Should the accession process of Turkey to the EU be pursued?

turkey eu accession procedure rule of law constitution erdogan
Numéro 1

Learn the ropes

A quick reminder on the EU’s enlargement policy?
The enlargement policy of the European Union is the policy regulating possibilities and procedures to join the Union. This policy is part of the Treaty on the European Union, which states that any country in Europe can apply to be a candidate to become a Member State. This process is conditioned to the respect of the EU’s democratic values. Candidate States must also meet 3 criteria:
> political: such as respect of the rule of law and stable democratic institutions,
> legal: States must accept already established EU law,
> economic: States must be able to cope with competitiveness of the European market and have a functioning market economy

There are 3 stages of a State’s accession to the EU: first, a prospect of membership. With a decision of the European Council, a country may become an official candidate. The final stage are formal membership negotiations.
With this enlargement policy, the number of Member States increased from 6 to 28 today.


What is the history of Turkey’s accession to the EU?
Today Turkey is an official candidate country to join the European Union. The will of a closer relationship with the EU was first expressed in 1959 in Turkey, the country officially applied to join the Union in 1987. It was granted the status of an official candidate in 1999.

The negotiations gave been carried for years and some of the sensible topics of the talks are today frozen. Between 2006 and 2009, Member States blocked negotiations on 18 out of 36 chapters in total. Moreover, the European Council must accept unanimously the accession of Turkey to the EU if the country is to join the Union.


Why do we talk about it today?
Turkey’s possible accession to the EU has raised many questions. Turkey is a big country with a dynamic economy, and some Member States are concerned about a possible impact of this enlargement on EU’s decision making – as Turkey would possibly become the first EU country in terms of population (and so, political representation) with current demographic evolutions.

Also, the EU members are concerned about the respect of human rights, rule of law and separation of powers in Turkey. After a reinforced cooperation momentum in 2015, while the European Council confirmed the will to pursue accession talks in the context of migration crisis, this moment was disrupted by the failed coup in July, 2016 and severe repressions alongside with a declaration of a state of emergency.

Moreover, Turkey is accused today of limiting the freedom of speech, arresting journalists inhumane treatment of refugees.

Source: Politico, European Parliament

Numéro 2

Choose your side

The idea behind the Rift is simple: for each topic of debate, we provide you with an expertise based on a pro-con approach, written by competent and legitimate experts. We want to help you make your own opinion, and guide you on first steps to civic engagement.
What is your opinion before reading the article?


Ending the accession negotiations would be the first failure of the EU’s most successful policy

sinan ulgen turkey accession process rule of law erdogan

Sinan Ulgen

Executive chairman of the Istanbul based EDAM Think Tank and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe

Yes, definitely. It is clear that today this process has reached a standstill which has to do with the political dynamics in Turkey but also in Europe. Yet, the process remains a win-win for both sides. There is no real advantage in allowing this historic experiment to fail. Ending the accession negotiations would be the first failure of what is generally seen as the EU’s most successful policy, namely that of enlargement.

The EU accession dynamic would create a virtuous cycle of domestic reforms

It may very well be that in the end, Turkey will never become a EU member. But keeping Turkey anchored in the accession track still remains the optimal option.

In the near future, a different political leadership in Turkey could decide to re-vitalize political reforms. The EU accession dynamic would then create a virtuous cycle of domestic reforms leading to progress in the negotiations. In the past, the accession objective provided a strong and overriding narrative for domestic reforms. That has been the case for Turkey as well as a host of other candidate countries in the past. This potential remains very tangible and real.

In light of the current difficulties however, not an alternative but a complementary framework to accession is needed to restructure the Turkey-EU cooperation in areas that are of mutual interest such as trade, refugees, energy, security, counter-terrorism and foreign policy. But even the effectiveness of this framework of cooperation will be greatly influenced by whether Turkish policy makers will continue to see their future within the EU.  

The debate of Turkish accession is also a reflection on how the EU conceives its future in the global and regional order

But also from the EU perspective, ending the negotiations would  amount to accepting that Europe has no transformative agenda and ambition for one of its most strategically important neighbours. In many ways therefore the debate of Turkish accession is also a reflection on how the EU conceives its future in the global and regional order. An ambitionless EU could indeed contemplate to terminate Turkey’s membership goal. In return, for an EU that contemplates a more active and influential role on the world stage for itself, especially in light of the evolution of the relationship with the US, the will to retain Turkey well anchored to Europe as a future member nation should be stronger.


Turkey should follow the EU basic values

Renate Sommer CDU German MEP European Parliament Turkey EU relations foreign policy

Renate Sommer

MEP for Germany, Christian Democratic Union (CDU), European People’s Party

Turkey has always been an important neighbour of the European Union.

However, a close cooperation can only be realised if it is based on human rights, the respect of the fundamental freedoms, democratic values and the rule of law.

The Turkish government has long put back its European ambitions

Nevertheless, the developments in recent years have shown that the Turkish government has long put back its European ambitions. The annual so-called “Progress Report on Turkey” de facto became a “Regress Report”, and the European Commission renamed it in “Annual Report on Turkey”. The rule of law has been abolished, human and minority rights trampled on, opposition members, critics, journalists and religious minorities are persecuted, arbitrariness and a climate of fear prevail.

In order to turn the wheel around and to push Ankara to respect human rights, freedom of religion and democracy the European Parliament in July 2017 demanded the official suspension of the accession negotiations with Turkey in case the new constitution that ignores core European values would come into force. Meanwhile the latest has happened. The new constitution now allows the president to govern the country by decree and to control everything. The Great Turkish National Assembly is disempowered, and so is democracy. In addition, the Turkish government is increasingly disrespecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of its neighbouring EU countries and up-to-date never acknowledged the Republic of Cyprus as a sovereign state and EU member.

The relationship between the EU and Turkey should be redefined as an effective partnership

Under all these circumstances, pursuing the accession negotiations would be a farce and not help anybody. That is why the European Parliament now demands the relationship between the EU and Turkey to be redefined in terms of an effective partnership. This future cooperation should be based on the Customs Union, which is more than ever of the utmost importance for Turkey: The state is deeply in debt, the Turkish economy in free fall, unemployment and prices in Turkey are rising steadily and the decline in inflation is not in sight. The country needs money, and President Erdogan needs economic successes to be re-elected.

The current Customs Union and its possible future “modernisation”, which means the opening for agricultural products, public procurement and services, are vital for a political change in Turkey because the European Parliament demands a conditionality. We want the Turkish side to follow the EU basic values. In addition, Turkey has to recognise all our Member States and, therefore, to commit and contribute to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus question and to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of its neighbours.

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