2011 marked the sixth anniversary of the European Union’s decision to proceed
with formal negotiations with Turkey toward full membership in the Union.
It also marked the beginning of the annual period when all three European
Union institutions—the Council, Commission, and Parliament—provide their
assessment of the progress Turkey has made or failed to accomplish in the
accession process over the previous year and issue recommendations on
whether and how Turkey’s accession process should proceed.
On October 12, 2011, the EU Commission, the first institution to act, issued
its annual assessment to the Council and Parliament and on December 5,
2011, the Council issued its “conclusions”. While noting the continued
importance of Turkey to the EU and the several positive initiatives taken
by Turkey in 2011, both the Commission and Council expressed their overall disappointment
with the lack of any significant progress in the accession talks and pledged to initiate
a “positive agenda” with Turkey for 2012 that would include support for domestic reforms,
foreign policy cooperation, new visa policies, and migration issues.
Throughout 2011, significant developments took place in Turkey, including a
national election in June that returned the governing AK Party to power, a
shake-up of the Turkish military, the beginning of the writing of a new
constitution, and several foreign policy developments involving Syria,
Iran, Cyprus, and Israel. With respect to accession however, no additional
chapters of the EU’s rules and regulations known as the acquis
communautaire were opened in 2011, leaving some to conclude that
Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU had reached a complete political
and technical stalemate with little hope of being revised in the near term.
This status seems to have prompted the Commission’s “new agenda” that
could be seen by some as being comprehensive enough to replace the actual
accession negotiations if those talks continued to remain stalled after
Overall, the EU believes implementation of critical domestic reforms in Turkey,
especially in the areas of press freedoms and the judiciary, has been too
slow. Turkey’s continued refusal to extend diplomatic recognition to
Cyprus and to open Turkey’s sea and air ports to Cypriot shipping and commerce
until a political settlement has been achieved on Cyprus continues to be a
major roadblock to progress. Skepticism on the part of many Europeans
whether Turkey should be embraced as a member of the European family and a
perceived ambivalence toward the EU by a growing number of Turks seems to
have increased. The accession talks could take a further step back if
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan follows through on his threat to freeze certain
relations, including accession negotiations, with the EU when Cyprus
assumes the 6-month rotating presidency of the EU Council on July 1, 2012.
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; an energy transit hub; and a partner in
regional foreign policy issues. Although some Members have expressed
support for Turkey’s membership in the EU, and have given Turkey high marks for
its positions on the democratic transitions in North Africa, Iran, and
Syria, the level of congressional support seems to have diminished
somewhat as Congress realizes the complexity of EU membership and what is
required of Turkey to join the EU. As well, there are congressional concerns
with several of Turkey’s recent foreign policy developments particularly with
respect to Israel and Cyprus.
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Attempts to resolve the political division of Cyprus and reunify the island have undergone various levels of negotiation for over 45 years. For the past year, Republic of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu have engaged in an intensified negotiation process but as 2011 ended and 2012 began, no measurable progress had been achieved to reach a mutually agreed settlement. This stalemate raises questions about whether the thus far elusive solution for unification can be achieved at all, increasing the possibility of an outcome bordering on or even permanent separation, potentially as early as July 2012.
On January 22-24, 2012, Christofias and Eroglu were in New York for a fifth meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to assess the progress of the negotiations. Ban had suggested that the “Greentree 2” meeting would attempt to finalize a deal in the areas of governance, economy, and EU issues where convergences had been reported that would allow the U.N. to convene an international conference in the spring to resolve security-related issues and allow referenda on a final agreement in both the north and south by early summer of 2012. The hope among some was that a reunified Cyprus would assume the 6-month rotating presidency of the EU on July 1, 2012.
The Greentree meetings concluded without any movement to end the stalemate as neither Christofias nor Eroglu were willing or able to make necessary concessions on the difficult issues of property rights, territory, security, settlers, and citizenship, areas where both sides have longheld and very different positions. Secretary-General Ban stated that he would wait until he receives a progress report from his Special Advisor at the end of March before deciding whether to convene an international conference. Ban’s press release was not well received in the Republic. Greek Cypriot political parties called the meeting a total failure, criticized Eroglu for backing away from the settlement process, warned against an international conference, and even suggested that Christofias step down as negotiator for a settlement. For his part, Eroglu suggested that the lack of a solution by July would set a number of changes in the north into motion.
Cristofias and Eroglu have resumed their negotiations, yet it appears unlikely that the stalemate can be broken at this point. The Turkish Cypriots appear unable to accept any deal until an international conference suggested by Turkey, and backed by the U.N., be held. Any agreement Christofias would accept would be difficult for him to sell to the political opposition and the ensuing heated debate, even before a referendum could be scheduled, would detract from the upcoming presidency of the EU. Thus, even though negotiations could continue, the potential for any agreement now looks to be delayed not only until after the presidency but also until after the 2013 national elections in the Republic. In essence, the Turkish Cypriots would be placed on hold for almost a year, a period it seems doubtful they would accept.
The United States Congress continues to maintain its interest in a resolution of the Cyprus issue. Language expressing continued support for the negotiation process had been included in the House FY2012 Foreign Assistance Authorization bill. The chairman of the House Europe Subcommittee also led a delegation to Cyprus during a late 2011 recess to assess the peace process.
This report provides a brief overview of the early history of the negotiations, a more detailed review of the negotiations since 2008, and a description of some of the issues involved in the talks. .
Date of Report: February 22, 2012
Number of Pages: 26 Order Number: R41136 Price: $29.95
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Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
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