The very foundation of the European Union is built on the ruins of the Second World War, a cataclysmic event that killed 50 million people and caused unprecedented economic and social upheaval across the continent.

Western Europe was in tatters, bombarded into ruins by both the civil war in Spain and the much wider war waged by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialists. And as the continent tried to recover, it then faced the threat of nuclear annihilation and massed Soviet tanks behind an iron curtain that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

Beginning with the Steal and Coal agreements, it was recognized that economic cooperation brought prosperity. And when people prospered in a free market, peace was the ultimate dividend. Indeed, in the East, on the other side of that Iron Curtain, communist controls over the free market essentially meant economic deprivation – unless, of course, you had access to the black market and hard currency. .

From the first six members of the European Economic Community, the project gradually grew to 10, then to the current 27, driven by the rush of former Soviet republics wishing to join the economic bloc once they had met the democratic, social, political and economic. established by the club centered on Brussels.

And for 35 years, Turkey has wanted to enter.

Membership has its privileges

Rewind to 1987, when Morocco and Turkey initially sought to join the club – as an American Express advertisement pointed out, membership has its privileges.

The Moroccan candidacy was easily rejected. It was a North African nation – although it had long ties to France through colonization. But Turkey? Well, it has always been the gateway between east and west and geographically the border of Europe is in the Bosphorus Strait. Rather than say an emphatic “no”, the Eurocrats in Brussels are doing what the bureaucrats in Brussels do best: they have stalled. And stalled a little more.

Fast forward 35 years, and Turkey is still waiting for its golden key. Yes, Brussels is still stagnating.

It’s not as if Ankara and Brussels haven’t spoken or worked together. Yes, absolutely, they did. In 1999, Europe declared that Turkey was indeed eligible to join the EU.

Turkey’s involvement in European integration actually dates back to 1959 and includes the Ankara Association Agreement of 1963. You’re probably not aware of this, and neither am I, but it threw the bases of a customs union between Turkey and the rest of Western Europe. which has been in place since 1995.

Talks really started to become a full member in 2005, but they came to nothing. Unless, of course, Europe wants something from Ankara.

According to EU officials, Turkey is a key strategic partner for the EU on issues such as migration, security, counter-terrorism and the economy, but has backslid in key areas where the EU wants democratic values ​​to be upheld – things like freedom of association, freedom of the media and an independent judiciary. Of course, Poland and Hungary have been criticized for lacking in these areas for the past three years or so, but they have the advantage of being inside the club.

Turkey is not in the club

Six years ago, when Daesh was unleashed and millions of Arabs fled political and social unrest in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, Turkey provided a natural barrier to prevent these refugees from entering the territory of the EU. According to EU laws at the time, once a refugee arrived in the EU, they could settle anywhere in the then 28 members. And yes, it was one of the driving forces behind Brits who voted to leave the EU five years ago.

Before the current crisis in Ukraine, Turkey hosted the most refugees in this region of the world, and to do so, it receives billions of dollars in EU funding every year. In 2021, he received 6 billion euros and the current deal is in place until 2025.

With around 3.6 million refugees hosted by Turkey, Ankara now has significant leverage over Europe. With the United Nations estimating that nearly 10 million people have left their homes in Ukraine and many have settled in EU states bordering Ukraine, the prospect of an even deeper refugee crisis is something that Brussels simply cannot tolerate at the moment.

On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the EU to relaunch talks on Ankara’s eventual EU membership – a call made on the eve of a summit focusing on Russia’s intervention in Ukraine .

Yes, timing is everything.

For 60 years now, Turkey has been a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, joining the same week as Greece.

But membership in the military alliance is one thing, access to the economic club is another.

“We expect the EU to quickly open the chapters of the accession negotiations and start negotiations on a customs union without giving in to cynical calculations,” Erdogan said after talks with the Dutch prime minister in visit, Mark Rutte.

Since events began to escalate in Ukraine, Turkey has been an active player in the search for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

In late February, Turkey invoked the Montreux Convention of 1936 to close the Bosphorus directly to foreign battleships. He has also sold armed drones to Ukraine and is trying to end the fighting between kyiv and Moscow.

The crisis in Ukraine has certainly focused European thinking on what the future of the EU should be — and where it should be. Ukraine has requested to participate in an expedited application process. This has already been rejected by Brussels. But there is a growing realization that given Turkey’s unique position on Europe’s southeastern border, the time has finally come when Ankara’s candidacy will be seriously considered. But EU officials are also experts on non-engagement.