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Let's welcome Turkey to the EU
01 Oct, 2019

Once it’s ready to join

London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg writes that focusing on our power to veto the accession of new member states accepts Leavers’ premise that EU expansion and freedom of movement are bad. We should be true to our values and welcome EU expansion – but only once countries are ready.


In the 2016 campaign Dominic Cummings relentlessly pushed the “threat” of imminent Turkish membership of the EU to be followed by 80 million Turks heading for Britain.

That played on fears of immigration, especially Muslim immigration, which were high at the time. It also contributed to an effective narrative showing that it was staying in the EU that was risky. That was important because Cummings was targeting a group of voters who wished to leave the EU but thought that it would be too risky to do so.

The Stronger IN campaign responded by saying that the UK had a veto over EU expansion, which the Leave campaign had denied.


How the Remain response was misguided

The Remain response focused on a technical point: did the UK have a veto?  Implicitly, it accepted the key premise of vote Leave that Turkish accession/ immigration/ Muslims were a bad thing. The only issue between the campaigns was then whether this harm could be stopped.

So, we conceded the core ground. Voters did not care about the technicality. Perhaps that was because they did not trust governments to use it in the way that voters wished.

We made the same error on the £350m, where we focussed on whether Vote Leave was using the right number – a matter of total indifference to voters. We failed to argue the main point which should have been: yes, we are making a net contribution; look at the benefits we get from the EU – the economic benefits alone hugely outweigh the contribution; where we are contributing to our neighbours then not only is that solidarity with our friends but we also benefit from a safer and more prosperous Europe.

These mistakes were made by those running Project Fear. In 2020, we should run a positive pro-EU campaign.


Let’s be true to our values

We should support EU enlargement to Turkey, to the Balkans, to Ukraine, to Georgia. We should support Freedom of Movement. We should not regard Muslims as intrinsically a problem.

So we should say something like:

I think the accession of Turkey to the EU would be great. It is a country with a rich and vibrant culture and with many dynamic and entrepreneurial businesses. 

Through the Ottoman Empire it was part of Europe for centuries.

It has extensive personal, political and business connexions to the Middle East which would aid EU policy formulation and help us address instability in the region.

Accession would also make it easier to deal with Greece/ Turkey tensions and the unresolved conflict in Cyprus, a Commonwealth country where the UK has military bases.

However, I do wish it to be Turkey that joins the EU, not vice versa.

At the moment, under President Erdogan, Turkey is moving away from European values. Democracy is under attack, the judiciary are not fully independent, freedom of speech is threatened. The relationship with the minority and separatist Kurdish population is unresolved. The country is intervening in the Middle East in a destabilising way. The Government’s interference in the economy is harming prosperity.

So there is no prospect of Turkey joining the EU at present. It would not meet the EU’s “Copenhagen Criteria” for membership.

However, when Turkey resumes its path towards modern democratic standards with a functioning market economy we should be ready to welcome the country into the EU.

The accession would need to be managed and phased in a way that can be settled at that time.

We would need to experiment with that with Leave voters to see how exactly we should phrase it so that it lands well.

But even if it lands badly we should still say it as it is in line with what we stand for.


The Copenhagen Criteria for accession

The existing rules are clear: countries may only join the EU if they meet three groups of criteria:

  • Political (rule of law, protection of human rights and minorities);
  • Economic (functioning market economy able to cope with competition); and
  • Institutional capacity to handle the EU’s acquis.

So the text I suggest would be in line with existing EU policy.


Other Countries that might join the EU

Here is a list of the other European countries that are not in the EU – note that the geographic definition of Europe is not clear and there are some other territories in Europe that could be on the list. We should welcome their accession too at a time when they wished to join and were suitable candidates, ie met the Copenhagen Criteria.







Candidate country

Association agreement in force















Association agreement in force



Association agreement in force









Association agreement in force



EEA member



Association agreement in force






Candidate country

Association agreement in force

North Macedonia


Candidate country 

Association agreement in force



EEA member. Rejected EU membership




San Marino





Candidate country

Association agreement in force






Association agreement in force

Vatican State




* less than 1m

Source of population figures: wikipedia 



We must not be short term in our campaigning. If we are true to our beliefs we must accept that some of our statements will go down badly with Leave voters. But in the long run we will prosper because we will not have given ground to bad arguments that we do not believe in.




The London4Europe blogs page is edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.