about who decides and why.

The formal procedure is that negotiations are led by the European Commission, with unanimous agreement by the member states plus the approval of the European Parliament. The member states' views therefore individually matter, as do the views of the MEPs to be elected in June – ask your candidates about this in the coming election campaign – but where does Barack Obama fit in all of that?

The reason lies in the changing nature of EU membership. As time passes, the economic difference for Turkey between membership and non-membership of the EU is likely to decrease, as trading barriers fall and market access increases. Both bilateral and global trade agreements will speed this process along.

On the other hand, the political difference between membership and non-membership is likely to grow. If the EU fulfils the ambitions set out in the Lisbon treaty and becomes a more coherent and influential actor on the world stage, then Turkish membership of the EU will affect both the EU opinion on world events and also the Turkish view of them. Among the issues that might be affected in this way are relations with Iraq and Iran – Turkey shares a border with both of them – and the future security of Israel, with which Turkey has a close relationship. These are questions where the Americans have a strong geopolitical interest, too.

In other words, it's not the economy, stupid.

And Barack Obama understands this. In his own words to the EU leaders at a summit meeting in Prague, he said that "The United States and Europe must approach Muslims as our friends, neighbours and partners in fighting injustice, intolerance and violence. Moving forward towards Turkish membership in the EU would be an important signal of your commitment to this agenda and ensure that we continue to anchor Turkey firmly in Europe."

No-one can look at the history of the past 100 years and deny that America has an interest in the geopolitical health of Europe. A look at the last 10 years shows how America has an interest in good relations with the Muslim world. Turkish accession to the EU, or not, may be a European decision, but the Americans are entitled to have a view.

Barack Obama gets this too. "It is true that the United States is not a member of the EU, so it's not our decision to take, but that doesn't prevent me from having an opinion," he said.

"I've noticed that the Europeans have a lot of opinions about US policy for a long time and they've not been shy about expressing them. That's what friends do."

The writer is a commentator on European affairs, based in London, and a member of the board of Federal Union.

Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive

Candidates from all political families should be presenting their vision on where the Union should be headed. European socialists want to keep the Spitzenkandidat procedure for future elections.

Greece needs a new plan

Two years into its third bailout, Greece needs to combine the necessary fiscal targets with a new vision. This can be done in the context of the ongoing industrial revolution.

Ceta and pesticides: A citizens' rights issue

The trade agreement with Canada will begin to apply on 21 September. But there is still a potential conflict on the right to data protection vs. the right to access information.

Overcoming the plot against Turkish democracy

One year after an attempted coup, what Turkey needs is not biased and groundless criticism but more cooperation, dialogue and understanding, writes its Europe minister Omer Celik.

Greece needs a new plan

Two years into its third bailout, Greece needs to combine the necessary fiscal targets with a new vision. This can be done in the context of the ongoing industrial revolution.

News in Brief

  1. Polish parliament adopts controversial justice reform
  2. GMO opt-out plan unlikely to go anywhere in 2017
  3. Slovak PM threatens to boycott inferior food
  4. France takes Google's 'right to be forgotten' to EU court
  5. Turkey accuses German companies of supporting terror
  6. Israel's Netanyahu caught calling EU 'crazy'
  7. UK does not collect enough data to expel EU nationals
  8. Polish president threatens to veto justice reform

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  2. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  3. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  4. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  5. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  6. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  9. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  10. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  12. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School

Latest News

  1. Dutch coalition talks lengthiest in 40 years
  2. Polish parliament steps up showdown with EU
  3. EU urges UK to clarify its Brexit positions
  4. Law expert: direct EU powers have become too complicated
  5. Winter is here for Spitzenkandidat, but he'll survive
  6. Mafia money pollutes the EU economy
  7. Central Europe should be wary of Brexit stopping
  8. Poland's 'July coup' and what it means for the judiciary

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  2. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  3. EU2017EEPM Ratas: EU Is Not Only an Idea for the 500mn People in the Bloc, It Is Their Daily Reality
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy
  5. ILGA-EuropeGermany Finally Says Ja - Bundestag Votes for Marriage Equality!
  6. EPSUJapanese and European Public Sector Unions Slam JEFTA
  7. World VisionEU, Young Leaders and Civil Society Join Forces to End Violence Against Girls
  8. UNICEFNarrowing the Gaps: The Power of Investing in the Health of the Poorest Children
  9. EU2017EEEstonia to Surprise Europe With Unique Cultural Programme
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Talks Should Insist on Ending Reprisals Vs. Critical Voices
  11. European Free AllianceEFA Is Looking for a New Intern
  12. Malta EU 2017Conservation of Atlantic Tunas: International Measures Become EU Law