2. A brief look back: EU-Turkey relations UNTIL 2005
3. DEVELOPMENTS SINCE THE OPENING OF ACCESSION TALKS
4. selected obstacles in the accession process
Until the formal opening of accession negotiations on 3 October 2005, the long history of EU-Turkey relations seemed to resemble a never-ending story – to the potential benefit of both sides. While Brussels was able to influence Turkish domestic and foreign policy with instruments of conditionality, reform-oriented currents in Ankara gratefully used this external pressure to modernize the country. But at some point, any enlargement process has to set deadlines, enforce conditions, and draw consequences. Half-hearted commitments and frequent non-compliance, which have marked the relationship, harm everyone, resulting in a loss of credibility and threatening a successful outcome of the negotiation process (Missiroli 2006). Therefore, the start of accession talks 19 months ago represented a positive development in so far as it gave a new stimulus to a process that had started slowing down.
However, last November, after Turkey had refused to open its ports and airspace to the Republic of Cyprus, EU-Turkey relations once again deteriorated significantly, leading to Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn’s much-quoted statement of a “train crash” scenario. Apart from the Cyprus issue, other developments such as the slowing pace of domestic reforms, the signs of rising of both nationalism and political Islam, and the declining public support for EU membership in Turkey itself (now less than 40%) as well as abroad reconfirm that relations between the two are going through a tumultuous phase – which is unlikely to change for the better soon, given that presidential and parliamentary elections are taking place in Turkey in 2007.
This paper’s goal is to depict and analyze EU-Turkey relations as they have unfolded during the last few years. In order to place recent developments in an accurate historic perspective, I will start by shortly summarizing the relationship from the very beginning until 2005 when official entry talks were finally launched. The next section will be dedicated to an evaluation of what has happened since then – what have been the main events that have put Turkey’s quest for EU membership, whose outcome looked relatively promising in 2005, once again in jeopardy? Then, I will analyze some factors that are perceived as the main obstacles to Turkish accession to the EU. A conclusion will top off the paper.
2. A brief look back: EU-Turkey relations UNTIL 2005
After the Ottoman Empire’s collapse following World War I, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rigorously started with Turkey’s westernization. The secular republic’s desire to join Western institutions after World War II was facilitated by its geopolitical position and its opposition to communism, resulting in NATO membership in 1952. Turkey’s application to the EEC in 1959 led to an Association Agreement four years later, whereby the conditional and gradual creation of a customs union by 1995 at the latest was agreed upon. It was regarded as the first step in a process that might culminate in full membership at some unspecified date in the future. While Turkey first benefited from unilateral financial assistance and preferential tariffs, the second stage of mutual reduction of trade barriers was delayed because of economic and political circumstances in the country in the 1970s and early 1980s. When Turkey applied for full membership in 1987, it received a negative response because priority was given to internal transformations in Europe and the breakdown of communism. Nevertheless, Brussels promised to reexamine Ankara’s application at unspecified intervals. Also, the customs union – one part of the single market – was successfully revitalized between 1996 and 2001.
As the EU proceeded to further enlargement in the late 1990s, Turkey was permitted to apply for membership at the Luxembourg Summit in 1997, but not yet given candidate country status. Angry that post-communist states with similarly weak economic and political records and a shorter history of EU relations were given a head start, the Turks suspended political dialogue with Brussels. EU leaders finally granted Turkey candidate status at the European Council in Helsinki in 1999. Unlike the other EU aspirants, Turkey did not receive a timetable for accession because it did not fulfill the Copenhagen criteria yet. It was granted an Accession Partnership instead, meaning that the EU would assist Turkey in adopting the EU’s legal framework, the acquis communautaire. Nevertheless, many Turks perceived the result of the Helsinki Summit as an important victory, reconfirming their rapprochement towards Europe (Flam 2004:172, Akçakoca 2006:8).
Which were the reasons that encouraged the EU to adopt a more benevolent stance towards Turkey? First, the insight that leaving Turkey in the waiting room forever might alienate the country permanently. Second, Turkey’s complaints about unfair treatment with regards to Central and Eastern European EU aspirants were recognized as legitimate. Third, in Germany, the governing Christian Democrats who were vigorous opponents of Turkish membership lost the elections. Also, the tragic earthquake in 1999 created solidarity and sympathy for the Turks. Moreover, Athens changed its policy towards Ankara. Then, the EU hoped that by attaching political conditionality to the opening of negotiation talks – which had been successful elsewhere – it could trigger reforms in Turkey, too.
In 2002, three concrete events set the stage for the actual opening of accession negotiations in October 2005. The first one was the approval of a package of 14 reforms, most important the abolition of the death penalty, by the Turkish parliament in August. Three months later, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, former mayor of Istanbul, announced the opening of membership talks with the EU after huge electoral gains of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the parliamentary elections. Finally, at the December 2002 Copenhagen Summit, the European Commission was asked to give its view on whether or not to open accession negotiations with Turkey; in its report from October 2004, the Commission recommended starting those talks. 46 years after Turkey’s application to the EEC, official entry talks were finally launched on 3 October 2005 (Akçakoca 2006:9).