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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

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

Vincent L. Morelli
Section Research Manager

October 2013 will mark the eighth anniversary of the European Union’s decision to launch formal negotiations with Turkey toward full membership in the Union. Beginning in 2012 and continuing through most of 2013, formal accession talks between Turkey and the EU had reached a political and technical stalemate. It appears that little or no progress was made on any open chapters of the EU’s rules and regulations known as the acquis communautaire, and no additional chapters were opened.

In May 2012, noting the accession stalemate, the EU Commission launched what was termed the “positive agenda” with Turkey and described as intended to bring fresh dynamics into EU-Turkey relations. Others referred to it as an “institutional trick” intended to circumvent Ankara’s refusal to deal with certain aspects of the EU involving the Cypriot presidency which was set to begin on July 1, 2012. It is unclear what the “positive agenda” accomplished or what its current status is.

In October 2012, the European Commission issued its annual assessment of the progress of the candidate countries, including Turkey. This was followed in December 2012 by the European Council’s “conclusions” on enlargement, and in April 2013 with the European Parliament’s Progress Report on Turkey. All three reports, while restating Turkey’s importance to the EU and offering a few positive conclusions, expressed overall disappointment with Turkey’s progress on a number of issues including judicial reform, media freedom, freedom of expression, Turkey’s continued refusal to extend diplomatic recognition to EU member Cyprus, and Turkey’s position on the Cyprus EU presidency. All three institutions urged Turkey to achieve more reforms.

In February 2013, France signaled that it was prepared to support opening at least one new chapter of the acquis (Chapter 22, Regional Policy) as a way to rejuvenate the accession talks. This step was supported by many EU member states, although some retained their doubts. Eventually, agreement was reached to open the new chapter and negotiations were set to begin in June. In early June public protests in Turkey over the future of a park and the government’s tough reaction precipitated a harsh response from Brussels and a resolution from the European Parliament expressing its “deep concern at the disproportionate and excessive use of force by the Turkish police.” Turkish officials responded with tough rhetoric toward the EU. After two weeks of rather nasty verbal sparring, and Ankara’s continued crackdown on the protestors, several EU member states threatened to press for the postponement of the upcoming accession talks. Since neither side really wanted to end the accession process despite mutual ill-feelings, the EU agreed to open the new chapter but to postpone the resumption of the accession negotiations until October 2013.

For many Turks, EU membership seems to have lost its appeal as Turkey’s economy continues to thrive and as Ankara continues to try 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 gaining membership in the Union is no longer needed in order to secure Turkey’s status or to have an otherwise normal partnership with Europe. European support for Turkey, never really that strong among the average citizenry, now seems even more ambivalent.

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 continued support for Turkey’s membership in the EU, congressional interest and enthusiasm seems to have diminished recently.

Date of Report: August 5, 2013
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RS22517
Price: $29.95

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