Turkey has been an official candidate for membership in the European Union since 1999, more than 20 years after its first application. The country has undergone reforms and implemented changes to meet EU standards, yet the accession process has been stalled for many years.
So, what’s causing the delay? Why is Turkey still not part of the EU? We’ll take a look at the problems that prevent Turkey’s accession and some of the reasons why it is not in the EU today.
Issues between Turkey and the EU stem from a variety of issues, including politics, geography, and economics, as well as its culture, history, and religion.
Political issues have stood in the way of Turkey’s accession to the EU. Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP (Justice and Development Party), has been criticized for its authoritarian tendencies. This combined with the crackdown on dissent in the country, human rights violations, and deteriorating press freedom has caused concern amongst EU members who do not wish to allow a non-democratic government into their organization.
Turkey has not implemented reforms to its laws governing freedom of expression and freedom of religion and conscience; it has not adequately reformed its civil service; and it has not granted legal recognition to non-Muslim religious communities such as Alevis, Armenians, and Catholics.
Furthermore, Turkey has failed to resolve problems related to freedom of association, including union organizing rights for workers and restrictions on Kurdish associations. In addition, Turkey lacks adequate laws against domestic violence; women still face discrimination under Turkish family law, and children lack adequate protection from sexual exploitation and forced labor.
Turkey’s large population would also mean that it would have a lot of influence in the EU. This doesn’t sit well with some members of the EU who are worried that it would upset the Union’s balance of power and its decision-making process.
Turkey’s geography is also a major issue. Being located mostly in the Middle East, it is considered to be more distant from the rest of Europe, both culturally and geographically. In addition, being too close to conflict-torn countries like Syria, Iraq, and Iran has made some EU members uneasy.
The threat to European security that Turkey might pose is certainly a concern, particularly with the recent influx of refugees and migrants from these countries.
UK’s former Prime Minister, David Cameron, expressed his concern in 2015 when he said that allowing Turkey to join the EU could mean opening the door for “an even greater wave of migration” to Europe.
And with more than 500,000 square miles, it would be the largest country in the union by far. Many European nations are concerned about admitting such a large population into an already crowded continent and worry that doing so could allow Turkey to sway political decision-making within the union.
Accepting Turkey into the EU could also mean that other countries in the Middle East could soon be considered for membership.
Turkey’s economy is also a major concern for EU membership. Turkey’s economy is not as developed as those of other EU countries and has been plagued by high inflation and unemployment rates, as well as a large budget deficit. Its per capita income is only about 60% of the EU average.
Having an economy that differs significantly from the rest of the EU and a large population could put a strain on the union’s resources. The EU would likely feel the burden of having to support Turkey financially while it works to strengthen its economy.
Having a predominantly Muslim population is another factor that has held Turkey back from joining the EU. Even though Turkey is officially a secular state, its population is overwhelmingly Muslim and this has caused some EU members to be wary about allowing it into the union.
The EU is made up of mostly Christian-majority countries and some worry that allowing Turkey in could lead to an increase in religious tension within the union. Some EU members also worry that Turkey’s Islamic culture could clash with the EU’s values of human rights and democracy.
Culture is another issue that has held Turkey back from joining the EU. With a large part of the country being in the Middle East, Turkish culture is very different from what is seen in Europe. The country has not been able to fully integrate with the EU’s culture and way of life. And since it didn’t experience the shared history and heritage that most of the other EU members have, the country didn’t have the drive to unity that many of the EU countries had.
Turkey’s long-standing conflict with Cyprus has been another issue that has hampered its EU ambitions. The country’s long-standing dispute over the island of Cyprus, combined with Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Republic of Cyprus as a sovereign nation has made it difficult for Turkey and the EU to come to terms.
This has been an insurmountable obstacle in the way of Turkey joining the EU, as Cyprus is currently an EU member. The conflict between Turkey and Cyprus has been going on for decades, and until a resolution is reached, it is unlikely that Turkey will be able to join the EU.
The long-standing dispute between Turkey and the Greek-Cypriot government over the island of Cyprus is one of the main obstacles to Turkey’s accession to the EU. Turkey has occupied the northern part of Cyprus since 1974 and does not recognize the Greek-Cypriot government as legitimate.
This dispute has been a major sticking point in the negotiations between Turkey and the EU, as many members are unwilling to accept a country with such an unresolved conflict with a fellow member.
Turkish and Greek Relations
Relations between Turkey and Greece are also strained due to their respective positions on the Cyprus issue. Greece is a member of the EU and has supported Cyprus’ request for EU membership. Turkey, on the other hand, has not recognized Cyprus as an independent, sovereign state. This has led to tension between the two nations, which could further complicate Turkey’s accession process.
Accession Bid Events Timeline
Here are the important events that have happened since Turkey’s first bid for accession:
- December 1999 – Turkey is declared an official candidate for EU membership by the Helsinki European Council.
- March 2001 – The accession partnership has been adopted by the Council for Turkey
- May 2003 – A Revised Accession partnership was adopted by the Council for Turkey
- December 2004 – Council decides to open negotiations with Turkey starting Oct 2005
- October 2005 – A negotiating framework has been adopted by the European Council. Negotiations officially start and the screening process begins.
- June 2006 – Negotiations on Chapter 25- Science and Research are opened and closed.
- December 2006 – Council decides not to open the eight chapters after Turkey refused to follow certain conditions of the Ankara agreement with Cyprus.
- February 2008 – European council again adopts a revised accession partnership for Turkey
- June 2010 – Chapter 12 – Food Safety, Veterinary, and Phytosanitary Policy is opened
- May 2012 – Positive agenda, a new project for EU-Turkey relations, is adopted
- November 2013 – Chapter 22- Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural Instruments negotiations are opened
- December 2013 – Visa liberalization dialogue is launched
- November 2015 – The first EU-Turkey summit is held. In return for the halting of Syrian refugee flows, The EU agrees to open negotiations for visa-free travel, accelerate accession talks and provide financial support.
- December 2015 – Chapter 17 – Economic and Monetary Policy negotiations are opened
- June 2016 – Chapter 33- Financial and Budgetary Provisions negotiations are opened
- November 2016 – Negotiations are suspended due to Turkey’s purges of its military and civil society following the failed coup attempt.
- May 2018 – Turkey has been omitted from the pre-accession funding program by the European Council, effectively cutting off much of its accession aid.
- February 2019 – Accession talks with Turkey were suspended indefinitely by the European parliament.
The Future of Turkey and the EU
EU-Turkey relations have been stuck in a downward spiral for many years. And with many of these issues appearing to be insurmountable, the possibility of Turkey joining the EU any time soon seems unlikely. Only time will tell if these issues can eventually be resolved, but with the current state of affairs, it doesn’t appear likely anytime soon.