The EU symbolically opened membership talks with Turkey in October 2005, but a number of stumbling blocks remain on Ankara’s road to EU accession, in particular concerning trade links with Cyprus, freedom of expression and the rights of the Kurdish minority.
- Feb. 1952: Turkey becomes a full member of NATO.
- Sept. 1959: Ankara applies for associate membership of the European Economic Community.
- Sept. 1963: Ankara Agreement (an association agreement) signed to take Turkey into a customs union and finally full EEC membership. First financial protocol also signed.
- Nov. 1970: Additional Protocol and second financial protocol signed in Brussels.
- Jan. 1973: Additional Protocol enters into force, comprehensively setting out how the customs union would be established.
- July 1974: Turkey invades Cyprus.
- During the first half of the 1980s, relations between Turkey and the EEC come to a virtual freeze following the military coup d’etat on 12 September 1980.
- June 1980: Association Council decides to decrease customs duties on almost all agricultural products to “zero” by 1987.
- Sept. 1986: Turkey-EEC Association Council meeting revives the association process.
- 14 April 1987: Turkey applies for full EEC membership.
- Dec. 1989: Commission endorses Turkey’s eligibility for membership but defers assessment of its application.
- March 1995: Turkey-EU Association Council finalises agreement on customs union, which enters into force on 1 January 1996.
- Dec. 1997: Luxembourg summit sees EU leaders decline to grant candidate status to Turkey.
- Dec. 1999: Helsinki summit gives candidate status to Turkey.
- March 2001: Council of Ministers adopts EU-Turkey Accession Partnership.
- March 2001: Turkish government adopts National Programme of Turkey for adopting EU laws.
- Sept. 2001: Turkish parliament adopts over 30 amendments to the constitution in order to meet the Copenhagen political criteria for EU membership.
- Aug. 2002: Turkish parliament passes sweeping reforms to meet EU’s human rights criteria.
- 13 Dec. 2002: Copenhagen summit resolves that if the European Council in December 2004, on the basis of a report and a recommendation from the Commission, decides that Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria, the EU would open accession negotiations with Turkey. In the meantime, EU leaders agree to extend and deepen co-operation on customs union and to provide Turkey with increased pre-accession financial assistance.
- May 2003: Council of Ministers decides on the principles, priorities, intermediate objectives and conditions of an Accession Partnership with Turkey.
- Jan. 2004: Turkey signs protocol banning death penalty in all circumstances, a move welcomed by the EU.
- March 2004: European Council recommends ending monitoring of Turkey.
- 17 Dec. 2004: European Council decides to open accession negotiations with Turkey on 3 October 2005: with strings attached.
- 23 May 2005: Turkey names Economy Minister Ali Babacan as the country’s chief accession negotiator.
- 1 June 2005: Turkey’s revised penal code, first adopted in September 2004, enters into force.
- 17 June 2005: Council reiterates EU’s determination to proceed with enlargement process.
- 29 June 2005: Commission presents ‘rigorous’ negotiating framework to Ankara.
- 29 July 2005: Turkey signs protocol to Ankara agreement, extending EU-15 customs union to the ten new member states including Cyprus. Ankara also issues a declaration on non-recognition of Cyprus.
- 21 Sept. 2005: EU approves its counter-declaration to Turkey’s 29 July declaration.
- 3 Oct. 2005: Accession talks symbolically opened with Turkey.
- 23 Jan. 2006: Council decides on principles, priorities and conditions contained in Accession Partnership with Turkey.
- 16 March: European Parliament adopts resolution based on report by Elmar Brok on Commission’s enlargement strategy paper.
- 12 Apr. 2006: Selection panel for the European Capital of Culture 2010 recommends Istanbul.
- 12 June 2006: EU starts concrete accession negotiations with Turkey. The negotiating framework specifies 35 chapters. Each chapter needs to be unanimously opened and closed by the Council. Council agrees to open and close chapter on science and research.
- 12-27 July 2006: A court ruling on ‘Turkishness’ in the case of Hrant Dink sends an ambivalent signal to EU and raises concerns over freedom of expression in Turkey.
- 31 July 2006: Hardline General Yasar Büyükanit appointed chief of Turkish military.
- 4 Sept. 2006: European Parliament adopts report concerning Turkey’s progress on preparing for membership. The report said Turkey had made insufficient progress in the areas of freedom of expression, minority rights, corruption and violence against women.
- 8 Nov. 2006: Commission publishes critical report on Turkey’s accession progress.
- 29 Nov. 2006: Commission recommends partial suspension of membership negotiations with Turkey due to lack of progress on Cyprus issue.
- 11 Dec. 2006: EU foreign ministers decide to follow Commission’s recommendations and suspend talks with Turkey on eight of the 35 negotiating areas.
- 26 June 2007: Two further negotiating chapters, on statistics and financial control, are opened. But opening chapter on economic and monetary union is taken off agenda.
- 22 July 2007: Erdogan’s ruling AKP gets re-elected with 47% of vote in early parliamentary elections.
- 28 Aug. 2007: Abdullah Gül is elected president of Turkey in third round of voting in the Turkish assembly.
- Febr. 2008: Adoption by Council of revised Accession Partnership for Turkey.
- March 2008: Turkish Constitutional Court narrowly rejects allegations that AKP Party is trying to establish Islamist state. If accepted, the allegations would have led to the banning of the party.
- June 2008: Negotiations open on two chapters: intellectual property and company law.
- 20 Oct. 2008: Ergenekon trial – which sees members of the military and security establishment accused of fomenting unrest – begins.
- 2009: Kurdish initiative launched with a view to extending cultural and linguistic rights to the Kurdish minority, whose condition is seen as a major problem in EU accession talks.
- Jan. 2009: Egemen Bagiş appointed minister for EU accession and chief negotiator.
- March 2009: Local elections weaken standing of the AKP party which lost some 8% of votes compared to parliamentary election in 2007.
- 8 July 2009: Turkey adopts law aimed at meeting EU criteria to limit the power of military courts, despite warnings from the army that this might escalate tensions with government (EurActiv 09/07/09).
- 14 Sept. 2009: Government defends $2.5 billion dollar measure against Dogan Media Holding. Considering the critical stance of the latter against the government, the EU expressed concern (EurActiv 15/09/09)
- 10 Oct. 2009: Turkey and Armenia signed a peace accord in Zurich aimed at opening borders between the neighbouring countries. The rapprochement is seen as a precondition for Turkish accession (EurActiv 12/10/09).
- 14 Oct. 2009: Latest progress report on Turkish accession published.
Ever since the foundation of modern day Turkey in 1923, this country with a predominantly Muslim population has been a secular democracy closely aligned with the West. Turkey was a founding member of the United Nations, and has been a member of NATO since 1952, the Council of Europe since 1949, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) since 1961 and an associate member of the Western European Union since 1992.
Ankara chose to begin co-operating closely with the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1959, and Turkey’s prospective membership of the EEC’s successor, the European Union, has been a source of much debate ever since.
Turkey’s relationship with the EEC was legally sanctioned in 1963 when it signed an Association Agreement with the EU. This is the first preliminary step on the path to full membership. Since then, Turkish hopes have been put on hold, paricularly following its invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the military coup d’etat of 1980.
A major turning point for Turkey’s EU prospects was the decision reached at the Helsinki Summit in December 1999 to grant official candidate status to the country. In the period between 1999 and 2004, Turkey took great steps in order to meet the Copenaghen criteria, especially regarding stable institutions, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and the protection of minorities. A key step in this process was the signing of the protocol on the de facto abolition of the death penalty.
The European Council decided in December 2004 to open accession negotiations with Turkey in October the following year. Nevertheless, practical negotiations on the 35 chapters of the acquis communautaire only began in June 2006.
So far, only one chapter (science and research) has been provisionally closed. Eleven more have been opened, but eight remain blocked over Turkey’s failure to implement the Ankara Protocol, which states that access should be granted and ports opened to products coming from the Republic of Cyprus (for a full overview of the state of the negotiations, see EurActiv LinksDossier on ‘Turkey accession and Cyprus’). According to Turkey’s chief negotiator Egemen Bagiş, five chapters are being blocked by France, three by Austria and Germany, and two by Cyprus.
The reform impetus has also been waning in Turkey as a result of the increasingly critical stance of key players like France and Germany, which are sceptical of Turkey’s credentials as a European country and its ability to fulfil the accession criteria.
At the request of governments meeting in the European Council, a framework for Turkey’s EU membership negotiations was established by the European Commission. The document was released on 29 June 2005.
The negotiating framework, which has been described by Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn as “rigorous”, rests on the following elements:
- The underlying and shared objective of the talks is Turkey’s EU accession. However, the negotiations are “open-ended“, which means that their outcome is not guaranteed beforehand.
- At the end of the talks, should Turkey fail to satisfy fully all the obligations of EU membership as specified in the Copenhagen criteria, EU member states would still ensure that Ankara is “fully anchored in European structures through the strongest possible bond”.
- The accession negotiations are being conducted in the framework of an Intergovernmental Conference with the participation of Turkey and all EU member states. The policy issues are broken down into 35 policy areas (so-called ‘chapters’) – more than ever before – and all decisions require unanimity.
- The EU may consider introducing long transition periods, derogations, special arrangements or permanent safeguard clauses for each chapter.
- Membership talks with candidates “whose accession could have substantial financial consequences” (such as Turkey) can only be concluded after 2014, the scheduled date for the establishment of the EU’s new financial framework.
- Accession negotiations can be suspended in case of a “serious and persistent breach […] of the principles of democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law on which the Union is founded”. Suspension would require a Commission initiative or a request to that effect by one third of the member states. The final decision would be made by the Council by qualified majority, and the European Parliament would be informed.
- Under a compromise formula agreed at the December 2004 EU Council, before 3 October 2005 Turkey was obliged to sign a protocol adapting the 1963 Ankara Treaty to the ten new member states of the EU, including the Greek Cypriot government. This would amount to implicit recognition of the Greek Cypriot government by Ankara for the first time since the island’s division in 1974. “The adoption of this protocol is in no way recognition, and I’ve put this on the record,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said. The deal did not include a commitment from Ankara that the protocol would be ratified by the Turkish parliament before October 2005. As for the other key condition, Turkey on 1 June 2005 enacted the country’s revised penal code.
Throughout Europe, the arguments that surround Turkey’s projected accession revolve around a series of issues, ranging from demographic through geographic to political. One commonly raised point is that, if and when it were to join the EU, Turkey would become the EU’s most populous member state. Turkey’s current population is estimated at 74 million, and demographers project it to increase to 80-85 million in the next 20 years. This compares with the largest current EU member state Germany, which has 83 million people today, but whose population is projected to decrease to around 80 million by 2020.
Another argument is rooted in the age-old debate on whether it is possible to establish geographic borders for Europe, and whether Turkey ‘fits’ within these borders. This is seen by many as a dispute that rests on philosophical and intellectual prejudgements, especially since the Treaty of Rome is widely accepted to aim for the construction of a union of European states based on shared common values.
Perhaps the most sensitive of all arguments centres on cultural and religious differences. Since the EU identifies itself as a cultural and religious mosaic that recognises and respects diversity, supporters of Turkey’s EU bid believe that, as long as both Turkey and the EU member states maintain this common vision, cultural and religious differences should be irrelevant.
The EU member states’ concerns over Turkey’s human rights record as well as global and regional security-related issues have also been key factors behind Turkey’s prolonged application process.
The future of the divided island of Cyprus (see separate LinksDossier on Turkey accession and Cyprus) has also been a major sticking point. The Council’s December 2004 decision entailed a compromise formula on the Cyprus issue, under which the affected sides were expected to work towards a solution to the conflict before the 3 October 2005 launch of membership talks with Ankara.
However, the conflict still remains unresolved, and Cyprus is a decisive factor in the negotiation process. Cyprus demands official recognition by Turkey and access to Turkish harbours and airports. Turkey demands the isolation of Northern Cyprus be brought to an end and emphasises that it was the Greek side of the island that rejected the UN’s plan in 2004. Turkish EU Minister and chief negotiator Egemen Bagiş claimed that “the Cyprus problem was not a prerequisite for the membership of Cyprus itself. Therefore it should not be a prerequisite for the membership of another country”.
The ‘no’ votes in referenda on the EU Constitution in France and the Netherlands during the first half of 2005 have been detrimental to Turkey’s EU bid. Although subsequent research and surveys have failed to prove that enlargement in general, and Turkey’s candidacy in particular, were key factors behind the public’s rejection of the Constitution, the summer of 2005 still witnessed an increase Europe-wide of scepticism towards Turkey’s European prospects. Whilst the climate for enlargement seems to have changed with the advent of the Lisbon Treaty (EurActiv 09/10/09), it did not modify European leaders’ and the public’s perceptions of Turkey. In particular, France and Germany are now proposing that Turkey’s full-fledged EU membership be replaced with a ‘privileged partnership’ (see ‘Positions’).
According to the European Commission’s progress report of 14 October 2009, Article 301 on ‘insults to Turkishness’ is “no longer used systematically to restrict freedom of expression. However Turkish law does not sufficiently guarantee freedom of expression in line with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR)”.
The softening of Turkey’s relationship with Armenia is also seen as a precondition for its membership. Whilst recognition of the Armenian genocide does not appear to be a precondition for membership any longer, the opportunity to discuss the issue freely is. The recent rapprochement between Ankara and Yerevan is welcome in Brussels (EurActiv 01/09/09).
The Commission report also views positively the opening of a wide-ranging debate on cultural, political and economic aspects of the Kurdish issue, but it stresses the need for concrete measures here, underlining how broad interpretation of anti-terror legislation “has resulted in undue restrictions on the exercise of fundamental rights”.
The Turkish armed forces have been fighting insurgents of the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) for more than 25 years. All Kurdish protests are presumed by the state to be organised by the PKK, which is classed as a terrorist organisation.
Under the strict penal code, terrorism offences even apply to young teenagers. As of May 2010, more than 350 children between the ages of 13 and 17 are currently serving sentences in adult prisons in Turkey on similar charges, according to the BBC.
Another problem is the continuing interference of judicial and military power in Turkish executive and legislative powers. This is problematic if viewed with historical hindsight. The weakness of the boundaries that divide Turkish powers seems to be confirmed by the Ergenekon trial, which saw 300 personalities involved in conspiracies aimed at weakening the government and possibly leading to a coup d’etat.
Domestic support for EU membership is in decline as the issues seem to increasingly difficult to resolve. The Turkish public is growing more and more tired of the negotiation process. A recent Eurobarometer survey showed that only 44% of Turks think EU membership would be a good thing, compared to 66% in spring 2005. A survey by the German Marshall Fund of the US, published in June, confirmed this tendency.
Turkish politicians are increasingly making use of this sentiment, especially with a view to the upcoming elections. One expression of this is the criticism expressed by Turks regarding Pope Benedict’s comments on Islam of 15 September 2006.
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn stated that “there is a pressing need to reform the legal and constitutional framework governing the closure of political parties. We simply cannot afford yet another unnecessary constitutional crisis stemming from outdated rules not in line with European standards”.
In an exclusive interview with EurActiv (EurActiv 21/11/08), Commissioner Rehn also envisaged the possibility of creating temporary or permanent derogations on the subject of free movement of workers to appease France.
Rehn summarised the situation thus: “There are three main concerns. First, deepening is important. That’s why we need the Lisbon Treaty. Secondly, concerning the labour market, we have policy instruments to avoid problems in this area. Concerning the cultural and religious resistance, although I can somehow understand it, I have less sympathy for it because for me the EU is not a Christian club but a community of values related to liberty and freedom.”
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said “the accession talks with Turkey are pursued on the basis of a mandate handed down unanimously by the member states,” adding: “If one – or several – member states want to modify this mandate it is up to them to try to get it changed, and accept the consequences.”
Barroso makes clear that current talks should go on, but in a 2008 address to the Turkish Assembly he tried to boost the reform impetus in Turkey, which appears to have waned somewhat due to the remaining political and legal hurdles (EurActiv 11/04/08).
The Independent Commission on Turkey, headed by Peace Nobel Prize Laureate Martti Ahtisaari, found that “negative reactions since 2004 from European political leaders and growing hesitation by the European public about further enlargement have given Turkey the impression that it is not welcome, even if it were to fulfil all membership conditions. Moreover, the process itself has been hindered by the effective blockage of more than half of the negotiating chapters”.
This negative political attitude seems to have frustrated the commitment of reformers, the independent commission concluded.
Turkey has described the idea of a ‘privileged partnership’ as insulting, since this definition does not even have a legal basis.
Turkish chief negotiator on EU accession, Egemen Bagiş, stressed that Turkey is perfectly in line to fulfil the chapters of the acquis, noting that in ten years Turkey had moved from being the 27th largest economy in the world to 16th place.
“We can become one of the top economies and top countries of the world, even without becoming a member of the EU. So EU membership is very important anchor, but it’s not our only option,” Bagiş said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Irish ‘yes’ to the Lisbon Treaty creates the legal conditions for future EU enlargements (Euractiv 05/10/09) and pleaded passionately for his country’s accession to the Union. He also stated that Turkey can help Europe to become a major player on the international stage if it is admitted to the club.
Germany is critical of Turkish EU-membership. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “accession is not a one-way street” and Turkey must fulfil the criteria. During the 2009 EU election campaign, she said she would prefer Turkey to receive a privileged partnership from the EU, rather than full membership, echoing recent comments made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy (EurActiv 08/05/09 and 11/05/09).
Merkel’s stance crystallised in Germany after the September 2009 federal elections: the new coalition partner of the CDU, the liberal FDP, is critical of Turkish accession, unlike the former ‘grand coalition’ partner, the SDP.
Meanwhile, Germany remains Turkey’s most important economic and commercial partner within the EU. The volume of bilateral trade, worth 14 billion euros annually, has doubled in the past ten years. Nearly 14% of Turkey’s exports go to Germany, while 17% of Germany’s total exports go to Turkey. There are nearly 1,100 German companies operating in Turkey today, and over three million German tourists visit Turkey each year. There are an estimated 2.5 million Turks living in Germany today, and 600,000 of them have already become German citizens.
France appears to have become increasingly sceptical on the issue of Turkish EU membership. While former President Jacques Chirac had been a vocal albeit lukewarm supporter of Ankara’s ambitions, the referendum on the EU Constitution brought to the fore the French public’s reservations.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is firmly opposed to Turkish membership of the EU, claiming that “Europe has been lying about its borders. Turkey is in Asia Minor and not in Europe”. Sarkozy believes Europe should suspend accession talks with Turkey and instead work towards a “privileged partnership”.
Paris and Ankara signed an action plan in 1998 which introduced a strategic dimension to French-Turkish relations. French companies are listed as the biggest investors in Turkey, although France ranks only fifth in terms of volume of investment. Turkey exported 2.12 billion US dollars’ worth of goods to France in 2002, while the value of its imports totalled 1.76 billion US dollars.
France ranks as the fourth-largest source of tourism for Turkey. Meanwhile, the largely anti-Islamic far right has been making significant advances on the French political scene – against a backdrop of growing public reluctance to admit new members to the EU.
The United Kingdom remains a strong supporter of Turkish EU membership. In a major foreign policy speech on 26 October 2009, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband stated that turning Turkey away from EU membership would be “unconscionable” (EurActiv 27/10/09).
Turkey is a significant trading partner of the UK. In 2002, Britain was Turkey’s third-largest export destination and sixth-largest source of imports. Total bilateral trade for 2002 amounted to 3.7 billion pounds.
Italy remains one of the strongest advocates of Turkish EU accession, and this support spans the whole political spectrum. President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano stressed that “Turkey represents an added value for Europe. It is necessary to continue negotiations for entry without unnecessary obstructionism”.
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister, is also supportive of Turkish accession and claimed that he would try to win over reluctant states (EurActiv 13/11/09).
Greece, Turkey’s historical foe, keeps its distance from debates on whether Turkey should join the Union or rather become its ‘privileged partner’. Officially Athens says that Turkey’s EU integration is welcome, given that by getting closer to the club, Ankara needs to respect its rules. Nonetheless, problems remain concerning territorial and airspace quarrels between the two countries and they maintain a clear distance on the Cyrpus issue (EurActiv 28/08/09).
The Republic of Cyprus stressed that Ankara would negatively affect its EU accession bid if it did not begin complying with its obligations to normalise relations with Nicosia by December 2009 and added that that there must be consequences when there are no improvements on the Cyprus issue for a number of years. Cypriot Foreign Affairs Minister Markos Kyprianou stated: “If eventually Turkey comes to believe that it belongs more to the East than the West, this will have consequences for its EU relations” (EurActiv 29/10/09).
Poland, which joined the EU as a full member on 1 May 2004, has been wary that Turkey, once accepted into the EU club, would draw massive subsidies and would also be too big a country for the Union to swallow. Nevertheless, Warsaw has also repeatedly expressed full support for Turkey’s EU membership bid.
Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said: “It must also be possible for us to introduce different treaty relations for new members.”
He added: “Not all EU member states need go along with, and incorporate, EU policies with the same degree of intensity. I believe that if it moves in the direction of 35 to 40 member states, the EU needs to devise a new form of membership intensity.”
Turkey counts as a key ally for the United States, and thus Washington believes that the EU should take in the largely Muslim Mediterranean nation as a full member. For the US, Turkey’s EU membership would create a stable role model for the whole Islamic world.
In his April 2009 trip to Turkey, US President Barack Obama, speaking to the Turkish assembly, said: “Let me be clear, the United States strongly supports Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union.” He also pointed out Turkey’s strategic energy role (EurActiv 07/04/09).
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