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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

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

Vincent Morelli
Section Research Manager

October 2012 marked the eighth anniversary of the European Union’s decision to proceed with formal negotiations with Turkey toward full membership in the Union. During the first six months of 2012, accession negotiations with the EU had basically reached a political and technical stalemate with no additional chapters of the EU’s rules and regulations known as the acquis communautaire opened. On July 1, 2012 when the Republic of Cyprus assumed the 6- month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, over the objections of EU officials, made good on his threat to freeze relations with the EU that involved Cyprus ensuring that no formal progress on accession would be achieved for the remainder of 2012. The EU’s enlargement process is normally overseen by the member state holding the rotating EU presidency.

Sensing that the accession process 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 formal accession negotiations. On May 17, 2012, the EU’s new “positive agenda” with Turkey was launched. The “positive agenda” was described by the Commission as intended to bring fresh dynamics into EU-Turkey relations and by others as essentially an “institutional trick” intended to circumvent the Cyprus problem. Some believe that the new initiative appeared to be an actual informal accession negotiation and seemed comprehensive enough that it could eventually replace the accession process and more fully define future relations between the EU and Turkey, for some as a “privileged partnership” and others a “virtual membership”, but for most skeptics, something short of full EU membership. It appears the “positive agenda” will continue through the Irish presidency of the EU which began on January 1, 2013.

On October 10, 2012, the European Commission issued the first of the annual EU assessments of the enlargement progress made by the candidate countries. In its report, the Commission, while offering a few positive conclusions, expressed its overall disappointment with Turkey’s progress on a number of issues leading Ankara to express its disappointment with the "biased" and "unbalanced" report. 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 as well as Turkey’s position on the Cyprus EU presidency were problematic. On December 11, 2012, the European Council released its conclusions on enlargement. While the Council struck a more positive note regarding Turkey’s importance and listed several issues where the Council felt Turkey had made progress, it nevertheless repeated the shortfalls outlined in the Commission’s earlier assessment. For average Turks, EU membership seems to be becoming more irrelevant as Turkey’s economy continues to thrive and as Ankara continues to reposition and strengthen itself in its own neighborhood between secular Europe and the Islamist emergence in the Middle East. Many Turks seem to feel “being European” or achieving membership in the Union may no longer be needed in order for Turkey to define itself or to have a strong partnership with Europe.

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 and energy security issues. Although some Members of Congress have expressed support for Turkey’s membership in the EU, congressional interest and enthusiasm seem to have diminished recently.

Date of Report: January 8, 2013
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RS22517
Price: $19.95

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