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October 2011 will mark the sixth anniversary of the European Union's decision to proceed with formal negotiations with Turkey toward full membership in the Union. It will also mark the beginning of the annual period when all three European Union institutions, the Council, Commission, and Parliament, provide their assessment of the progress Turkey has made or failed to accomplish in the accession process over the previous year and to issue recommendations on whether and how Turkey's accession process should proceed. For the 2010 assessments, none of the institutions provided the kind of positive endorsement of the accession talks that pro-EU supporters in Turkey would have hoped for, leading some to believe that the EU might be losing interest in Turkey and that some in Turkey have become even more disillusioned with the EU.
Throughout 2011, the EU has been consumed with its own internal economic and fiscal crisis and apparently has had little time for much else. At the same time, significant developments have taken place in Turkey including a national election in June that returned the governing AK Party to power, a shake-up of the Turkish military, and several foreign policy developments involving Syria, Iran, Cyprus, and Israel. With respect to accession, no additional chapters of the EU's rules and regulations known as the acquis communautaire were opened in 2011, leaving some to ask whether Turkey's accession negotiations with the EU had reached a complete political and technical stalemate. The principal issues regarding Turkey's accession continue to be what the EU believes has been too slow of a pace for implementing critical reforms within Turkey and possibly even a few steps backward in the area of press freedoms; Turkey's continued refusal to extend diplomatic recognition to Cyprus or 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; continued skepticism on the part of many Europeans whether Turkey should be embraced as a member of the European family fueled recently by a UK parliamentary committee report addressing the risks it saw in Turkey becoming a member of the Union; the implications of the growing Muslim population in Europe and the impact Turkey's admission into the Union would have on Europe's future; and a perceived ambivalence toward the EU by some in the current Turkish leadership. Comments among some Turks questioning Turkey's need to join the EU have begun to be heard on a more public and regular basis while discussions of the EU seem to have become less regular in the internal Turkish debate over its future.
This report provides a brief overview of the EU's accession process and Turkey's path to EU membership. The U.S. Congress has had a long-standing interest in Turkey as a NATO ally, a regional energy transit hub, and a partner in issues involving the Black Sea, the broader Middle East, and the Caucasus. Although some Members have expressed support for Turkey's membership in the EU, the level of congressional support seems to have diminished as congressional concerns with several of Turkey's recent foreign policy developments have surfaced. The 112th Congress may review Turkey's relations with the United States, the impact of the EU accession process on internal political and economic reforms in Turkey, and Turkey's apparent intent to become a more independent regional foreign policy influence.
Contents The EU Accession Process Turkey's Initial Path to European Union Accession Current Status of Turkey's Accession Assessment U.S. Perspective
September 9, 2011
The EU Accession Process (1)
The European Union (EU) views enlargement as an historic opportunity to promote stability and prosperity throughout Europe. The criteria for EU membership require candidates to adopt political values and norms shared by the Union by achieving "stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities; a functioning market economy, as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union." (2)
Under Article 49 of the Treaty on the European Union, any European country may apply for membership if it meets a set of criteria established by the Treaty. In addition, the EU must be able to absorb new members, so the EU can decide when it is ready to accept a new member.
Applying for EU membership is the start of a long and rigorous process. The EU operates comprehensive approval procedures that ensure new members are admitted only when they have met all requirements, and only with the active consent of the EU institutions and the governments of the EU member states and of the applicant country. Basically, a country that wishes to join the EU submits an application for membership to the European Council, which then asks the EU Commission to assess the applicant's ability to meet the conditions of membership.
Accession talks begin with a screening process to determine to what extent an applicant meets the EU's approximately 80,000 pages of rules and regulations known as the acquis communautaire. The acquis is divided into 35 chapters that range from free movement of goods to agriculture to competition. Detailed negotiations at the ministerial level take place to establish the terms under which applicants will meet and implement the rules in each chapter. The European Commission proposes common negotiating positions for the EU on each chapter, which must be approved unanimously by the Council of Ministers. In all areas of the acquis, the candidate country must bring its institutions, management capacity, and administrative and judicial systems up to EU standards, both at national and regional levels. During negotiations, applicants may request transition periods for complying with certain EU rules. All candidates receive financial assistance from the EU, mainly to aid in the accession process. Chapters of the acquis can only be opened and closed with the approval of all member states, and chapters provisionally closed may be reopened. Periodically, the Commission issues "progress" reports to the Council (usually in October or November of each year) as well as to the European Parliament assessing the progress achieved by a candidate country. Once the Commission concludes negotiations on all 35 chapters with an applicant, a procedure that can take years, the agreements reached are incorporated into a draft accession treaty, which is submitted to the Council for approval and to the European Parliament for assent. After approval by the Council and Parliament, the accession treaty must be ratified by each EU member state and the candidate country. This process of ratification of the final accession treaty can take up to two years or longer. (3)
The largest expansion of the EU was accomplished in 2004 when the EU accepted 10 new member states. In January 2007, Romania and Bulgaria joined, bringing the Union to its current 27 member states. Since then, the EU has continued supporting the enlargement process. Currently, there are five candidate countries--Croatia (which has closed all of the chapters of the aquis) and is expected to join the EU in 2012, Iceland (which began the accession process in July 2010 and opened its first chapter of the aquis in June 2011), Turkey, Macedonia, and Montenegro which was given candidate status in December 2010.
Prior to October 2009, in order for enlargement to continue, two barriers that existed had to be overcome. First, and although not explicitly stated, certain conditions established by the 2000 Treaty of Nice seemed to limit the EU to 27 members. In order for any other new country to be admitted to the Union, the Nice Treaty had to be amended or a new treaty ratified to allow further expansion of the Union. The Lisbon Treaty (4) was agreed to in 2007 by the EU leadership and took effect on December 1, 2009, allowing, among other things, future enlargement of the Union to take place. A second barrier to the current accession structure involves any candidate country whose accession could have substantial financial consequences on the Union as a whole. Under this provision, admission of such a candidate can only be concluded after 2014, the scheduled date for the beginning of the EU's next budget framework. (5) Currently, only Turkey's candidacy would fall under this restriction.
Turkey's Initial Path to European Union Accession
Turkey and the European Commission first concluded an Association Agreement (Ankara Agreement) aimed at developing closer economic ties in 1963. A key provision of that agreement was the commitment by Turkey to establish a customs union that would be applied to each EU member state. In 1987, Turkey's first application for full EU membership was deferred until 1993 on the grounds that the European Commission was not considering new members at the time. Although not technically a rejection of Turkey, the decision did add Turkey to a list, along with the United Kingdom, of nations to have been initially turned down for membership in the Union. In 1995, a Customs Union agreement between the EU and Turkey entered into force, setting a path for deeper integration of Turkey's economy with that of Europe's. In 1997, the Luxembourg EU summit confirmed Turkey's eligibility for accession to the EU but failed to put Turkey on a clear track to membership. The EU recognized Turkey formally as a candidate at the 1999 Helsinki Council summit but asserted that Turkey still needed to comply sufficiently with the EU's political and economic criteria before accession talks could begin. (6)
In February 2001, the EU formally adopted an "Accession Partnership" with Turkey, which set out the priorities Turkey needed to address in order to adopt and implement EU standards and legislation. Although Ankara had hoped the EU would set a firm date for initiating negotiations at the December 2002 EU Copenhagen Summit, no agreement was reached. Two years later, 10 new member states, including a divided Cyprus, were …