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Gulbanu Mukhamejanova. The problem of Turkey’s accession to the European Union: the state and prospects

After the attempted coup, the Turkish government continues the course of a more confident and assertive domestic and foreign policy, to which the international community reacts ambiguously. In particular, the active policy of R.T.Erdoğan causes concern among European powers that consider certain measures of state policy (mass arrests and purges) to be anti-democratic. Relations between the partners have deteriorated significantly, and the negotiations on EU accession have reached an impasse. Long years of negotiation processes and the efforts of the interested powers might prove in vain, as on the EU agenda is the reorientation of priorities, including a complete re-examination of relations with Turkey.


Turkey’s accession prospects to the EU

The possible Turkey membership can serve as the last straw to overtax the internal structure of EU, which faces increasing daily pressure from destabilizing waves of nationalism, populism, and mass immigration in Europe. In particular, the debates led to a split in the union over the possible membership of Turkey. Main opponents of Turkey’s accession Germany, Austria, and Belgium are increasingly expressing their concern over the “Turkish context” of European integration. In particular, referring to the results of the recent Turkish referendum, they point to the erosion of democracy, as well as to the numerous violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms and the rule of law in this country. In his annual keynote speech to the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission President, spoke about the dubious prospects for Turkey’s accession to the European Union. According to him, Turkey’s membership in the European Union in the foreseeable future is excluded, given Turkey’s disdain for human rights and the principles of the rule of law [1]. The former head of the European Council, H. Rompuy, being an ardent opponent of Turkey’s full membership in the EU, also noted that Turkey as a candidate country does not meet the basic criteria for joining the EU. He questioned the support of Turkey’s membership in the EU as a whole, saying that Turkey itself is not so determined in its ambitions [2]. In the pre-election debate in September, A. Merkel firmly stated that Turkey «should not become a member of the EU». Experts believe that the ultimate goal of A. Merkel is to persuade the member states to approve the suspension of negotiations with Turkey, but most countries are convinced that Turkey is a very important geopolitical and economic partner for the EU, which plays an important role in the Middle East [3]. Other EU members (Denmark and Luxembourg) maintain a rather pragmatic approach to Ankara without strongly supporting or opposing the negotiations [4].

The 2018 EU budget can be considered as one of the main messages for Ankara since it reflects the principal political priorities of the EU. According to the new budget, the total amount of EU spending is increased by € 10 billion and amounts to € 144.7 billion [5]. Despite this, during the budget reconciliation, it was decided to reduce the payments for Turkey as a potential candidate for EU membership. Thus, after the approval of the European Parliament, the EU’s financial assistance to Turkey will be reduced by € 105 million. At the same time, an additional € 70 million can be obtained only in case Turkey proves its adherence to European democratic norms, i.e. respecting the principles of the rule of law. According to the experts, cuts in payments are rather a symbolic gesture, directly demonstrating the EU’s attitude towards Turkey. In general, from 2014 to 2020, the total amount of financial support should be € 4.45 billion [6].


Turkey on its European prospects

In turn, Turkey accuses the EU of double standards regarding the fight against terrorism and extremism. Thus, Ankara states that Brussels pursues a double policy in which it does not take sufficient measures to combat the PKK/PYD and FËTO, turning a blind eye to their various separatist and agitational actions [7]. Turkey is committed to joining the EU but does not intend to abandon the current policy, given the fact that Turkish citizens in the majority support the country’s domestic policy. According to the results of the latest poll, which aimed to find people’s opinion on the current agenda of Turkey, over half of the respondents support the policy of R.T.Erdoğan (55%), the cross-border operations of Turkish armed forces (65.1%), including operations against terrorist organizations (PKK, FËTO, IS, etc.) (74%). The poll showed that 77% of respondents are indifferent to Turkey’s membership in the EU [8]. Obviously, Turkey does not intend to impose its position and is waiting for clear decisions from the EU. R.T.Erdoğan made a number of statements, in which he noted that Turkey is nothing more than a «cure for the chronic problems of the EU». He further stressed that it is the EU that needs Turkey, and not the other way around, since «a Europe without Turkey is only going to face isolation, desperation and civil strife» [9].

Turkey, as the second largest NATO member plays an active role in NATO-EU cooperation and demands taking into account its interests. The situation is also exacerbated by the EU’s reluctance to modernize the bilateral agreement on the Customs Union concluded in 1995, despite Ankara’s persistent calls for renewal. As a lever of pressure, Turkey calls for entry into a customs union with the EAEU, in spite of existing disagreements with Armenia.


Economic cooperation between Turkey and the European Union

The development of economic relations is one of the most important elements of bilateral relations. Cooperation in the field of economy, investment and energy accounts for about 70% of the dossiers opened for accession negotiations. Turkey is one of the five main trade partners of the EU after the PRC, the USA, Switzerland, and Russia. At the same time, the EU accounts for about half of Turkey’s total trade. The total trade volume for 2016 stood at € 144.681 billion (4.2% of the total share of trade) [10].

In the first 6 months of 2017, EU countries accounted for 2/3 of all direct foreign investment (FDI) to Turkey, exceeding the figures for the same period in 2016 by 61%. According to the Ministry of Economy of Turkey, from January to June 2017, EU FDI amounted to $ 2.71 billion [11]. Strong growth of investments came from the Netherlands, which increased by 104% – from $ 403 million to $ 821 million. Of the 55,639 companies opened in Turkey, 22,455 companies were created with the EU capital. Among the countries investing in Turkey, Germany is leading with 7000 registered companies. Over the past 15 years, FDI from Germany to Turkey has exceeded $ 9 billion [12].

Collaboration in the energy sector also promises to be productive. Turkey is becoming an increasingly important link for the EU energy transit. The 3500 km long gas corridor passing through 6 countries is considered by the EU countries as a guarantor of energy security and a potential channel for the diversification of energy resources [13].

Overall, as the recent statistical data show, mutual differences and information warfare did not affect economic relations between countries. Turkey has been and remains one of the most important geo-economic partners of the EU in the region.


The role of security in the rapprochement between Turkey and the EU

According to many international experts and analysts, cooperation in the field of security and migration can give impetus to the resumption of relations between partners, since the break-up of relations with Turkey can lead to an uncontrolled flow of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, which, in turn, promises unpleasant consequences for the internal stability and security of the EU. Today, the migration crisis has already jeopardized one of the key principles of the EU – freedom of movement.

Turkey effectively controls the flow of refugees from Syria and beyond, in accordance with the agreement reached in 2015 on combating the migration crisis. Since the outbreak of the crisis in Syria, Turkey has taken over 3.2 million Syrians. Effective EU-Turkey cooperation in the field of migration prevented the arrival of about 1.5 million refugees this year [14].

The security measures taken by Turkey have made it possible to significantly reduce the number of migrants wishing to cross the territory of Greece. According to the International Organization for Migration, about 20,000 migrants travelled from Turkey to Greece in the first 10 months of this year, while in 2016 their number was 170,000, and in 2015 reached 780,000 [15]. After the fall of Raqqa, the fate of the numerous militants who can enter countries under the guise of refugees remains in question. Given the sensational story of the BBC (Raqqa’s dirty secret), this scenario is plausible, which challenges the efforts of the security structures of both Turkey and the EU. The terrorist threat that Europe can face is more than real, and the resolution of this problem will depend on how closely the EU and Turkey can cooperate in this area. This implies to a strategic cooperation, the constant exchange of information and experience between security agencies and intelligence agencies, which will help to ease tensions between the EU and Turkey.


Analysis of the current situation allows us to draw a number of conclusions.

Firstly, at present, neither Ankara nor Brussels views bilateral cooperation as a priority.

Secondly, Turkey is trying to establish economic and political cooperation with the Middle East, as well as with the Russian Federation (both in bilateral format and within the strategic triangle “Russia-Turkey-Iran”).

Thirdly, the facts indicate that Turkey will not voluntarily renounce membership in the EU. The European Union also does not want to damage the established geo-economic and geopolitical relations.

Fourthly, in this uncertain and unclear period, when the future of the EU is at stake, it would be pragmatic for European leaders to re-discuss the prospects for the EU enlargement. On the one hand, Brexit significantly shook the internal structure of the EU and virtually questioned its existence. On the other hand, it gives Turkey a possibility to be the decisive element, which will be able to unite EU and bring it to a relatively new level of development.

Fifthly, the very process of Turkey’s accession is not that complicated as the vision of membership of a Muslim country in the EU: controversial and contentious. The adoption of a culturally distinct country in a European project will require a political courage from EU leaders to open a new page in European history – unprecedented and irrevocable.

In general, both Ankara and Brussels show an aspiration for rapprochement and expansion of economic cooperation. Perhaps at this stage “privileged partnership” is the best of all possible and feasible options with respect to the realities of the dynamically evolving situation.



[1] Juncker: Turkey is taking giant strides away from EU //http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/juncker-turkey-is-taking-giant-strides-away-from-eu-117904

[2] Ромпей: Решительность Турции вступить в ЕС сомнительна //https://www.ukrinform.ru/rubric-world/2348154-rompej-resitelnost-turcii-vstupit-v-es-somnitelna.html; Турция больше не соответствует требованиям вступления в ЕС – экс-глава Евросовета // https://www.ukrinform.ru/rubric-world/2348406-turcia-bolse-ne-sootvetstvuet-trebovaniam-vstuplenia-v-es-eksglava-evrosoveta.html

[3] Turkey-Europe tensions high as EU summit opens //http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/10/turkey-europe-locked-war-words-eu-summit-opens-171017100837409.html

[4] Turkey-EU relations: Which countries are for or against Turkish accession? // http://www.dw.com/en/turkey-eu-relations-which-countries-are-for-or-against-turkish-accession/a-40381533

[5] 2018 EU budget: Agreement reached //http://www.consilium.europa.eu/de/press/press-releases/2017/11/18/2018-eu-budget-agreement-reached/

[6] EU cuts Turkey funding after ‘democratic deterioration’ // http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/eu-cuts-turkey-funding-democratic-deterioration-171119093145715.html

[7] Counter-terror cooperation can rebuild Turkey, EU ties //http://aa.com.tr/en/europe/counter-terror-cooperation-can-rebuild-turkey-eu-ties-/974948

[8] Poll reveals most Turkish citizens do not care about EU accession //https://www.dailysabah.com/eu-affairs/2017/10/12/poll-reveals-most-turkish-citizens-do-not-care-about-eu-accession

[9] Erdogan: Turkey’s membership will cure EU’s problems //http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/erdogan-turkey-membership-cure-eu-problems-171023163753928.html

[10] Client and Supplier Countries of the EU28 in Merchandise Trade //http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2006/september/tradoc_122530.02.2017.pdf

[11] FDI inflow from EU countries to Turkey up by 61 pct //https://www.dailysabah.com/economy/2017/08/24/fdi-inflow-from-eu-countries-to-turkey-up-by-61-pct

[12] Там же.

[13] Turkey-EU meetings to expand ties, facilitate accession negotiations // https://www.dailysabah.com/economy/2017/11/14/turkey-eu-meetings-to-expand-ties-facilitate-accession-negotiations

[14]Turkey to Europe: We did our part, now you do yours //https://www.politico.eu/article/turkey-to-europe-we-did-our-part-now-you-do-yours/

[15] EU says it disbursed €908M to refugees in Turkey //http://aa.com.tr/en/europe/eu-says-it-disbursed-908m-to-refugees-in-turkey/961036

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