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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

European Union Enlargement: A Status Report on Turkey's Accession Negotiations - RS22517

Vince L. Morelli
Section Research Manager

October 2013 marked the eighth anniversary of the European Union’s decision to launch formal negotiations with Turkey toward full membership in the Union. Throughout all of 2012 and the first half of 2013, little or no progress was made on any open chapters of the EU’s rules and regulations known as the acquis communautaire, as formal accession talks between Turkey and the EU seemed to have reached a political and technical stalemate.

In February 2013, France, which has been part of a group in the EU that has expressed doubts about Turkey’s EU membership, 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 first new chapter of the acquis in over three years and to resume the actual negotiations in June.

In early June 2013 public protests in Turkey over the future of a park (Gezi) 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 scheduled 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 actual accession negotiations until October 2013 once the protests in Turkey subsided and after the national elections in Germany. The talks officially resumed on November 5, 2013.

In October 2013, the European Commission issued its annual assessment of the progress of the candidate countries, including Turkey. The Commission’s report seemed more upbeat than previous versions restating Turkey’s importance to the EU and offering a few positive conclusions including references to a new democracy proposal circulating in Ankara. However, the Commission expressed overall disappointment with Turkey’s progress on a number of issues including its handling of the Gezi Park protests, freedom of expression and media freedom. The Commission again expressed concern over Turkey’s continued refusal to extend diplomatic recognition to EU member Cyprus, and Turkey’s position to basically ignore the Cyprus Presidency of the EU Council in the latter half of 2012.

For many Turks, EU membership seems to have lost its appeal with some public opinion polls suggesting only 35% of Turks felt Turkey would join the EU. Turkey’s economy continues to thrive and 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: November 26, 2013
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RS22517
Price: $29.95

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