By Tevfik Murat Yildirim. Originally published on 2012/03/14

It is very likely to hear a joke from International Relations students in Turkey: “Even Venezuela will become a member of the EU before Turkey does”. It has been a long time since the Turkish authorities have expressed their desire to join the European Union. The process, dating back almost 50 years, is still ambiguous and remains  in the hands of European politicians.

On the other hand, the results of Croatian referendum have recently been announced and Croatia said ‘yes’ to the EU. With accepting Crotia, the number of members will be 28 by 2013. Seemingly, the EU’s economic burden will be heavier in the following years due to some difficulties caused by the adaptation process of new members, including Crotia. While Crotia seems comparatively more prosperous than the new members that have recently joined the EU, there still remains much to do in the respect of Crotian unemployment, environmental and social problems.

The recovery of many European states became stifled due to the recent economic crisis. Germany, as an important ‘net contributor’ and the most economically advanced EU member, has taken the lead in a painfully long recovery process and has undertaken a decision with other EU members to save Greece. After the bail-out, the ocean now seems to calm down. Yet, we still do not know what the future will bring to the Union[1].

What the future will bring?

To understand the situation and make predictions, we should first look at the last enlargement rounds of the EU. At a first glance, it is obvious that new members, with some old ones, are far from meeting economic criterias, such as ‘ The Maastricht Criteria’ . Additionally,  recent enlargement rounds  of the union have not been enough to give a significant boost to the widening economic stagnation in some EU states. Consequently, the burden has fallen on the EU’s budget[2]. Bulgaria and Romania, whose growth rates were much lower than  the EU’s average (2010), may be in need for more support in the future to alleviate their economic vulnerability. Considering the enlargement policies, EU foreign policy seems to be unreasonable and inconsistent. A huge gap between the members and inconsistencies make us ask the same question over and over again: Is there a future for the Union? At this point, making assumptions seems to be the easiest way to carry on.

Taking into account the last enlargement round, it would not be strange to predict an increasing burden to fall mostly on the EU’s net contributors, such as Germany. Although Germany enjoys the advantages that the Union has brought, the time when Germany questions its benefits may come soon.

The two scenarios

Let us posit that, as a first scenario, the Union continues its enlargement policies. Since the gap between EU-17 countries and new members is huge, leading members will economically spend much more effort on adaptation of new members. Until the prevailing problems of the members are not solved, accepting new plaintive members will probably trigger a new EURO crisis. Mainly, the saving-consumption rates in the Mediterranean countries remain as a problem. Both scenarios have the same process and the result but different solutions. Pessimistically speaking, Germany may start speaking in a querulous tone of voice, in the matter of increasing their burden within the EU. In my opinion, Germany will keep being eager to stay in the Union due to the advantages of one currency for its trade, yet it may want economically weaker states outside the Eurozone. Including some others, Germany may play the key role in saving the Union.

According to the second scenario, in which Turkey is taken into account, pessimism goes on. The process and the result are the same, as I said before, only, the way of solving future problems will be interestingly diverse. The complexity of financing the budget and helping others in development, will bring a new quest: seeking new members as big as Germany, France or Britain in terms of population and economy[3]. Because, it seems to me, the Union can find a way  out and reach a stable era only with economically developed states who still believe in a promising union and express desire to stay in it. It is obvious that the future will bring some other difficulties to the Union, together with an ageing-population. According to recent data from Eurostat (news release euro indicators, 14 Feb), EU27 has shrunk by 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2011. Gloomy news continued with industrial production, which shrunk by 1.1% in Euro Area and 0.6% in EU27[4]. In some point of view, Turkey’s membership does not seem much to favour the Union’s future success, but in the following decade, Turkey may be considered as another main actor in Europe with its promising economy. Despite the economic difficulties of the membership and burden on the Union’s budget, Turkey may ensure a seat within the ‘net contributors’ of EU.

[1] Particularly, some academics and politicians are insisting on the collapse of EU. However, interestingly, these arguments do not stem from macroeconomic performance of the member states, but theoretical difficulties of ‘single currency’ and the political consensus.

[2] According to the EU budget data of ‘Centre Virtuel de la Connaissance sur l’Europe (CVCE)’ , number of net contributors 11, while there were 4 net beneficiaries, in 2002. After 2005, with the enlargements, the number of net beneficiaries became 16.

[3] Turkey, as one of the fastest growing country among Euro-Asians in 2010, displayed an economic success in comparison to others, but still has one of the lowest saving rate (%12-14) and biggest trade deficit among EU countries.

[4] December 2011 compared with November 2011