The price for Turkey of breaking away from the EU

The European Union discussed its next potential enlargement with six western Balkan countries at a summit in Sofia last week. Turkey was not invited. Indeed, the acronym WB6 (Western Balkans 6) is now used to define pre-accession countries, a geographical term that conveniently excludes Turkey.

The term enlargement though was not used to describe the meeting in Sofia because of the political and economic problems in the newer EU member states after the 2004 and 2007 expansions of the bloc, as well as the uneasiness created in older member countries by new members’ difficulties to adapt. The management of a 28-member EU is not easy job and all members, whatever their size, can veto key decisions.

Although he has assumed to task of being at the forefront in re-launching the EU, French President Emmanuel Macron is not in favor of admitting new states yet he is allergic to the word enlargement. But while the WB6 are very small, with a total population of 18 million, they are important for the EU. The influence that Russia and Turkey are trying to establish in Eastern Europe threatens the EU’s values, and hence its security.

Turkey and Russia use 19th century-type power strategies in the ethnically and religiously splintered sub-region; they have become rivals of the EU. In particular Russia is keen to pursue long-term goals detrimental to the cohesion of the EU through its proxies and power bases in these countries. The EU though wants an end to the instability in the sub-region and aims at establishing a sustainable peace which is part of its security. Let us not forget that five of those six countries are former Yugoslav republics. Let us also not forget that in the final analysis Russia cannot offer those countries anything other than religious and ethnic divide.

Turkey is no different. Its policies in the region nowadays almost entirely consist of exerting pressure on governments for closing schools linked to the Gülen movement it blames for the 2016 failed coup. Additionally, it tries to sell Salafism to Bektashi Albanians and provokes Macedonians against Greece.

There has been a new development regarding the official name of Macedonia, which went unnoticed in the press. Macedonia, which Turkey has always supported in its tussle with Greece over its name, has suggested to be known as Republic of Ilindenska Macedonia.  Ilindenska is the name of a 1903 Slav uprising against the Ottoman Empire, eventually put down by Istanbul in a bloodbath!

The EU has made important revisions to its enlargement policy. The new approach refrains from using the term enlargement, but is based on implementing comprehensive joint programs that aim to ensure harmonization with the EU acquis communautaire over 35 negotiation chapters on a regional basis in addition to candidates own preparations. And in line with the German approach, joining countries will be judged on their merits to become members and not all at once as it happened in 2004.

The European Commission tentatively set 2025 as the target date for membership for Montenegro and Serbia, but others like Macedonia can also join them or the EU may decide that none of them are ready.

Though the new EU budget for 2021-2027 does not foresee any enlargement in the next budgetary cycle, the 14.5 billion euros for pre-accession countries may be enough for small-scale enlargement, as Turkey is now out of the equation. If some countries do manage to fulfill the requirements for membership, structural funds can be easily amended to pave the way for their accession.


The European appetite for trade and infrastructural projects in Turkey will continue for some while. There will be those that stumble on the way, lose money, go bankrupt, but that is how risk capital works. Appetite and greed are closely related.

It’s obvious that the appetite will cease when bound accidents start to occur. The lack of legal guarantees and checks, which encourages arbitrariness, country’s financial weakness, along with chronic problems related to work and environment standards will eventually create problems for European companies. Not to mention the economic crisis, becoming more visible in recent weeks. In short, sweet profits can easily turn into nightmares. But my intention is not to talk about this. I want to point at the lasting loneliness on the horizon, not because the appetite of EU companies may end, but due to the end of the Turkey’s European prospect.

In that context, let us look at the EU structural and investment funds from the perspective of Turkey. Let us evaluate the resources directed to 12 countries that became EU members in 2004 and 2007 in the ongoing budget period covering 2014 to 2020.

European Structural and Investment Funds provided €453 billion to 28 countries. Most of those resources are grants, not loans. I took four countries that became members during the last enlargement wave, whose economies resemble Turkey’s. These are Poland, Romania, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, chosen also according to their total population which is close to Turkey - 78 million. Those countries benefited from €169 billion of the total of €453 billion.

Why this comparison?

To remind us of the meaning of Turkey’s relations with Europe that seems to have been totally forgotten and even omitted in the opposition parties’ election manifestos. Of course, EU does not only mean financial resources, it also means the highest level of values, norms, standards, and principles in the world. But today as everybody talks about money it makes sense to see what would be the situation with and without the EU.

In the first years of pre-accession process, people made fun of the grants provided to Turkey by the EU. Small at first, they increased in time, though not in a proportional way. But now not even the 10 percent of the 4.5 bn. euros budget appropriated to Turkey for the 2014 to 2020 period has been used.

Today the economic deadlock is at such a point that it may be helpful to recall EU’s resources and the meaning of relations with the EU.

A Turkey, financially broken and away from Europe can only apply to its old “friend” the IMF. Whereas the EU held the hand of its member Greece, also pretty badly managed for years, when it went through an economic crisis. You may like the EU’s recovery recipe for Greece or not, but the solidarity is there, whereas Turkey is now totally by itself!