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In a recent meeting between President Erdogan and Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, a shift in tone and renewed focus on key areas were agreed upon. Migration and refugees, economic cooperation, and the possibility of visa-free travel for Turks to the EU were the main discussion points. Although the EU considers Turkey’s bid for membership to be inactive, maintaining a delicate relationship with the country is crucial for addressing critical policy areas such as energy and migration. Let’s explore the history of Turkey’s EU candidacy and its current status.
Why has Turkey’s EU candidacy been stagnant?
Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and was granted candidate status in 1999. Negotiations for accession began in 2005, with the process typically lasting around 10 years. However, Turkey’s case has been at a standstill for the past five years. The negotiations involve various policy areas or chapters, which require Turkey to align with EU laws and standards through comprehensive reforms.
The Copenhagen political criteria, encompassing human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, are the fundamental principles that guide EU membership. In 2018, the EU halted accession talks with Turkey due to concerns over the country’s deteriorating human rights record and erosion of the rule of law. Following a failed coup attempt in 2016, President Erdogan’s leadership became increasingly authoritarian, leading to dismissals of public workers and closures of organizations.
Can Turkey’s EU bid be revived?
EU diplomats hold a pessimistic view on Turkey’s chances of joining the EU in the near future, if ever. The deterioration of human rights and the rule of law in recent years has raised significant concerns. Additionally, Turkey’s strained relations with EU members Greece and Cyprus present a substantial obstacle. Turkey questions the common borders with both countries and asserts territorial claims that have outraged Greece. Furthermore, Turkey’s presence and troops in northern Cyprus, which it occupied in 1974, are not internationally recognized, complicating the situation further.
Efforts to resolve the Cyprus conflict have repeatedly stalled. Recognizing the Republic of Cyprus, an EU and UN member, is likely a prerequisite for Turkey’s progress towards EU membership. However, it is clear that the EU has lost interest in expanding eastward. The prospect of integrating a large Muslim country into the bloc and extending its external borders towards Syria, Iran, and Iraq poses significant challenges.
What lies ahead for EU-Turkey relations?
Experts argue that the current framework of Turkey’s EU candidacy creates false expectations and does not serve either side effectively. They propose establishing a new type of special relationship between Turkey and the EU. However, the EU and Turkey have their reasons to maintain the existing framework. EU diplomats view Turkey as crucial in managing migration and other significant policy challenges. Even if full accession seems unlikely, the process provides a constructive path, tying Ankara to Brussels and offering a structure for ongoing dialogue.
To foster a more positive relationship, the EU and Turkey are expected to re-engage, particularly in terms of public communication. The EU plans to produce a report outlining the future of the relationship. While acknowledging the difficulties, officials believe the meeting represents a moment of resetting the tone towards a more constructive approach.
The EU and Turkey find themselves at a crucial juncture in their relationship. Turkey’s EU candidacy remains on hold, and multiple challenges persist, including human rights concerns, strained relations with Greece and Cyprus, and the EU’s reluctance to expand eastward. However, both sides recognize the importance of maintaining ties, especially in addressing critical policy issues. While full EU membership may not be on the immediate horizon for Turkey, a renewed focus on dialogue and cooperation can lead to a more constructive and mutually beneficial relationship between Ankara and Brussels.