Updated: 19/07/2019

Turkey-European Union Relations 

The most important aspect of the long-standing Turkey-EU relations is its up and down character from the very beginning, and the determination of the parties to continue the relationship within the framework of membership perspective despite occasional crises. In spite of the difficulties in negotiation process, the EU membership ultimately remains as one of the most important strategic goals of Turkey.

Historical development of Turkey-EU relations reveals that this relationship has been directly affected by changes in the international system and European integration. The Cold War and developments in its aftermath were determining factors in Turkey-EU relations in the past. Similarly, today Turkey-EU relations is affected by transformations in the international system, recent developments in our region and the crises faced by the EU.

Last example of this was seen in 2015 with the transformation of the human tragedy in Syria into a refugee crisis for the EU. Thanks to Turkey-EU togetherness and 18 March Statement, the EU could overcome the refugee crisis. Turkey-EU relations, which remained static until 2015, regained momentum. The 29 November 2015, 7 March 2016 and 18 March 2016 Turkey-EU Summits were held. The Summits resulted in important decisions, such as revitalizing of the accession negotiations, strengthening of the high-level dialogues in crucial areas particularly political, economy and energy dialogues, cooperation on fight against terrorism, burden-sharing in migration management, acceleration of the Visa Liberalization Dialogue and upgrading of the Customs Union.

The most important reflection of decisions taken at the Summits were opening of the Chapter 17-Economic and Monetary Policy and Chapter 33-Financial and Budgetary Provisions, which were blocked before. Besides, through the one-for-one deal set out in the Turkey-EU Statement of 18 March, loss of lives has been prevented and the migrant flow to the EU has been decreased as a result of Turkey’s efforts to close the Aegean route.

However, EU’s cold and critical attitude in the aftermath of the heinous 15 July coup attempt produced a confidence crisis.  The fact that EU did not fully understand the scope of FETO terrorist organization and criticized necessary measures taken by Turkey led to a period of weakening of dialogue.

The most important step for overcoming this period and normalization of relations was Varna Summit. Turkey-EU Summit was held on 26 March 2018 with the participation of President Erdoğan, President of European Council Donald Tusk, President of European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borisov. Varna Summit was beneficial to re-establish the confidence in Turkey-EU relations. Importance of Turkey-EU togetherness was confirmed by leaders and candidate status of Turkey was underlined at the highest level. Moreover at the Summit, Turkey remind the commitments of the EU on 18 March Statement and stated its expectations about full membership perspective, fight against terrorism, Visa Liberalization Dialogue, voluntary humanitarian scheme, Facility for Refugees, upgrading of Customs Union and Cyprus issue.

However, in the General Affairs Council Conclusions of 26 June 2018, it was stated that ‘‘Turkey has been moving further away from the European Union. Turkey's accession negotiations have therefore effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing and no further work towards the modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union is foreseen.’’ Although candidate status of Turkey was underlined in the preamble, this conclusion harmed Turkey-EU relations. Besides, the Foreign Affairs Council of 15 July 2019 decided to adopt some measures regarding Turkey’s activities in Eastern Mediterranean and this decision negatively affected Turkey-EU relations, also.

Nevertheless, Turkey continues to work for the EU process despite all political obstacles. A new period started with the Presidential System and the state of emergency was lifted on 19 July 2018. The Reform Action Group (RAG) Meetings were held on 29 August 2018, 11 December 2018 and 9 May 2019 with the participation of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Justice, Minister of Treasury and Finance and Minister of Interior. The RAG Meeting of 9 May was the first meeting of the Reform Action Group chaired by the President and held on Europe Day. In the meetings, the determination to accelerate the reform process was shared with the public and many important decisions are taken regarding political reform process.

The Judicial Reform Strategy, which was drafted in line with RAG decisions, was announced to public by the President on 30 May 2019. Moreover, the Ministry of Justice started to work on updating Action Plan on Human Rights, which is also an unofficial benchmark of Chapter 23-on Judiciary and Fundamental Rights.

Besides, Turkey continues its works on Visa Liberalisation Dialogue and upgrading of Customs Union which will be beneficial for both Turkey and the EU. Regarding Visa Liberalisation Dialogue, the European Commission has officially confirmed the fulfilment of 66 out of the 72 benchmarks of the Visa Liberalisation Roadmap as of 8 December 2018. There are six benchmarks remained to fulfil. As a follow-up to decisions of the RAG meetings, working groups were established for each remaining benchmark. As regards upgrading of Customs Union, although it has been indicated in the 29 November 2015 Statement that negotiations would start by the end of 2016, the Commission asked for a mandate to launch talks with Turkey only at the end of 2016.  Upgrading of Customs Union is a “win-win” process for Turkey and the EU.

As part of the EU-Turkey 18 March 2016 Statement, the EU committed to contribute 3+3 billion euros to support Syrian refugees in Turkey. Facility for Refugees in Turkey (FRIT) was set up for the transfer of mentioned 6 billion euros. The operational funds of 3 billion euros have been fully committed and contracted by the end of 2017. In June 2018, the European Council agreed on how to finance the second tranche of 3 billion euros of the Facility, with 2 billion euros financed from the EU budget and the remaining 1 billion euros by member states' contributions.

Dialogues are continuing between Turkey and the EU in all areas and in all levels. The High-Level Dialogue Meetings on key policy areas such as economy, energy, transportation, counter-terrorism and foreign policy are viewed as platforms for enhancing and exploring the vast potential of Turkey-EU relations, which will support the accession process. Lastly, the High-Level Transport Dialogue meeting was held on 15 January 2019 and the High-Level Economic Dialogue meeting was held on 28 February 2019.

Moreover, association organs, which constitute the institutional structure of Turkey-EU relations, are important platforms to strengthen Turkey-EU relations. The Turkey-EU Association Committee meeting was held on 28 November 2018. In addition, Turkey-EU Association Council was held on 15 March 2019 in Brussels after an interval of almost four years. Besides, the 77th meeting of the Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was held on 26 April 2018 in Brussels and the 78th JPC meeting was held on 19-20 December 2018 in Ankara.

In a period in which risks and uncertainties are increasing in the international arena and multiple problems need to be solved in the EU, the EU need to develop new and strong cooperation relationships and strengthen current partnerships more than ever. For this reason, Turkey’s EU membership will continue to be important and necessary.

Updated: 19/07/2019 / Hit: 680,878