In a meeting on Monday, Mr. Erdogan and Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, agreed to focus on migration and refugees, economic ties and the prospect of opening visa-free travel to the EU for Turks, a senior official said. of the EU said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to brief reporters, described the meeting as a change to a more positive tone.
Turkey is an official candidate for membership of the European Union, a status it has held for two decades. The process almost froze in 2018, cementing a kind of frenemy situation between the bloc and its neighbor to the east. The two are deeply connected, but the relationship between them is strained.
Most EU countries consider Turkey’s EU accession bid to be dead – but they have not been pushed to make that official due to concerns that further alienating Mr. Erdogan and make improvements in important policy areas such as energy cooperation and migration more difficult. Here’s a look at the history of Turkey’s EU bid and where it stands today.
Why is Turkey’s candidacy frozen?
Turkey applied to become a member of the smaller European Union in 1987; it was granted candidate status in 1999 and began negotiations to join in 2005. Negotiations for joining the EU are usually long, on average lasting about 10 years. In the case of Turkey they officially continued for 18 years, although they were practically suspended for five of them.
The negotiations are organized into chapters – or policy areas – in which the candidate country tries to meet EU laws and standards, often through hard work.
Membership talks depend on a set of principles, known as the Copenhagen political criteria, such as respect for human rights, a well-functioning democracy and institutions, and the rule of law guaranteed by free and independent courts. These are seen as criteria for club membership.
The EU suspended accession talks with Turkey in 2018, due to the country’s lack of progress on human rights and the rule of law. It comes after Mr. Erdogan’s leadership took a more authoritarian turn in response to a failed coup attempt in 2016, with thousands of public workers fired and hundreds of organizations closed. .
So can Turkey’s EU bid be revived?
EU diplomats believe Turkey is unlikely to join the EU anytime soon, if at all, saying the country’s standards of rule of law and respect for human rights have worsened in recent years. year.
Turkey’s poor relations with its neighbors Greece and Cyprus, both EU members, are another major problem. While both countries are NATO members, Turkish officials, including Mr. Erdogan himself, often questions their common borders and says that Turkey has the right to more territory, to the anger of Greece.
Turkey also maintains control and troops in the northern part of the island of Cyprus – which it invaded in 1974, claiming it was intervening to protect a Turkish-speaking minority. The international community does not recognize its governance there, and Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, an EU and United Nations member that governs the southern two-thirds of the island.
Efforts to resolve the Cyprus question, one of the most intractable conflicts in the world, have stalled after several attempts. In order to enter the EU, or even to make real progress in that direction, Turkey will probably have to recognize the Republic of Cyprus.
But what is also clear is that the EU no longer has the will to expand eastward. Allowing Turkey to join means integrating a large Muslim country into the bloc and moving its external borders to Syria, Iran and Iraq.
What happens next?
Experts say that the current structure of EU-Turkey relations, still centered on Turkey’s candidacy, creates false expectations and undermines both sides, arguing that it is better to create a new type of special relationship between the bloc and its neighbor. .
But the EU and Turkey have their reasons for staying in the current framework. EU diplomats who see Turkey as the key to managing migration and other major policy challenges believe that even if the process will never lead to full immigration, it could be a useful path, which links Ankara to Brussels and provides a structure for talks.
If only they would talk!
What is expected to happen next is re-engagement, especially in terms of public communication, between the bloc and Turkey. The EU will make a report on the future of the relationship, the senior EU official said.
Officials said they were under no illusions about how difficult some areas of the bloc’s relations with Turkey would be, but the meeting still felt like a chance to reset the tone toward something more positive.
A change of tack in EU-Turkey relations will help Mr. Erdogan to say that he improved Turkey’s relationship with the EU, while the EU made it possible to support the NATO alliance by helping to act in Sweden, helping its main goal of supporting Ukraine against aggression. in Russia.