What are the perceptions of the political parties in the Netherlands about a possible accession of Turkey to the European Union?

House of Representatives of the Netherlands in The Hague

This article was first published in the Journal of Turkish Weekly.

Across the European Union, Turkey has been voiced as moving away from Europe and orienting itself towards the Middle East. While that might be true to some extent, it might be interesting to know that the Europeans think of Turkey’s accession to the EU.The prime example of scepticism towards Turkey’s accession was made by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who favours a ‘privileged partnership’ over full membership. Since Merkel was re-elected last month, Germany will probably remain an opponent of Turkey’s admission. But what about it’s close neighbour – the Netherlands? Though it might be a small country (17 million), it is one of the founding partners of the predecessor of the EU, the European Economic Community, and has historically always played an important role in European affairs.

This article provides a short overview of the perceptions of the eight most important Dutch political parties towards accession of Turkey to the European Union. Even though it is out of the scope of this article to analyse the perceptions of the Dutch population to the accession of Turkey to the EU, the analysis of the political parties is relevant. In democracies, political parties are elected to serve as the people’s representatives. As such, one might assume that people vote for the party they feel could best serve their interests, of which Turkey’s accession is an example.

The order of listing of the parties is according to their current representation in the Dutch House of Representatives (De Tweede Kamer). The views of the parties on Turkey are quoted for the sake of unambiguity.

The coalition cabinet

VVD (republican, central-right, 41 seats in the House of Representatives): The EU is not ready for further expansion, and halt the negotiations with Turkey over Cyprus. “In the past, the EU has been too rapid with its expansion. The VDD has, successfully, aimed to make the accession procedure stricter. With this, the coming years no country will join the EU, after Croatia. It is time to consolidate the EU, before admitting new members. No country will join as long as they do not comply for the full 100% to the EU accession requirements (the Copenhagen criteria), and all members of the EU have expressed their consent. Besides, the accession negotiations with Turkey should be put to a halt as long as Turkey refuses to the recognise Cyprus, by ratifying the Ankara-protocol.”

PvdA (Labour, central-left, 38 seats in the House): May join if it meets the criteria. “Turkey is allowed to join the European Union, as soon as it has pushed through all the necessary reforms, but legislatively, and in practice. Improvements in the fields of the rule of law, democracy and human rights (for example, the position of minorities) are prime concerns. The accession criteria of the EU are strict, and there is yet not date of accession for Turkey. Due to it’s location between Europe and the Middle East, a democratic, safe and stable Turkey would be an important asset for the EU.”

Opposition 

PVV (far-right nationalist, 15 seats): Strongly opposed of accession. “The EU still has many nightmares looming for us: for example, in Brussels there are many efforts to make Turkey a member [of the EU]. This means that an islamic country of Turkey will get the most seats in the European Parliament, after Germany. Then we won’t have any possibility to preventing millions of Turks immigrating.”

SP (Socialists, leftist, 15): May join if it meets the criteria. “The enlargement of the EU is not desirable in the short term. Firstly, the Union has to be slimmed down and reformed. … The SP does not have any principal objections to a possible accession of Turkey to the EU. If Turkey complies with all the criteria (among others, the political and economic criteria), then Turkey can join. At the moment Turkey is far from complying with these requirements. The most important problems are with the poor functioning of the rule of law, abuse of human rights, the role of the Turkish army and Turkey’s relations with member state Cyprus. It is expected that Turkey will easily take another ten years to fulfil all the requirements.”

CDA (Christian, central-right, 13): May join if it meets the criteria. “As soon as Turkey fulfils all the criteria of the European Union, it may become a member of the EU. The CDA believes it to be very important that Turkey continues its reforms in the fields of human rights and the freedom of religion.”

D66 (liberal, central-left, 12): May join if it meets the criteria. “The EU should always be open towards new members. Both the new member states, as well as the EU has profited from accession [of these countries] to the European Union. Countries can join if they fulfil the accession criteria. This is course also holds for Turkey. As soon as Turkey meets all the criteria, nothing should be in the way of full membership to the EU.

ChristenUnie (right, conservative, 5): May not join the EU, though important partner. “Turkey – a worthy NATO-ally – may not become a member of the EU. The accession negotiations should be stopped. Turkey has a strategic location, on the crossroads of Europe and Asia en close to Russia, and it is an important trading partner of Europe. A privileged partnership may well to one of the options, but only in case of a garantee of the recognistion of human rights and the dedication to good international relations in the Mediterranean.”

Groenlinks (left, 4): May join if it meets the criteria. “The negotiations with Turkey seem to have come to a halt. For Groenlinks, these candidate-states are welcome, but only if they fulfil all the accession requirements. Particularly in case of Turkey, this will take a long time.”

Current representation in the House versus the latest polls

When looking at the views of the Dutch political parties on Turkey’s EU accession, one might want to take the dynamics of the popularity of political parties into consideration, which tends to be quite fluctuating in the Netherlands.

As per current representation in the House, political parties in favour of accesion are PvdA (38), SP (15), CDA (13), D66 (12), Groenlinks (4), 50Plus (2), who take up 84 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives.

Against accession are PVV (15), ChristenUnie (5), SGP (3) and Partij voor de Dieren (2), taking up 25 seats in the House. The main governing party, VVD (41), is not principally against accession, but is against a further expansion of the EU in the short to medium term. As such, if they are put on the against accession side, then this camp would make up 66 seats of 150.

However, the according to the popularity of the political parties in the latest polls, the political parties in favour of accesion amount to (PvdA (13), SP (24), CDA (16), D66 (21), Groenlinks (6), 50Plus (4)): 84 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives.

Those against accession in this case who have (PVV (33), ChristenUnie (7), SGP (4) and Partij voor de Dieren (3)): 47 + (VVD 19) = 66 of the 150 seats in the House.

This implies that in both case, the majority of the parties favour the accession of Turkey to the EU, on the condition that Turkey fully complies to the acquis communautaire – the accession criteria.

Despite the difference in popularity per party in the polls compared to the current representation in the House, the majority of the political parties would still be in favour of Turkey’s accession. However, if these latest polls were election results, the largest party – the radical right PVV, would first be allowed to try and form a cabinet. If they would succeed, the cabinet would be vehemently against accession of Turkey. Be that as it may, the Dutch vote more traditionally when it comes to going to the ballot box – when voting they tend to stick more with the centrist parties, primarily VVD, PvdA, CDA. A good example of this were the elections in 2012, where the Socialist Party was the biggest party right before the elections, but only came out fourth after the elections.

European Parliament

When analysing the last European Parliament elections of 2009, it is evident that the majority of the Dutch political parties represented in the EP support accession of Turkey. (European Parliament elections are scheduled for May 2014.)

In favour of accession: CDA (5), PvdA (3), D66 (3), Groenlinks (3) and SP (2) = 16 of 25

Against accession: PVV (4) and ChristenUnie/SGP (2): 6 + VVD (3) = 9 of seats

All in all, it is clear that the Dutch political parties are not unified in their perception of the EU, and the accession of Turkey to the Union. Currently, a significant obstacle in Dutch politics is the position of the VVD, the bigger of the two parties in the cabinet. They are not principally opposed to the accession of Turkey to the Union, though believe that:

The EU should not allow any party to be admitted into the accession negotiations, because the EU is in much need of reform and consolidation.

The negotiations with Turkey should stop completely, until Turkey fully recognises the state of Cyprus as the sole authority of the island.

The prospect of accession currently seems rather bleak, both in the Netherlands and in other countries of the EU. The European Union member states seem more preoccupied


23 October 2013 
Journal of Turkish Weekly
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