The Future of Europe and Turkey
Turkey-EU Relations: Past, Present and Future
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Director for EU Affairs
Turkey’s association with the European Economic Community, today’s European Union (EU) dates back to Ankara Agreement of 1963 following Turkey’s application in 1959 when some other European nations were after the creation of an alternative to the EEC such as the EFTA. Following a period of ups and downs, Turkey and the EU were connected by a Customs Union in 1996 which envisaged a full membership to the EU. This is the closest economic relationship between the EU and a nonmember country. After Helsinki Summit of 1999, at which Turkey was officially declared a candidate country, the accession negotiations opened in 2005 marked a turning point in relations.
However, since 2006, while the bonds created in 1963 are solid, Turkey-EU relationship has suffered from a highly politicized and nationalized course of accession negotiations that was supposed to be technical and European in nature. 16 chapters have been opened and one chapter is temporarily closed, whereas 14 chapters are still blocked due to the Cyprus problem, and for the same reason, no chapter can be temporarily closed.
The fact the Greek Cypriots were taken in the EU without the settlement of the Cyprus dispute and are allowed to abuse their EU membership against candidate Turkey continues to jeopardize Turkey-EU and EU-NATO relations.
There was a recovery and even improvement in relations thanks to Turkey-EU Statement of 18 March 2016 which suggested cooperation in migration management, visa liberalization process for Turks, revitalization of accession negotiations, acceleration of the process to update the 1996 Customs Union, better cooperation in counter terrorism and regular high level dialogue and summits between Turkey and the EU.
The EU’s attitude in the aftermath of 15 July coup attempt created frustration and mistrust on the Turkish side. Steps taken by Turkey were portrayed as drifting away from the EU which has taken decisions alienating Turkey rather than embracing her.
As some member states abusing their EU membership for their own interests against candidate countries, not only in accession negotiations, but also in other areas and the EU hides behind the pretext of membership solidarity, Turkey and the EU are losing ground for cooperation.
However especially against the regional and international challenges lying ahead, Turkey and the EU need more engagement and more dialogue not disengagement from each other.
"Turkey as a negotiating candidate is the most important asset for the EU on key issues that the EU faces, such as terrorism, security, defense, irregular migration, radicalization, xenophobia and security of energy supply."
Indeed the Turkish accession process is far more resilient to outside shocks like political rhetoric, populist discourses or “enlargement fatigue”, than it is expected to be. Turkey firmly maintains its strategic choice of becoming an EU member. The strategic importance of Turkey-EU relations has increased in parallel with the rapid changes in the international and regional relations. Recent dramatic events, from the Middle East to the North Africa and challenges in Europe require Turkey and the EU to act jointly against global and regional threats.
Turkey as a negotiating candidate is the most important asset for the EU on key issues that the EU faces, such as terrorism, security, defense, irregular migration, radicalization, xenophobia and security of energy supply. Concrete and positive results of Turkey-EU cooperation and joint actions both in the refugee crisis and in the fight against terrorism make this visible. Indeed contributions that Turkey and the EU could make to one another on a wide scale ranging from economics to politics, from culture to foreign policy are significant not only for the two, but also for regional and global peace, stability and prosperity. However, the only way to fully tap this relation’s full potential is Turkey’s membership to the EU. Deeper cooperation without accession can only deliver limited success and cannot go beyond transnationalism.
20 years ago at the Helsinki Council of 1999 by declaring “Turkey as a candidate country destined to join the EU”, our leaders confirmed the common future of Turkey and the EU. Since then, political, economic, geostrategic and demographic developments not only in Europe, the neighbourhood but also around the world reinforced this argument.
Thus today it is time to have a new paradigm within the new political cycle of the geostrategic EU administration 2019-2024 in Turkey-EU relations with a clear accession perspective and it is also time to steer the wheel of change to the benefit of both sides.