The EU and Turkey


The history of Turkey’s accession efforts began more than 50 years ago. In the Treaty of Rome of 1957 it was decided that all European countries can become members of the then EEC (now the EU). Walter Hallstein, the then President of the EEC Commission, admitted in 1963 when signing the Association Agreement with Turkey: “Turkey is part of Europe.”.

In 1996 Turkey became a member of the Customs Union, and in 1999 Turkey was granted candidate status. Accession negotiations begin in 2005. A period of 12-15 years was envisaged at that time. 2015 was considered the earliest possible accession date. Turkey is far from that today.

In response to public pressure, the openness of the negotiations, which end in membership or a privileged partnership, is repeatedly emphasized. For Turkey, full membership is out of the question.

Chances and risks of joining

The debates about accession manifest themselves in numerous pro and contra lines of argument.

The opponents bring into play:

  • The EU’s development and unification process continues to stall
  • Economic support is too heavy a burden on the EU
  • The cultural otherness of Turkey is not conducive to the consolidation of the European order of values
  • Change in the balance of power in the EU institutions to one’s own disadvantage
  • Free movement of workers is a burden on the EU labor market
  • The planned resumption of the death penalty, which was abolished in 2002 as a result of the coup, and the state’s handling of human rights contradict the EU’s understanding

Proponents see opportunities in the following aspects in particular:

  • Integration of Turkey in a European security and defense policy
  • Signal for the integration of the 3.8 million migrants of Turkish origin in the EU
  • Economic benefits for the EU
  • Aging societies in the EU

From the Turkish point of view, it is about a strategic partnership; people associate economic strengthening, freedom of travel, work and study as well as peace with membership.

Current status

The progress of the reforms with regard to the Copenhagen criteria is checked in annual reviews. Fundamental deficits persist to this day with regard to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of religion, the protection of minorities, the guarantee of integrity in police violence and the penal system, equal opportunities and gender equality.

After a furious initial phase in which numerous reforms were initiated, the adjustment process has now stalled. Within the EU there is a strong group against accession with Germany and France, and in Turkey too, frustration and disappointment have led to a decline in willingness to join the EU. No further chapter was opened for a long time. That explains Dr. Heinz Kramer, Turkey expert and author: “On the contrary, Prime Minister Erdogan was deeply disappointed that the EU was not in a position and – from the Turkish point of view – unwilling to appreciate Ankara’s great concession on the Cyprus question in spring 2004 and after Failure of the Annan plan to establish direct trade relations with Northern Cyprus. Turkey therefore refused to fulfill their obligation and to extend the agreement on the customs union with the EU to the new member Cyprus. Turkish ports and airports remained closed to Cypriot ships and aircraft. As a consequence, in December 2006, the EU froze eight of the 35 negotiating chapters related to the customs union. After 2007, Paris declared that it would not release another five chapters, as they are only relevant for full members and Turkey should not be, according to the French view. The government of Cyprus blocked another six chapters in December 2009 out of annoyance at the EU’s inaction towards Turkey’s ongoing refusal to issue a customs union. In the summer of 2011, three chapters were still open for negotiations. However, these could not begin

According to commit4fitness, in autumn 2015, the accession negotiations got new momentum because Turkey, as an important partner in the refugee crisis, had promised to secure the borders to Europe and thus reduce the flow of refugees. In return, the EU promised a lot of money and the revival of the accession process. The chapter “Economy and Finance” was then opened. In the refugee Deal from 2016, which should mitigate the death of migrants on the Mediterranean, Turkey pledged to all refugees from the Greek initial reception to take back. The same number of people from Turkish camps should be able to apply for asylum in the EU. Financial and organizational support was guaranteed from EU funds. In return, Turkey negotiated faster visa liberalization. The agreement is controversial within the member states. In fact, the number of illegally entered Greece migrants has fallen because Turkey has strictly secured the border line as agreed. Since spring 2019, increasing numbers have been reported because the controls have been reduced and refugees are not prevented from continuing their journey. Another reason for the increase is the aggravation of resentment in Turkey politically and socially. Quite a few fear being resettled in the security zone in northern Syria.

In 2019, the EU Commission confirmed that Turkey is still stepping backwards in terms of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms. The national security and anti-terrorist measures introduced as a result of the coup were applied “selectively and arbitrarily” and often hit human rights defenders. However, cooperation on the refugee issue is noted positively.

German fountain in Istanbul