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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