Rhein on Energy and Climate

Between 1995 and 2007 the EU has almost doubled its membership, from 15 to 27 members, accepting more new member states than ever before within a very short time span.

This rapid expansion has not been preceded by the necessary strengthening of its institutional functioning, in particular its decision making capacity. Since 2004, the EU has found it even more difficult and time-consuming to arrive at the necessary compromises between increasingly diverging interests of member states. The addition of 12 new has only superficially strengthened the EU. Every new member state, small or big, enhances EU diversity, which is an enrichment but also a burden. Enlargement therefore has a price, which we have tended to ignore in the post – 1989 euphoria of European re-unification. So far it has hardly led to the hoped for strengthening of the EU.

Still, the EU continues enlarging as if it had not learned much from the experience of the last two waves. It has offered the seven countries of the Western Balkan, two of which can hardly be considered full-fledged stable states, a “European perspective”.
With Croatia, negotiations have been under way for three years, and there is hope they might be concluded by the end of 2009. It has granted Macedonia a status of “candidate country”. Montenegro has filed its formal request for membership in December 2008.

The accession process of the Western Balkan countries is likely to drag until 2020 and even beyond. That should suit everybody. Both the EU and the Balkan countries will need a lot of time to fully prepare.

The EU will have to digest the Lisbon Treaty, which is a “sine qua non” for any additional membership.
Its success is by no means assured: how effective will the “President of the European Council” be? Will he have political authority or be no more than a Secretary General with a more pompous name? Will the “High Representative” be strong enough to shape an EU foreign policy that deserves this name, against opposition from big member states? Will the Council make it a habit of voting on all Commission proposals? Will the Commission be more effective in “leading” the EU, with its membership due to reach 34 after the completion of the Balkan enlargement?

Since 2005, the EU is also negotiating on Turkish accession. It does so without much zeal, as the uneven progress of the Turkish and Croatian negotiations shows. It has opened only half of the more than 30 chapters and provisionally closed one. Cypriot and French opposition have prevented negotiations from progressing faster.

The chances for Turkey ever joining the EU are very uncertain. Neither EU nor Turkish citizens seem very keen. Both consider each other as strangers rather than future compatriots.

Turkey would have to wait well after 2020, and possibly after another Treaty change, before it might eventually join. Will a proud country like Turkey have the patience to “negotiate” some 15 years, even longer than the UK, with the risk of ratification failing in one or more member states? Has Turkey really understood that these “negotiations” concern only the terms at which it may accede and have little in common with traditional negotiations?

Turkey is a “big fish” for the EU, in terms historical and cultural baggage. It would the biggest country population-wise and accordingly claim an adequate say and status. Like the former communist member countries, it lacks a tradition of freedom, democracy, political compromise and the rule of law. Its record of human rights is anything but convincing. The military continue to have bigger political role than in any EU country, despite many efforts to rein them in. Last not least, Turkish troops continue to illegally occupy northern Cyprus, which the EU considers its territory, though EU legislation does not apply there.

For all these reasons, the EU and Turkey would be well advised to review their long-term relationship. Need it be a marriage, with the risk of frequent disputes and lack of harmony? Would a privileged partnership not also do?
Turkey is linked to the EU by a customs union. But there is still a lot of scope for intensifying mutual cooperation in many fields, from economic and monetary policy to foreign and energy policy.

Similar considerations apply to Ukraine and the three Caucasus countries, whose relations with the EU are much weaker than Turkey’s.

In conclusion, the EU should refrain from enlarging beyond the countries of the Western Balkans and reaching eastward beyond the Bulgarian and Rumanian Black Sea beaches. History shows again and again how armies and empires have perished due to over-expansion and weakening links between the Centre and the Periphery. The EU should draw the appropriate lessons. Its present size enables it to play a much bigger role in the world; provided it starts effectively bundling its forces. As long as member states are unwilling to strengthen the EU at the expense of their own powers, the “acquisition” of more territory is likely to weaken the EU, which cannot be in Europe’s interest.

Author :


  1. Dear Mr. Rhein,

    Thanks for your valuable opinion about EU enlargement and Turkey, and I personally completely agree with your points regarding Turkish membership of EU in this article.

    Currently majority of EU citizens and intellectuals like yourself consider Turkey is “big fish”; too big to be absorved, too poor economically to be member of EU, too undemocratic with convincing (bad) records of human rigths, too “different” (or too non-christian, muslim) to be part of EU, and so on.

    Then why did the leaders of European countries in ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80 promise and assured her to be member of EU? And yet untill this day of 2009, the commission for enlargement on behalf of EU countries (citizens) continue to hold accession to the membership with Turkey for the last decade?

    Just for the records, Turkey has completely understood the content of the “negotiations”, and ready technicall to open up each chapter and competent even now to close them immediately, except the chapter of common agropolicies of EU which may take Turkey to adopt within next decade. The question here is not readiness of Turkey to EU but undetermined, undecided, and hostile position of EU leaders towards Turkish membership!…

    Such a double-standard of Europeans such Germany and France: when protecting Europe from Soviet treat, Turkey is European country via NATO – a compatriot with Europe; but when required to be member state to EU, then she is “stranger”. Bravo…

    I think that EU would better declare now a NO answer to Turkey and if wished, offer another kind of “privileged’ partnership rather than full membership. What does it stop to do so in EU?

    I would realy love to see this to happen in EU regarding Turkey and wonder what kind of chapters of true negotiations between Turkey and EU (between two equal parties) should be opened for such privileged partnership (e.g.: security of Europe; protection of EU’s economic historical military, social, commercial interests in Balkans, Caucusia, Central Asia, East Meditereania, and Middle East; fair competition between EU companies and other companies from non EU countries for Turkish market which is 17th biggest economy in the world – revision of custom union between Turkey and EU; solving of Cyprus problem and so on).

    I do not believe that the future of dynamic Turkey lies in membership of an old decaying EU and the best song for Turkey would be “I did it on my own way”.

    So, please help us, Turks, now to sing this Frank Sinitra’s song by convincing all leading European leaders and the Commission to say No to Turkey.

    Best regards,
    Seref Tasdemir
    Istanbul, Turkey

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  2. Dear Seref,
    Thanks for your comments to which I respond as follows.
    1. The EU is divided on futher enlargement including possibly Turkey.
    2. but is has agreed some four years ago to formally open negotiations for accession, which have not advanced very far. At that pace the negotiations are bound to last beyond 2020 or may never come to an end. but neither side has the courage to break them off, afraid it will bear the responsibility for having done so. At the EU end, 27 member states will have to agree to it. so negotiations trod on leaving the future in the air.
    3. The EU will formally launch its “Eastern partnership” with six neighbours including three Caucasian states and Ukraine. If this parternship develops into thriving partnership it might become attractive for Turkey and offer an alternative to membership
    We shall see in the next few years. it is impossible to continue the negotiations for accession in the present way.
    Eberhard Rhein

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  3. Dear Eberhard,

    Thanks for your replying comments.

    According to your statements, I see that the issue of Turkish membership is somewhere in the air; not decided by the EU countries and completely decided by some EU citizens like yourself. I do not understand why is so hard for some EU countries to confess officially via the Enlargement Commission that Turkey will never be in EU at all.

    For your information, we have courage in Turkey to have a NO answer from EU since the support of EU membership in Turkey as of 2008 falls down to 42%. Do Europeans have courage to admit it that Turkey will not be member at all?

    The way negotiations conducted by the Commission under clear guidance of Germany (and brother Austria) and France is very clear to almost all Turkish citizens: make the process so hard, complicated, double standartly designed, and pride braaking manners that Turks shall leave the table. Never this will happen.

    Regarding priviliged partnership or better newly invented word “Eastern Partneship”, I have no comment, except the below anocdote of Nasrettin Hodja – a Turkish comic folk figure:

    Hodja barrowed money from his neigbour with promise that he will pay it back within 3 months. Times passed but Hodja did not pay and thus the neighbour frequently visits Hodja and asks when he will pay. He never says a date of payment. In one of such regular visits of the neighbour, Hodja said he found a solution to pay the debt to the neigbour. The neighbour excited and asked how Hodja will pay. Reply of Hodja was such: “There are sheeps of the willage passing through my fences of the house yard, thus their wools are hung on fences, consequently I can collect these hang wools from the fences, and can go to bazaar to sell these wools.” So, Hodja said he shall soon pay the debt to him. When the neighbour heart such solution from Hodja, he started to laugh very laudly. Hodja replied him: ” You heart cash payment and that is why you are laughing now!”

    By analogy, as a Turkish citizen I do not buy anything less than full membership of EU and I do not think that, as long as long we have power and right to vote in elections of Turkey, any government in Turkey for today or for the next 50 years shall not be authorized to accept such “funny” and “empty” partnerships with Europe under any name, rather than full membership.

    So, I advise all supporters in Europe, on the matter of offering Turkey a special or privileged or strategic “partnertship” rather than full membership, that they are simply having day dreams or better they have an illusion (to trick themselves, not the Turks).

    Finally, I believe most Turks have the very simple opinion: Take it (full membership) or leave it (Europe).

    Best regards,
    Seref Tasdemir
    Istanbul, Turkey

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  4. I find your article very cynical and over-stretching the borders of logic.
    If I agree with the facts that the track record of Turkey on human rights is not convincing, I am troubled by your sentence “Like the former communist member countries, it lacks a tradition of freedom, democracy, political compromise and the rule of law.”
    From the ancient times to the modern times, Turkey, Anatolia, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire (whatever you name it) has displayed a much better track at these values than many other countries, may it be for colonial adventures (which ended not that long ago), for medieval society or for fighting communism and terrorism. Turkey has always been an opened country and an opened society which has very early lectured people over religion and ethnicism.

    For your conclusions, I find your selection of data for arguing inapropriate.

    NATO has made the Turkish army the only solid institution in Turkey by bypassing other structures to control its borders with Russia. Hellenistic Cyprus has made the choice to not live with Turkish Cypriots. EU has thn found a legal compromise for accepting it even if a country with ‘border disputes’ cannot in principle be allowed in.
    I hardly see how one can take the consequences of EU policies as drivers of future policies.

    The only common sense about this enlargement process is that Turkey is already in and that it is too late to reject it. There is nothing to do about it except starting a new world war. But sadly Europe has a lot of experience in this.

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  5. hey I just want to say that this article from dr Rhein is very clear.I think the average of the europeans agree with him…everyones knows that europe and turkey are not compatible socialy because europe has already a lot of emigration from turks who are not integrated in the comunities where they live such as germany holland denmark and so on.the last episode regarding the caartons are a good example how the both societies europe and turkey are imcopatible.there´s only one thing is economical mutual interests and nothing else and for that both sides should find as soon as possible a solutions which is not the full membership…I´m sure that turkey will accept because they dont have many other options but I understand that the turkish want the full membership because they want to rule sooner or later in europe but unfortunatly is not because they see the europeans and the western cultures as brotherhood not at all.if the usa likes turkey so much they can add them to their territory overseas like they have the alaska and hawai they can also incorporate turkey moon in their flag of 52stars but not push turkey to the others.thanks ciao

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  6. Reluctantly, I more or less agree with Mr. Rhein. That said, I still believe the EU should continue to expand quickly. The benefits outweigh the costs and, despite any ensuing chaos in decision making, the alternative is an even more chaotic world at precisely the moment when chaos is least affordable.

    Sadly, the EU is not really big enough – in an ideal sense – for additional members at this time. But why is that? Is it because those Turks have inferior values and incompatible religion? Is it because those former Soviet bloc nations can’t beat the bogymen of corruption and paranoia?


    It is because the current EU members – and that very much goes for the big, core states, too – cannot yet agree to create a strong, democratic, non-nationalistic and unified government. They are still clinging to obsolete concepts with a narrow mindedness akin to 19th century balance of power theorists. Rather than reveling in the spirit of equal voices for all citizens, they bury themselves in the mist of strategies to gain advantage for themselves and minority constituencies.

    Only when the EU fully acknowledges that democracy is fundamental to integration can it realistically hope to seamlessly expand. The question is, however, can we afford to wait for some distant future merely in the hope that one day we might enjoy the luxury of problem free expansion?

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  7. What a great post. I didnt know the EU was growing at such a fast rate! This was very surprising to me. I appreciate all of the hard work and time that went into making this great post.

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