So, Turkey has applied for membership in the EU several times, but unlike Greece, it never seems to get in. What are the reasons that the EU has given for denying membership to this large and influential country?
Turkey has a population of 75+ million and if the country entered the EU today, they would be the second largest member state behind Germany. This would mean an instant shift of power in almost every EU institution, more notably the European Parliament where seats are distributed to member states according to population. Turkey would instantly become a key player in European politics and would have more influence than the traditionally core countries, France, Italy, and the UK. Even if we don't consider anything else, it's understandable that Europeans would be wary of a membership that would significantly alter the EU's political and demographic map, and Turkey's massive population is often quoted as the key political reason the country's accession process is under such heavy scrutiny.
Furthermore Turkey is not generally considered a part of Europe. It's the spiritual successor to the Ottoman Empire, an empire that was traditionally adversarial towards Europe, and its population is predominantly Muslim, while Europe's population is overwhelmingly Christian. A very small part of the country's territory, East Thrace, is in Europe and it's application may seem unlikely to be denied on geographic grounds, like Morocco's was, but still the question of whether Turkey should be considered a European country or not has been raised multiple times. A recent example is the following statement by Nicolas Sarkozy:
The statement is from 2007, two years after the violent Paris riots, a time when feelings for Muslim immigrants in France and in Europe in general were generally unfavourable. While Europe has been traditionally welcoming to immigrants, in recent years there's a strong anti-immigration sentiment across all major member states, a contributing factor to the steady rise of nationalism in Europe. Germany's position in 2010 was less critical but also not particularly enthusiastic in regards to full membership:
Given Turkey's predominantly Muslim population and its geographic location, the EU does not want to risk an influx of Muslim immigrants, simply put Turkey's accession would open a backdoor to Europe for immigrants from Arabic and African countries, at a time when immigration is an extremely hot issue in European countries and several countries have recently implemented anti-immigration laws that would seem extreme and unjustified a decade ago. A recent example is the decision to open detention camps for immigrants in Greece, an extremely controversial decision that in local media has been compared to Nazi Germany's detention camps. While this might seem like a local issue, we can't ignore the fact that most illegal immigrants reach Greece (and thus the EU) through Turkey.
Moving on, there are two issues that can be blocking factors, the historically troublesome Greco-Turkish relations and Turkey's occupation of northen Cyprus. From the EC's 2005 Turkey Progress Report (page 9):
While Greco-Turkish relations have significantly improved in recent years, especially after the 1999 earthquakes that devastated İzmit and Athens, Greece reserves it's right to veto Turkey's membership at any time, especially since there are unresolved territorial disputes between the two countries. Greece did not intervene in the 1989 Davos proceedings, but it most certainly would have vetoed the negotiations if the EC viewed Turkey's membership favorably at the time.
The Cyprus dispute has been a core issue in Europe - Turkey relations since 1974 but it became a blocking factor since 2004, when Cyprus joined the EU. It seems highly unlikely that Cyprus will accept Turkey's full membership without a satisfying resolution, at least in the near future.
Turkey will not become a member of the EU, simply because no one wants it to.
There is no Turkish politician I can imagine who would cede power to Brussels to the extent EU membership would require. Structural changes since the 80s have done a lot erode Turks' inferiority complex when it comes to Europe.
In Europe, you can't find a core country where 51% of the population is comfortable with the idea that Turks might have equal status.
Occasionally, it was convenient in terms of domestic Turkish politics to look as if the government is doing its best to join the EU, but lately they have stopped pretending.
If you want to get bogged down in the details, you can always do a full blown analysis of this or that treaty. For a real understanding, however, you'd be wasting your time.
At the end of the 17th, the Ottoman Empire came close to swallowing Europe. At the end of the First World War, the Europeans came close to splitting the entire Ottoman Empire among them. Therein lies the rub.
Immigration is a red herring: Various governments are falling over each other, trying to give visas to Turkish tourists. For a lot of people in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, in addition to the former Soviet Union, Turkey itself is the final destination of their illegal immigration journey.
Cyprus is a red herring since reunification was rejected by the Greek Cypriots in 2004.
For the last three decades, I have advocated the position that there is nothing in Europe but a crumbling centrally planned economy. Turkey and the Turks, trying to shed a statist, stagnant, centrally planned past, have no use for that.
The biggest current stumbling block relating to Turkey's accession to the EU is around the dispute over Cyprus.
Turkey refuses to implement a trade pact between Turkey and the EU that requires the Turkish government to allow Greek Cypriot vessels to use its air and sea ports, going against the customs agreement Turkey signed as a precondition to start EU membership negotiations.
The Republic of Cyprus, although an EU member, is not officially recognised by Turkey and Turkey has stated it will refuse to recognise it until such time as the removal of the political and economic blockade on the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus - an area which is not recognised by any state but Turkey itself.
This situation has prompted the EU to freeze negotiations on eight chapters of the acquis communautaire, negotiations which are required to be completed before EU member states can vote on the accession. Even without this freeze, only one chapter is considered to be completely aligned to acquis, with the majority requiring some to a lot of further effort.
There are several reasons, but in reality Turkey herself does not make enough efforts.
There are multiple tension points in EU-Turkey relations, for most of which Turkey avoids discussion.
The most difficult being the continued occupation of Cyprus.
Also it is quite doubtful to which extent Turkey is geographically and culturally European. It is the only country applied for EU membership whose capital is not in Europe.