EU Enlargement: Turkey and the EU – recent developments

by Richard Muhire (short version)*

The accession process for Turkey to join the European Union is progressing step by step even if there are still many challenges regarding the implementation of the acquis communautaire and fulfillment of the ‘Copenhagen criteria’. As provided in the article 49 TEU, the accession to the Union is open to any European state which respects the values referred to in Article 2 TEU i.e. “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”,  and is committed to promoting them.

Since the creation of the European Union in 1951, Turkey has never ceased to demonstrate its interest in joining the Union by trying to establish a good relationship with the Union. Already in 1959, Turkey applied for associate membership and later on in 1963 took Turkey another step forward and signed with the Union the Ankara Agreement “The Agreement Creating an Association between the Republic of Turkey and the European Economic Community” which entered into force in December 1963. This agreement did not only open the opportunity of a long journey towards the integration process but also was seen as a positive sign for the eventual full membership in the future.[1] Later in December 1999, during the Helsinki European Council, Turkey was officially recognized as a candidate country to join the Union. The relationship between Turkey and the Union was furthermore strengthened by opening of the accession negotiation in October 2005, and by then the process could start.

The Turkish constitution amendment of 2010 proved the commitment for harmonizing its legal system with the Copenhagen criteria. The constitution amendment enabled reforms for the legal system and fundamental human rights in order to meet democracy and rule of law requirements. On 12 June 2011 general elections were held and the EU-observers described them as free and fair. The Commission in its progressive reports of 2011[2] clearly stated that since the accession negotiation kicked off, Turkey had made huge improvements regarding domestic affairs, economic policies; human rights, institutions capacity building, etc.  The remarkable improvement was also achieved in the amelioration of its relations with neighboring countries – Cyprus and Greece. All of these achievements are to be considered as a positive step forward in the right direction towards the achievement of the Copenhagen criteria and acquis communautaire requirement.

Although the improvements there is still much to be done including a good number of legislations which are imbedded in the acquis communautaire and the Copenhagen criteria which must be harmonized in the Turkish legal system. In the 2011 progressive report, the Commission put a particular accent to the standing points including “human rights guarantee, resolving completely its borders conflicts, recognizing the Armenian Genocide, enhancing citizens` political freedoms and respect of minorities’ rights”. The commission recommended Turkey to take all necessary measures to improve the pending standing points and to fully implement the EU economic regulations.

Some other political factors may also influence the accession process. Turkey as member state to the Union may strengthen the capacity of the Union not only economically because of its market capacity but also internationally because of not only the strategic region that Turkey belongs to but also an important role that Turkey plays in the Middle Eastern region. On the other side, for those who oppose the admission of Turkey may argue that the country of 80 million population and 99, 8% of them are Muslim, will unconditionally gain more powers and as result the balance of powers within the Union will then be pushed eastward.


The accession process for Turkey to join the Union appears to be on the right track as both parties demonstrate good will to make the process move forward.  We may realize that the standing points that the commission recommended to be improved are not easily achievable and they require extensive efforts and joined forces from different institutions. So, Turkey must invest significant efforts to ensure that EU rules and regulations are implemented in its legal system and that are functioning effectively. This does not only require political and administrative measures but also it requires time. I believe that Turkey will become the Union´s member state in future but Turkey may have to wait longer than was expecting from the beginning.

[1] Harun Arikan, Turkey and the EU: An Awkward Candidate for EU Membership?, 2nd ed., Ashgate, 2006, p. 1.

[2] Turkey 2011 progress report: Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2011-2012, SEC (2011) 1201 final, Brussels, 12.10.2011, p. 3, available online at (last access on 22 May 2012).

*The full paper is 14 pages.

Scholarly sources

Yelena E. Archiyan, Turkey and the European Union: An Association in the making, 20 Mich. St. U. Coll. L. Int´L. Rev. 117 20011.

Firat Oktay, Turkey’s Progress towards the Adoption of Acquis Communautaire, 2 Ankara B. Rev. 92, 2009.

Firat Cengiz, Lars Hoffmann, Rethinking Conditionality: Turkey`s EU Accession and the Kurdish question, Tilburg University, 2012, DP 2012-010.


About eulaworebro

Örebro Universitet (Sweden)
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