Turkey's Candidacy for EU Membership

By Yesilada, Birol A. | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Turkey's Candidacy for EU Membership


Yesilada, Birol A., The Middle East Journal


As a candidate for membership, Turkey has attained recognition from its European neighbors that it belongs in the European club of states - a status sought by Turkish and Ottoman governments for almost 150 years. However, unlike in the case of other candidate countries, accession talks would not begin until Turkey completes a series of economic and political reforms. This paper evaluates the nature of EU-Turkey relations and assesses Turkey's prospects for eventual membership in the Union.

The decision of the European Union (EU) at the Helsinki summit of December 10-11, 1999 to include Turkey among the list of candidate countries for membership has eased tensions in the capitals of Western Allies. After two years of very cold relations the two sides seem to be moving toward better days. As a candidate for membership, Turkey has attained recognition from its European neighbors that it belongs in the European club of states - a status sought by Turkish and Ottoman governments for almost 150 years. However, unlike in the case of other candidate countries, accession talks would not begin until Turkey completes a series of economic and political reforms. This article evaluates the nature of EU-Turkey relations and assesses Turkey's prospects for eventual membership in the Union.

A BRIEF BACKGROUND OF EU-TURKEY RELATIONS

Turkey's relations with the EU date back to the late 1950s when the Democrat Party government applied for an associate membership in the European Economic Community (EEC). The EEC granted this membership to Turkey under the Ankara Agreement of 1963, soon after it had given a similar membership to Greece in 1961.1

Since then, the EU and Turkey have had a roller coaster relationship characterized at times by good political and economic ties and worsening relations following the military interventions in Turkey in 1971 and 1980 when the Europeans suspended economic and military assistance to the Turkish coup governments. In 1987, the Turgut Ozal government applied for membership in the EU because it felt confident that Turkey had achieved economic success after five years of restructuring and integration with global markets. Despite the Turkish government's enthusiasm, the European leaders quickly dismissed the application and announced that for numerous reasons Turkey was not ready for full membership.2 However, all was not lost after this initial European response. Recognizing Turkey's economic and political significance for the EU following the end of the Cold War, the European leaders began a series of talks with their Turkish counterparts that eventually resulted in a compromise solution that neither shut the door for future membership nor granted the Turks immediate accession. The outcome was the Customs Union (CU) agreement of 1995 that entered into effect on December 31, 1995.3 This agreement gave the Turks closer economic ties with the EU than any other nonmember country at the time, with the exceptions of Iceland and Norway, and opened the Turkish market of 65 million consumers to EU companies. For the Turks, the CU symbolized their membership in Europe, and thus would put Turkey on track for membership in the EU. For the Europeans, however, the CU was the most Turkey could expect from the Union - at least for the foreseeable future.

The next watershed in EU-Turkey relations came at the Luxembourg summit of December 1997, where the EU leaders decided on the list of candidate countries for membership in line with the recommendations of the European Commission that were outlined earlier in Agenda 2000. The announcement excluded Turkey as a candidate country. The Turks were outraged by this decision because as far as they were concerned weaker democracies and economies such as Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania were included. The final insult for the Turks was the decision to include the Greek side of Cyprus with complete disregard of international treaties covering the establishment of the Cyprus Republic. …

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Turkey's Candidacy for EU Membership
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