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Monday, August 20, 2012

European Union Enlargement: A Status Report on Turkey’s Accession Negotiations

Vincent Morelli
Section Research Manager

October 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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