The Bridge Crumbles: Why the EU Does Not Want Turkey As a Member Anymore

CONRAD C. WITTE – On October 1, 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan presided over the opening of the Turkish parliament[1] and declared that Turkey had reached the “end of the game” with its bid for European Union membership. President Erdogan announced that it was time for Brussels to finally make it clear if the EU wants Turkey as a member.[2] “If the EU is going to make Turkey a full member, we are ready,” Erdogan added.[3]

No, Mr. Erdogan, Turkey is not ready. Either way, it does not matter – the EU does not want Turkey as a member anymore.

One of the numerous barriers to Turkish membership in the EU has been its relative instability – between 1960 and 2015, the country experienced four different military coups.[4] This summer, Turkey experienced its fifth.[5]

The public arrests and purges following the failed July 15 are staggering: nearly 100,000 people have been dismissed from their jobs, 70,000 have been detained, and 32,000 have been arrested.[6] Universities with ties to the alleged coup mastermind Fethullah Gulen have been closed.[7] Since July, more than 130 media outlets have been shut down,[8] and President Erdogan has sought to extend Turkey’s post-coup state of emergency for at least another three months.[9] On top of all of this, President Erdogan has taken the opportunity to question the legitimacy of the century-old treaty establishing Turkey’s border with Greece, an EU member state.[10]

Even before the latest round of purges and arrests, President Erdogan has been pushing Turkey closer and closer to the brink of authoritarianism with rampant censorship of the Internet[11] and an increase in human rights abuses.[12] However, the real reason that the EU does not want Turkey as a member at this very moment has nothing to do with human rights abuses or censorship – it is all about culture and religion.

As a result of the migrant crisis created by the Syrian Civil War, more than one million refugees, mostly from Syria, entered Europe in 2015.[13] This massive influx of refugees, coupled with the terror attacks in Paris,[14] Brussels,[15] and Nice,[16] has created an atmosphere of suspicion, hostility, and even outright hatred for foreigners, especially Muslims. This is evidenced by organized opposition to admitting refugees[17] and attempts to restrict the wearing of religious dress by Muslims in public spaces.[18] In this environment, it seems unfathomable to believe that a majority of EU states would vote to admit Muslim-majority Turkey, let alone the unanimity of states required by law to admit a new member.[19]

The simple truth, Mr. Erdogan, is that the EU just does not want Turkey as a member anymore. And even if it did, Turkey’s continued slide towards authoritarianism on your watch has certainly closed the door to the possibility in the near future.

[1] Constitution Change is Priority, Erdogan Says at Turkish Parliament Opening, Hurriyet Daily News [Turk.] (Oct. 1, 2016),

[2] Agence France Presse, Erdogen Says Turkey in ‘Endgame’ Over EU Membership, Yahoo! News (Oct. 1, 2016),

[3] Id.

[4] Timeline: A History of Turkish Coups, Al Jazeera (July 15, 2016),

[5] Id.

[6] Mark Lowen, Turkey Post-Coup Purges Convulse Society, BBC News (Oct. 3 2016),

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Reuters, Turkey to Extend State of Emergency for Another Three Months: Spokesman, N.Y. Times (Oct. 3, 2016, 11:06 AM),

[10] Greek Anger at Turkey Border Treaty Remarks, BBC News (Sept. 30, 2016),

[11] See Freedom on the Net 2015: Turkey, Freedom Watch, (2016), (“The abuse of government surveillance, the bulk retention of user data, and measures to undermine encryption and anonymity also remain serious concerns . . . . Overall, internet freedom is highly imperiled in Turkey.”).

[12] See Turkey: Events of 2015, Human Rights Watch (2016), (“The environment for human rights in Turkey deteriorated in 2015 with the breakdown of the Kurdish peace process, a sharp escalation of violence in the southeast, and a crackdown on media and political opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party. . . .”).

[13] Migrant Crisis: Migration to Europe Explained in Seven Charts, BBC News (Mar. 4, 2016),

[14] Paris Attacks: What Happened on the Night, BBC News (Dec. 9, 2015),

[15] Brussels Explosions: What We Know About Airport and Metro Attacks, BBC News (Apr. 9, 2016),

[16] Nice Attack: At Least 84 Killed By Lorry At Bastille Day Celebrations, BBC News (July 15, 2016),

[17] Jan-Werner Mueller, Hungary’s Refugee Referendum Is a Referendum On Europe’s Survival, (Sept. 29, 2016),

[18] Siobhán O’Grady, French Court to Anti-Burkini Mayors: No, You Can’t Actually Ban Swimsuits, (Aug. 26, 2016, at 12:33 PM),; see also Henry Johnson, 8 in 10 Germans Want to Ban Burqas From Public Places, (Aug. 26, 2016, at 1:10 PM),

[19] Fact Sheets on the European Union: Enlargement of the Union, European Parliament, (last updated June 2016).

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