2012 will mark the seventh anniversary of the European Union’s decision to
proceed with formal negotiations with Turkey toward full membership in the
Union. As 2012 began, Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU had
basically reached a political and technical stalemate with little
anticipation of being revised in the near term. During the first six months of 2012,
no additional chapters of the EU’s rules and regulations known as the acquis communautaire
were opened and none were likely to be opened for the remainder of 2012 as Turkish
Prime Minister Erdogan, over the objections of EU officials, made good on his
threat to freeze certain relations with the EU when Cyprus assumed the
6-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on July
1, 2012. This was important because the accession negotiations are
normally overseen by the presidency.
In their annual assessments of the progress of the accession negotiations in
2011, all three European Union institutions—the Council, Commission, and
Parliament—expressed their overall disappointment with the lack of any
significant progress in the talks and maintained that Turkey’s continued
refusal to extend diplomatic recognition to EU member Cyprus, or to open Turkey’s sea
and air ports to Cypriot shipping and commerce until a political settlement has
been achieved on Cyprus, continued to be the major roadblock to progress.
The current economic and financial crisis within the Eurozone and a
continued healthy level of skepticism of Turkey on the part of many
Europeans, fueled by cultural and religious differences, continue to dull the
question of whether Turkey should be embraced as a member of the European
family at all. Despite these problems, some EU member states, but
particularly the EU Commission, continue to publically express a desire to
see Turkey’s accession move forward.
By contrast, in Turkey, EU membership seems to be becoming more irrelevant as
Turkey’s economy continues to thrive and as Ankara continues to
re-position and strengthen itself in its own neighborhood between secular
Europe and the Islamist emergence in the Middle East. Many Turks seem to
feel Turkey’s relations with Europe are such that “being European” or achieving membership
in the Union may no longer be needed in order for Turkey to define itself.
Sensing that the accession process itself would achieve little in 2012, but not
wanting to place Turkey on hold until after the Cypriot EU presidency
concluded, the EU Commission proposed to initiate a new relationship with
Turkey outside of the accession negotiations. On May 17, 2012, the new “Positive
Agenda with Turkey” was launched in Ankara by Commissioner for Enlargement
and European Neighborhood Policy Štefan Füle and Turkish Minister for European Affairs
Egemen Bağış. The “agenda”, described by the Commisison as intended to bring
fresh dynamics into EU-Turkey relations and by others as essentially an
institutional trick intended to circumvent the Cyprus issue, includes
continued support for domestic reforms in Turkey, foreign policy
cooperation, new visa policies, and migration issues, among others. Some
believe that the new initiative, although not intended to replace the
accession negotiations, seems comprehensive enough that it could
eventually replace the accession process and more fully define future relations
(a privileged partnership?) between the EU and Turkey short of EU membership.
This report provides a brief overview of the EU’s accession process and Turkey’s
path to EU membership. The U.S. Congress has had a long-standing interest
in Turkey as a NATO ally and partner in regional foreign policy issues.
Although some Members of Congress have expressed support for Turkey’s
membership in the EU, congressional enthusiasm seems to have diminished recently.
Date of Report: August 9, 2012
Number of Pages: 23 Order Number: RS22517 Price: $29.95
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