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Sunday, January 17, 2010

European Union Enlargement: A Status Report on Turkey’s Accession Negotiations

Vincent Morelli
Section Research Manager

Carol Migdalovitz
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

October 2009 marked the fourth anniversary of the European Union's decision to proceed with formal negotiations with Turkey toward full membership in the Union and launched the annual period when all three European Union institutions, the Council, Commission, and Parliament, would be required to assess the progress Turkey had made or failed to accomplish in the accession process and to issue recommendations on whether and how the process should continue. 

Many "Turkey-skeptics" saw the end of 2009 as a deadline for Turkish action that would have marked a critical juncture for the future of Europe's relationship with Turkey. At issue was not only the positive progress Turkey had achieved in meeting the requirements of the EU's acquis communautaire but whether a specific lack of progress by Turkey would force EU member states into a difficult debate pitting loyalty to another member state, being shunned by a candidate for Union membership, versus Europe's long-term strategic interests in Turkey. The principal issues regarding Turkey's accession center around what the EU believes has been too slow of a pace for certain critical reforms within Turkey; a perceived ambivalence toward the EU by the current Turkish leadership; Turkey's failure to live up to its agreement to extend the benefits of its customs union with the EU to Cyprus, including the continued reluctance by Turkey to open its sea and air ports to Cypriot shipping and commerce until a political settlement has been achieved on Cyprus; and a continued skepticism on the part of many Europeans about whether Turkey should be embraced as a member of the European family. Further complicating the attitude toward Turkey was the lack of a settlement of the political stalemate on Cyprus and the ongoing debate within parts of Europe over the implications of the growing Muslim population in Europe and the impact Turkey's admission into the Union would have on Europe's future. Thus, the talk once again was of a potential "train wreck," the suspension of negotiations, revised talk of a different relationship with Turkey, and renewed expressions of doubt over whether Turkey should ever be admitted into the Union. 

However, on October 15, the European Commission issued its fourth formal report on Turkey's accession progress. The Commission's 2009 report, like its previous reports, was marked by a mixed assessment of Turkey's accomplishments thus far in working through the various chapters of the accession process that have been opened. The report, while noting some progress in judicial reform and relations with the Kurds and Armenia, and little progress in other areas, contained nothing new or dramatic. Contrary to some views within Europe, the Commission did not view its 2009 report as any more significant or important than previous annual reports. 

Shortly after the Commission issued its report, the EU Parliament, on November 23, adopted a resolution regarding the Union's enlargement strategy. The Parliament's assessment was very similar to that of the Commission. Finally, on December 8, the EU Council issued its conclusions on Turkey's progress and prospects and adopted a very non-controversial position. 

Unification talks have continued between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, but a settlement in the near term remains elusive, and, short of such a settlement, Turkey appears unlikely to open its ports to Cyprus. Although the debate in all three institutions was animated in part, the Union clearly decided to defer any difficult decisions regarding Turkey's accession negotiations to a later time.

Date of Report: January 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RS22517
Price: $29.95

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