Changing Dynamics in the 60th Anniversary of Turkey-EU Relations: End of the Road or New Beginning?


*ZEYNEP DOĞA DEMİREL – APM INTERNSHIP, METU North Cyprus Campus, Department of Political Science and International Relations

The long-standing relations between Turkey and the European Union have gone through various phases throughout history and have had different dynamics in each period. From time to time close relations have been pursued, while from time to time a distant and critical approach has been followed. Therefore, the relationship between Turkey and the European Union is a relationship with ups and downs. These relationship dynamics are not only a reflection of the past, but also play an important role in shaping the future. The differentiation and relative complexity of the relationship depends on a number of complex factors. Roughly, these factors include Turkey’s changing ideological paradigms, national interests and policies, political and economic factors, and policy divergences in a multipolar order. The complexity of these factors shows that relations between Turkey and the European Union are in a constantly changing dynamic. In this short article, we will try to understand the past, present and future of Turkey-EU relations in order to better assimilate them.

Origins of Turkey-EU Relations

Turkey’s first step towards European integration was its application to the European Economic Community (EEC), the then name of the European Union, on 31 July 1959. Being a member of Western European institutions such as the Council of Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it was undoubtedly of great importance for Turkey to become a member of the European Economic Community. With this application, Turkey aimed to strengthen economic, cultural and social interactions with Europe. However, the EEC rejected the application on the grounds that Turkey’s level of development was insufficient. In the following process, instead of Turkey’s full membership, the EEC Council of Ministers decided to conclude a common agreement that would be valid until the conditions for this membership were met. Accordingly, the Ankara Agreement was signed on 12 September 1963 and entered into force on 1 December 1964. The Ankara Agreement thus enabled the establishment of various common mechanisms and the start of co-operation between Turkey and the EEC. A number of common mechanisms such as the Association Council, the Association Committee, the Joint Parliamentary

mechanisms were established. Subsequently, with the Additional Protocol, a new process started in the relations between Turkey and the EEC. Signed on 23 November 1970 and entered into force on 1 January 1973, the Additional Protocol ended the preparatory period and started the transition period1 . The Additional Protocol, which ended the preparatory period of 1964-1973 and included the arrangements for the implementation of the association agreement between Turkey and the EEC, basically emphasised the free movement of goods. In this context, the mutual abolition of customs duties, Turkey’s acceptance of the common customs tariff, and the mutual removal of quantity restrictions were the main issues in the protocol.2 Although this main issue had an economic objective, ultimately Turkey used it as a means to achieve full accession to the EEC, thus transforming the economic objective into a political outcome. However, during this transitional period, there were some very important developments that disrupted Turkey-EEC relations. Turkey’s military intervention in Cyprus in 1974 and Greece’s subsequent application for full membership of the EEC in 1975 played a decisive role in the complexification of relations. However, the military coup d’état in Turkey in 1980 and the ensuing period of military rule was perceived by the Community as a lack of democracy and a violation of human rights. As a result, Turkey’s EEC membership process could not make progress for many years due to the coup d’état. In fact, the EEC countries started to apply visas to Turks as of 1980. Moreover, Greece, which officially became a member of the EEC in 1981, also created a psychological sense of defeat for Turkey.

Developments in the second part of the transition period were more characterised by Turkey’s efforts to rapprochement and to improve its relations with the EEC. This is evidenced by Turgut Özal coming to power in November 1983, followed by the announcement in December 1984 that Turkey would apply for full membership of the EEC. Eventually, in 1987, Turkey applied for full membership of the EEC. The EEC responded to this application two years later, in 1989, with a report. According to this report, the EEC rejected the application on the grounds that Turkey was not ready economically, politically and socially and that the EEC had its own internal issues. On the other hand, the EEC proposed the development of an association relationship with Turkey. In the 1990s, and thus approaching the end of the transition period, this association relationship realised itself through the Customs Union. The Ankara Agreement, which focussed on strengthening trade and economic relations between the parties and initiated the integration process, led to the entry into force of the Customs Union in 1995. Focusing on economic integration and free trade, the Customs Union accelerated Turkey’s industrialisation process. Therefore, the Ankara Agreement strengthened Turkey’s international trade and cooperation in its relations with the EEC, which is now the European Union with the Maastrciht Treaty (1992).

  • Koç, Y. (2001). Turkey-European Union Relations. Ankara: Türk-İş Education Publications.
  • Göçmen İ. (2022) Partnership Relationship between Turkey and the European Union: Historical Development. Ankara University Open Course Materials.

Over time, Turkey-EU relations have faced various challenges. During the Customs Union, Turkey organised a series of campaigns to overcome these difficulties and to strengthen its image. Especially in this period, with the increase in the activities of the PKK terrorist organisation, efforts were made to reduce the impact of biased news and comments in the print media, which were thought to harm Turkey-EU relations. Again in this period, efforts were made for democratisation as a part of the Customs Union project. In this context, letters explaining different aspects of the 1995 democratisation programme were prepared. In these letters, constitutional amendments to increase political participation, transition to local democracy, amendment of Article 8 of the Anti-terror Law were included. In these endeavours, Turkey has demonstrated that it has overcome all the challenges to the democratic system with complete success. As a result, Turkey faced harsh opposition from one of the EU member states, the Cyprus problem, the Kurdish problem, policies and campaigns aimed at overcoming challenges such as democratisation. Ultimately, the aim was to enter the EU through the Customs Union.

After the Customs Union entered into force, the last period of relations began, and compared to other periods It was characterised as a freeze rather than a normalisation. In particular, Turkey froze political dialogue with the EU after the Luxembourg Summit (1987), which showed a negative attitude towards Turkey and the decision to start EU membership talks with Southern Cyprus. On the other hand, at the Helsinki summit (1999), the EU recognised Turkey as a candidate state. Especially after the Helsinki process, Turkey embarked on a rapid reform process. In 2002, the AKP came to power and adopted a conciliatory attitude towards European integration. However, this moderate atmosphere was short-lived and when the negotiations started in 2005, relations were disrupted as a result of Turkey’s non-recognition of Southern Cyprus and the attitudes of the countries in the EU, especially Germany and France, which abstained from Turkey’s membership. Moreover, events such as the 2013 Gezi events, the 2016 coup attempt, the PKK/ISIS threat, and the Syrian refugee crisis have gradually pushed Turkey away from the EU. Another harmonisation problem stems from the Copenhagen Criteria. The criteria to be met by candidate countries for full membership are rule of law, protection of minorities, democracy, human rights, market economy and harmonisation with the EU acquis. According to the EU, Turkey’s failure to fully fulfil these criteria, the Cyprus problem, relations with Greece and other controversial issues such as geography, religion, population and values have resulted in the membership process being shelved.

The Present and Future of Turkey-EU Relations

If we shift our perspective from the past to the present, it is possible to say that Turkey has recently moved away from the EU.

The persistence of the above-mentioned problems makes harmonisation with the EU and thus European integration more difficult. In the recent period We observe that the EU is in the process of enlargement. Along with the countries mentioned in this enlargement process (Ukraine, Moldova, Sweden), Turkey should also be included. However, Turkey’s lack of progress in the recent period has led to a bottleneck in the membership process. Turkey’s geostrategic position and trade partnership is an undeniable fact. Therefore, the main goal should be full membership. At this point, it is important that Turkey still has the potential for membership. However, for this to be realised, reform efforts within Turkey will be expected by the EU. In particular, democratic reforms, investment in various areas (such as education, technology, social responsibility) and the updating of the Customs Union within the new order are important in this context.

As stated in Turkey’s official National Programme, “EU membership is a Republican project” and our aim should be to reach EU standards.

As a result of the issues on the international agenda, mainly the Israel-Gaza and Russia-Ukraine wars, Turkey’s EU membership is not at the top of the agenda for the time being. In fact, due to the busy agenda of the European Council, the issue of Turkey will be discussed on 14-16 December.

The 2023 EU summit did not include Turkey on its discussion agenda. Instead, EU-Turkey relations and the Turkey report by EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Josep Borrell will be discussed at one of the next EU summits, probably in March 2024[1].

[1] European Union leaders postpone Turkey debate to March 2024 (2023, December 13). BBC News Turkish.

İlgili Yazılar
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *