A brief analysis of Turkish-Belgian relations from an EU perspective
DENİZ SERVANTIETurkey’s relations with Belgium go back to the 1830s following the formal declaration of independence of the Kingdom of Belgium. In that context, Belgian entrepreneurs realized various investments in the then-Ottoman Empire, and such investments would continue following the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Both countries are NATO allies and have enjoyed solid and enduring relations in many areas.
In the 1960s, Belgium witnessed the arrival of an important migrant flow from Turkey. This was organized following the signing of a Labor Recruitment Agreement between the parties in July 1964. As in Germany, the status of Turkish immigrants in Belgium was known as “guest workers,” with the idea that they would not settle permanently in the host country. In 1970, Turkish citizens were granted tourist visas and thus acquired the right to bring over their families with them. In contrast, with the 1980 coup in Turkey, bilateral relations were damaged and Belgian authorities brought legal restrictions to Turkish immigration. Currently, Turkish immigrants constitute Belgium’s second largest foreign community with approximately 220,000 people.
In 2011, Belgium officially accepted dual citizenship, facilitating the naturalization of many Turks living in Belgium who had to lose their original citizenship to acquire Belgian citizenship beforehand. Belgian-Turks are contributing positively to the economy and also to the variety of areas such as politics, arts, trade and sports. Emir Kır, the mayor of Brussels’ Saint-Josse municipality, is one of the most prominent members of the Turkish community in Belgium.
In December 2007, a survey conducted by the King Baudouin Foundation revealed a striking picture regarding Belgian-Turks’ views on Turkey’s EU accession process. According to the findings of the survey, 30 percent of Belgian-Turks support Turkey’s accession, while 34 percent oppose it. In contrast, 22.5 percent of those surveyed expressed that it wouldn’t make any difference.
According to another survey aiming to analyze and shed light on the role played by the Turkish diaspora, it appears that more than half of Belgian-Turks were born in Turkey and lived their first years there whereas 74 percent of them define themselves as being “Euro-Turks.”
Belgium has been consistently supportive of Turkey’s EU membership perspective on a conditional basis. In 1999, when Turkey was declared a candidate state at the Helsinki Summit, then-Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and his group in the European Parliament played a constructive role. There were actually two main reasons for Belgium’s support for Turkey’s EU candidate status at that time: the possibility of strengthening the integration of Belgians of Turkish origin into the mainstream society and the assumption that Turkey’s membership would consolidate NATO and the EU.
In 2010, during its rotating EU term presidency, Belgium highlighted the necessity for Turkey to abide by all of the membership criteria in order for new chapters to be opened to negotiations. However, no chapter was effectively opened. On the other hand, Belgian officials have underscored the importance for further cooperation with Turkey in preventing the passage of foreign fighters joining terrorist organizations.
Regarding the economic dimension of the relations, one can say that there has been a steady increase in Belgian investments into Turkey. Indeed, the total investment realized by Belgium in Turkey between 2002 and 2015 reached 8.17 billion dollars. In contrast, the total investment realized by Turkey in Belgium during the same period reached 311 million dollars.
In conclusion, bilateral relations are based on solid ground and significant progress has been achieved in several areas. Turks have been present in Belgium for over 50 years and are very well-organized thanks to cultural centers and private companies. Undoubtedly, this will help Turkish investors in increasing their presence in the Belgian market and promoting Turkish products. Moreover, there has been a steady increase in the number of Belgian tourists to Turkey, clearly showing that the popularity of Turkey has increased. In order to enhance Belgium’s support for Turkey’s EU membership process, economic and cultural activities will have to be expanded furthermore.
Deniz Servantie is a junior researcher at the Economic Development Foundation (İKV).