Europäische Institut für Menschenrechte - Prof. Dr. Dr. Ümit Yazıcıoğlu -
      Europäische Institut für Menschenrechte - Prof. Dr. Dr. Ümit Yazıcıoğlu -

History of Turkey-EU Relations

History of Turkey-EU Relations

Prof. Dr. Dr. Ümit Yazıcıoğlu


Since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, it has closely followed developments in the international arena in its pursuit of reaching the level of contemporary civilizations. Turkey has become an active member of international organizations such as OECD and NATO. In this context, shortly after the establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1958, which is considered the greatest peace project in human history, Turkey applied for membership on July 31, 1959. The application on behalf of Turkey was made by Adnan Menderes, the leader of the Democratic Party and Prime Minister of that time. With this application, Menderes stated that Turkey was taking its first step towards Europe.


Establishing Partnership with the European Union: The Ankara Agreement

The Council of Ministers of the EEC proposed signing a partnership agreement that would remain valid until membership conditions were met for Turkey. This agreement, known as the Ankara Agreement, was signed on September 12, 1963, and came into effect on December 1, 1964.


The Ankara Agreement forms the legal basis of Turkey-EU relations. İsmet İnönü, the Prime Minister who signed the agreement, described the European Union as the "boldest creation of human intelligence throughout the history of mankind."


Article 2 of the Ankara Agreement defines its purpose: "Taking into consideration the need to promote the steady and balanced strengthening of commercial and economic relations between the Parties with a view to achieving the rapid economic development of Turkey and raising the level of employment and the standard of living of the Turkish people."


Article 28 of the Ankara Agreement regulates Turkey's membership: "When the functioning of this Agreement shows that Turkey is in a position to assume all the obligations of membership of the Community, the Contracting Parties shall examine the possibility of Turkey becoming a member of the Community."


It is clear from this article that the "ultimate goal of Turkey-EEC partnership relationship is full membership of Turkey in the Community." The Ankara Agreement envisaged three stages for Turkey's integration into the EEC: the preparation period, the transitional period, and the final period. The first period began on December 1, 1964, when the Agreement came into effect. During this "Preparation Period" aimed at reducing economic disparities between the parties, Turkey did not undertake any obligations. Several institutions were established between the two sides to facilitate the functioning of the established partnership relationship, with the highest-level decision-making body being the Partnership Council.


Everything Progresses According to Schedule, Additional Protocol is Signed...

With the Additional Protocol signed on November 13, 1970, and coming into effect in 1973, the preparation period envisaged in the Ankara Agreement ended, and the conditions for the "Transitional Period" were determined. During this period, provisions were made for the establishment of the free movement of industrial products, agricultural products, and individuals between the parties, as well as the completion of the Customs Union.


As of 1971, within the framework of the Additional Protocol, the Community unilaterally eliminated customs duties and quantitative restrictions on all industrial goods it imported from Turkey, except for certain petroleum and textile products. In return, Turkey was expected to gradually eliminate customs duties on industrial products from the EU and thus a 22-year period was granted for the effective implementation of the Customs Union.


Turkey-EU relations from the early 1970s until the second half of the 1980s followed an unstable course due to political and economic reasons. Following the military coup on September 12, 1980, the relations were formally suspended.


Committed on the Path to the EU: Applying for Full Membership...

In 1983, with the reestablishment of civilian administration in Turkey and the rapid abandonment of import substitution policies from 1984 onwards, Turkey's process of opening up to the outside world began. As a result, the process of revitalizing the frozen Turkey-EEC relations since September 12, 1980, commenced.


On April 14, 1987, Turkey applied for membership without waiting for the completion of the periods envisaged in the Ankara Agreement. The Commission expressed its opinion on this application on December 18, 1989, stating that the Community could not accept a new member without completing its internal integration. Additionally, it indicated that Turkey, while capable of joining the Community, needed to develop economically, socially, and politically. Therefore, the proposal was not to set a date for opening membership negotiations and to enhance relations within the framework of the Association Agreement.


This proposal was positively evaluated by Turkey as well, and preparations were initiated to complete the Customs Union as envisaged in the Additional Protocol by 1995. Following two years of negotiations, as per the decision made during the Partnership Council meeting on March 5, 1995, the Customs Union between Turkey and the EU came into effect on January 1, 1996. Thus, the "Final Period" of the Turkey-EU Partnership Relationship was entered. The Customs Union is one of the most significant stages of Turkey's partnership relationship towards integration with the European Union, and it added a distinct dimension to Turkey-EU relations.


Turkey is Now an Official Candidate Country...

The turning point in Turkey-EU relations came at the EU State and Government Leaders Summit held in Helsinki on December 10-11, 1999. During the Helsinki Summit, Turkey's candidacy was officially confirmed, and it was clearly and unequivocally stated that Turkey would be on an equal footing with other candidate countries.


At the Helsinki Summit, it was decided that a Accession Partnership Document would be prepared for Turkey, just like for the other candidate countries. The first Accession Partnership Document prepared for Turkey was approved by the EU Council on March 8, 2001. The National Program, which contains the program and timetable for implementing the priorities listed in the Accession Partnership Document, was approved by our Government on March 19, 2001, and submitted to the European Commission on March 26, 2001.


The Accession Partnership Document has been reviewed by the European Union in 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2008. The National Program has been updated in 2003, 2005, and 2008. The political will, which consistently demonstrated its determination to proceed towards EU membership, also accelerated reform efforts. Consequently, packages of harmonization laws that meet the political criteria necessary for opening negotiations were passed through the Parliament intensively. Reforms were continued to expand the scope of fundamental rights and freedoms, strengthen and secure existing regulations in areas such as democracy, the rule of law, freedom of thought, expression, and human rights. In this context, 8 Harmonization Packages were approved by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey between 2002-2004, and 2 Constitutional Amendment Packages were passed in 2001 and 2004.


At the Brussels Summit on December 17, 2004, another milestone was reached in Turkey-EU relations, and it was stated that Turkey had fulfilled the political criteria to a sufficient extent. As a result, a decision was made to start negotiations on October 3, 2005.


Negotiations Begin...

On October 3, 2005, with the Intergovernmental Conference held in Luxembourg, Turkey officially began its accession negotiations with the EU. On the same day, a press conference was held and the Negotiation Framework Document for Turkey was published. Thus, the fluctuating relationship between Turkey and the EU entered a brand new phase, passing a significant milestone.


In the Accession Negotiations, as of the current status, 16 chapters have been opened for negotiations, and one has been provisionally closed. Political obstacles from certain member states and the Cyprus issue have put the negotiation process at risk. Between 2006 and 2010, 13 chapters were opened for negotiations. However, due to the political obstacles of member states, only 1 chapter could be opened between 2010 and 2013.


On May 17, 2012, Turkey and the European Commission launched the Positive Agenda. The Positive Agenda aimed to strengthen cooperation mechanisms on certain important issues in Turkey-EU relations and to fulfill technical opening/closing criteria through established working groups, including politically blocked chapters, as quickly as possible. The Positive Agenda concluded in 2014 when Johannes Hahn took over as the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, succeeding Štefan Füle.


New Challenges in Relations...

In 2015, Turkey-EU relations witnessed significant developments due to the irregular migration flows caused by the developments in Syria. Concrete decisions were made during the Turkey-EU Summits held on November 29, 2015, March 7, 2016, and March 18, 2016, boosting all aspects of the relationship. Decisions were made in these summits to revive accession negotiations, strengthen Turkey-EU high-level dialogue, expedite the Visa Liberalization Dialogue process, share the burden in migration management, enhance cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts, and update the Customs Union.


Following the treacherous coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the lack of solidarity shown by the EU towards Turkey and the security-focused policies Turkey had to adopt negatively affected the relationship, indirectly impacting the negotiation process. The European Council Conclusions of December 13, 2016, (released as Conclusions of the Presidency for the Council due to the lack of unanimity for a decision within the Council) stated that "the opening of new chapters in the current circumstances is not envisaged."


To re-establish mutual trust in Turkey-EU relations, the Varna Summit was held on March 26, 2018. During the summit, attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the then President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Boyko Borisov, leaders reaffirmed the importance of Turkey-EU cooperation and emphasized Turkey's candidacy at the highest level.


Although the Varna Summit was a significant step towards re-establishing high-level dialogue, the Council Conclusions of June 26, 2018, stated that "Turkey is moving away from the EU, accession negotiations have practically come to a standstill, the opening or closing of new chapters is not considered, and the start of negotiations for the update of the Customs Union is not foreseen." The EU has maintained this position, and EU documents state that accession negotiations have come to a standstill.


The first half of 2019 began with a positive agenda in Turkey-EU relations. The Turkey-EU Association Council met on March 15, 2019, after a hiatus of three and a half years. Turkey participated in the informal Gymnich meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Bucharest on January 31, 2019. A High-Level Transport Dialogue Meeting took place on January 15, 2019, and a High-Level Economic Dialogue Meeting was held on February 28, 2019, between Turkey and the EU. Subcommittee meetings were also regularly held.


However, in the second half of 2019, the decisions taken by the EU against Turkey under the pretext of "Union Solidarity" following Turkey's response to hydrocarbon drilling activities initiated by the Republic of Cyprus and Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as the EU's allegations against Turkey's legitimate stance against the PKK structure in northern Syria, negatively affected Turkey-EU relations. Particularly, the decision of the EU Foreign Affairs Council to suspend negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement with Turkey on July 15, 2019, the non-holding of the Association Council and Turkey-EU High-Level Dialogue meetings, and the decision to cut funds for the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) for 2020 further exacerbated the existing trust crisis in our relationship.


Nevertheless, in September and October of 2019, three circulars were issued regarding the visa liberalization dialogue, the management of pre-accession funds and Union Programs, and the coordination of work with the EU. These circulars demonstrated Turkey's determination to continue its efforts in the EU process.


The Importance of Turkey-EU Cooperation in the Global Context...

In recent times, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and the Russia-Ukraine war have been the main developments affecting Turkey-EU relations. All three global challenges have highlighted the inadequacy of nation-states in dealing individually with such large-scale issues. The new reality created by the multiple global crises has also underscored the critical importance of Turkey's EU membership for regional/global peace and stability. Thanks to Turkey's constructive policy, tensions related to the "Eastern Mediterranean" have decreased in our EU relations. In fact, at the end of 2020, the EU proposed a new "positive agenda." In this context, elements such as updating the Customs Union, establishing high-level dialogue mechanisms for people-to-people contacts and mobility, public health, climate change, counter-terrorism, and regional issues, continuing assistance to Syrians in our country, and strengthening cooperation in migration have been included. Furthermore, the implementation of these elements has been tied to the condition of keeping tensions low in the Eastern Mediterranean.


In 2021 and 2022, under the positive agenda, new High-Level Dialogues have been established in areas such as climate, agriculture, migration and security, health, and science, research, technology, and innovation.


On the other hand, the Russia-Ukraine war has once again highlighted the importance of Turkey's membership for the future of the EU. Turkey's mediation role and interventions that have yielded positive and concrete results in critical issues such as the grain agreement and prisoner exchange agreement have earned international recognition and confirmed its critical role in regional and global challenges.


The recent developments in Turkey-EU relations, especially in the recent period, indicate that the current geopolitical context presents an important window of opportunity for the progress of the relationship.


7 Ağustos 2019, aktüalite 2023


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