Due to its size, geographic location and significance, Turkey is an important partner of the European Union in many areas. The EU and Turkey have had treaty-based relations since 1963, and since 2005 they have been holding negotiations on accession by Turkey to the European Union.
Milestones in EU-Turkish Relations
Treaty-based relations between the European Union and Turkey began in 1963, when the Ankara Agreement, as it became known, was signed. That signature made Turkey the second country, after Greece, to sign an Association Agreement with what was then the European Economic Community. The Agreement established the economic ties, which led to the formation of a customs union in 1995. In Article 28 it also for the first time envisaged accession as a possible prospect.
Having officially applied for EU membership in 1987, Turkey was awarded candidate status by the European Council in Helsinki in 1999. Once the European Council had concluded in December 2004 that “Turkey sufficiently fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria,” the way was clear to open accession negotiations on 3 October 2005.
Accession negotiations: state of play and challenges
Accession negotiations involve discussing the eventual adoption of the entire acquis communautaire, the EU’s collective body of legislation. In Turkey’s case the relevant negotiating framework contains a so‑called inclusion clause. This is intended to ensure that Turkey will be extensively embedded in European structures even if the country proves in the long run unable to meet all the obligations of full EU membership. A suspension clause states that accession negotiations will be suspended if Turkey seriously and persistently breaches the EU’s fundamental values, such as democracy and the rule of law.
Of a total of 35 chapters under negotiation, only one, on science and research, has to date been provisionally concluded. Another 16 chapters have been opened since 2005, including three chapters since 2013, most recently the one on financial and budgetary provisions, on 30 June 2016. When a large number of Central and Eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004, these also needed to be incorporated into the EU‑Turkish customs union. To that end, the Ankara Protocol, an additional protocol to the Ankara Agreement, was signed on 29 July 2005. Turkey issued a declaration expressing its continuing non‑recognition of the Republic of Cyprus and explicitly excluding Cyprus from the customs union. The European Union issued a counter-declaration rejecting this interpretation and thus re‑establishing the obligation to include the Republic of Cyprus without exception.
Turkey is nonetheless still failing to uphold the free movement of goods in the form of free access to Turkish territory for Cypriot ships, aircraft and heavy goods vehicles, which the customs union provides for. The Council of the European Union has repeatedly criticised this treaty violation, deciding in December 2006 to partially suspend accession negotiations. Until the Cyprus conflict is resolved and Turkey implements the Ankara Protocol without discrimination, eight chapters in the negotiations will remain unopened and no chapter will be closed. Given the continued lack of progress on implementing the Ankara Protocol, the Council has renewed this decision annually since 2006. Moreover, a number of negotiating chapters, including Chapters 23 and 24 on legal provisions, are still being blocked by individual Member States. This, too, is related to the Cyprus question. Turkey is working at United Nations level to resolve the Cyprus conflict and supports the talks under way since 2008 in this connection between the President of the Republic of Cyprus and the leader of the Turkish-Cypriot community. With regard to Turkey, the European Commission has been pursuing the Accession Partnership since 2008, and since 2012 it has added the Positive Agenda, which supplements the accession negotiations. In addition to intensifying the EU‑Turkish dialogue on foreign policy, the Agenda comprises a technical dialogue on EU acquis issues, based on the Association Agreement of 1963, which is below the level of chapter opening and closure. This technical dialogue has been under way since 2012 in eight working groups.
In 2013 and again in 2015, the de facto blocked accession negotiations were revitalised. In 2013, the European Union concluded a readmission agreement with Turkey. At the same time, the process of easing visa requirements was initiated, along with the presentation of a roadmap listing 72 requirements. Shortly afterwards, an additional negotiating chapter could be opened in December 2013, on regional policy. In 2015, after a long interruption, the working groups met again in connection with the Association Agreement.
At the European Council meeting of October 2015, a decision was taken to reinvigorate the accession negotiations. At the EU‑Turkey summit meetings on 29 November 2015 and 18 March 2016, this was reaffirmed by joint EU‑Turkey declarations. In December 2015, Chapter 17 on economic and monetary policy, and in June 2016, Chapter 33 on financial and budgetary provisions could be opened. In addition, the Commission has meanwhile issued new versions of outdated preparatory documents.
The Federal Government condemns the attempted coup of 15 July 2016 and welcomes that it was put down by the people of Turkey. At the same time, both the European Union and the Federal Government are extremely concerned about developments in connection with the situation in Turkey following the coup attempt.
Numerous politicians have emphasised that the hypothetical reinstatement of the death penalty in Turkey that is being discussed in this connection would contravene fundamental European values, and that this would lead to a suspension of the accession negotiations. Currently, no new chapters are scheduled to be opened.
EU support for Turkey’s path to accession
As an accession candidate, Turkey receives funding from the Instrument for Pre‑Accession Assistance (IPA). Current plans provide funding of over 4.45 billion euros for the 2014‑2020 financing period. The measures financed from IPA funds are described in detail in the Indicative Strategy Paper for Turkey for 2014–2020 of 26 August 2016. Turkey is also eligible for programmes of the Instrument for Pre‑Accession Assistance mechanism, and it can apply for European Investment Bank loans. Moreover, at the EU‑Turkey summit meetings in November 2015 and March 2016, the EU agreed to provide assistance for Syrian refugees and for the municipalities in Turkey that take them in. An EU‑Turkey Refugee Facility in the amount of 3 billion euros was established for this purpose. A portion of IPA funding is also being reprogrammed as support for refugees.
Through the IPA, Turkey can likewise benefit from EU‑led twinning projects. These projects support public administration capacity building in candidate countries, via the secondment of experts from public institutions in EU Member States on a long‑term basis. Germany is one of the most active partners in the twinning programme. Turkey also receives support within the framework of the TAIEX (Technical Assistance and Information Exchange Instrument) for the alignment, implementation and application of EU legislation. More information on the EU’s financial assistance to Turkey, in particular on the Multi-annual Action Programmes (European Commission website)
The German Government’s Position
The German Government backed the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey and is in favour of conducting them as an open-ended process. It emphasises that Turkey’s accession to the EU is conditional on the country strictly fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria and implementing the Ankara Protocol in its entirety, as well as on the EU’s capacity to absorb new members. The Federal Government views the accession negotiations as an important channel of communication.
Thanks to its close political, cultural and economic ties with the country, Germany has a special interest in Turkey moving closer to EU membership. Germany is also keen for it to keep up the momentum for reform, as this will have a major impact on its EU prospects. Turkey is key to stability in Europe’s neighbourhood and to the stability of European migration policy, as well as to stabilising the EU’s eastern neighbours, fighting ISIS, and guaranteeing energy security for the EU. It also plays an important role in intercultural dialogue between Europe and its neighbouring countries in the Middle East and North Africa.