The myth of Turkish accession to the European Union

Turkey acceding to the European Union has always been a question over the last decade at the very least. However, the relationship shared between the two dates back to 1963 where the country signed the Ankara Agreement with the predecessor of the European Union, the European Economic Committee. The Ankara Agreement sought to integrate Turkey into a customs union with the European Economic Community whilst acknowledging the final goal of membership. Subsequently, understanding the possible advantages that hold for the country and the European Union, Turkey’s application to accede to the European Economic Community was made on 14 April 1987.

Moreover, in 1970, the “Additional Protocol” for the abolition of tariffs and quotas on goods traded between Turkey and the European Economic Community was signed. While the country’s apparent accession path appeared to be on a rather good track thus far, in December 1989 the European Commission had confirmed an eventual membership but also deferred the matter to more favourable times, citing Turkey’s economic and political situation, as well its poor relations with Greece and the conflict with Cyprus as creating an unfavourable environment in order to begin negotiations. Nonetheless, Turkey had agreed to a customs union with the European Union in 1995. This had triggered Austria and Germany to voice out that it had preferred for Turkey to take on the role of a privileged partnership instead of full membership with the European Union.

As a result, gradually, the prospects of Turkish membership to the European Union appeared to fall into a dull. As testimony to this, Turkey’s accession talks have since been stalled by a number of domestic and external problems. The issue of Cyprus continues to be a major obstacle to negotiations till present. European officials have commented on the slowdown in Turkish reforms which, combined with the Cyprus problem, led the Union’s Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn in March 2007 to warn of an unstoppable ‘train crash’ in the negotiations.

Due to these setbacks, negotiations again came to a halt in December 2006, with the European Union freezing talks in 8 of the 35 chapters under negotiation. In December 2009, Cyprus had blocked 6 chapters of Turkish accession negotiations by arguing that Turkey needs to first normalise relations with Cyprus. After over 2 years of no chapter openings, the European Commission set up a “Positive Agenda” designed to focus on common interests between the country and the European Union. In 2006 European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that the accession process will take at least until 2021. However, in 2007, Turkey had decided to make a forward step in its accession process by stating that they were aiming to comply with the law of the European Union by 2013. Unfortunately for the Black Sea country, this was not received as well as expected by the Commission of the European Union which refused to back that as a deadline for membership. 5 years later, in 2012, Turkish Prime Minister R.T. Erdoğan once again decided to set the country’s accession to the European Union back on path by making clear that Turkey was expecting membership in the Union and this was to be realised by 2023. Additionally, Erdogan had also implied that Turkey could end membership negotiations if the talks had not yielded a positive result by then. As such, due to the lack of momentum in the accession proceedings and the fluctuating commitment to the issue by both the European Commission and the country itself, having only closed one negotiation chapter over these years, the idea of Turkish accession has become a myth in itself.

Furthermore, by including Turkey in the European Union there are various impacts that will resultantly occur on the supranational body and the rest of the member states. It is largely due to this reason that the Turkish accession is an enlargement that has been carefully handled with by the European Commission over the years. This, unfavourably to the country in question, has also added on to speculations surrounding its accession.

However so, the perspective held towards Turkish accession being a myth may be soon set to change, albeit not in the near future. This assertion is based on the twelfth meeting of the Accession Conference with Turkey at Ministerial level that was held on 30th June 2016 in Brussels. The Conference opened negotiations on Chapter 33 – Financial and budgetary provisions. This chapter covers the rules concerning the financial resources necessary for the funding of the EU budget (‘own resources’). The European Union also reiterated the importance it attaches to the close relations between the EU and Turkey, noting the close cooperation in a number of important areas of common interest, such as migration, counter-terrorism, energy, economy and trade. Additionally, the EU welcomed a re-energizing of the accession process and confirmed its willingness to support Turkey in its reform efforts.  In this regard, the EU reiterated the need for swift reform efforts, particularly in the areas of rule of law and fundamental rights. In addition, the EU recalled that Turkey can accelerate the pace of negotiations by advancing in the fulfilment of benchmarks, by meeting the requirements of the Negotiating Framework, and by respecting its contractual obligations towards the EU. This can be then seen as the commitment as put forth by the European Union in welcoming Turkey as an eventual member state, thereby adding fuel to the slow accession process of the country and subsequently possibly refuting the popular notion of terming the country’s accession as a myth.

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