EU Enlargement: Challenges and Opportunities, Power Point of a presentation made in the United Nations Development Program, Regional Office in Sofia (Bulgaria), 22 June 2004


 UNDP/RBEC Advisory Board Meeting, Sofia, 21-22 June 2004

Turkey’s relations with the EU.

            Turkey’s relations with the EU vary considerably from the relations between the EU and other member or candidate countries. This difference is due to various reasons. The way Turkey is historically perceived in the EU countries is one of them. Other reasons include the size of Turkey (both demographically and geographically) and cultural (religious) differences between Turkey and the remainder of the EU. This is why Turkey’s candidacy is not treated on equal footing with the other candidate countries.

Major milestones in Turkey’s Relations with the EU

Turkey’s relations with the EU date back to more than 45 years. Major milestones in Turkey’s relations with EU are as follows:

–                    Turkey first applied to the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1959, shortly after the establishment of the Community.

–                    An Association Agreement with the EEC is signed in 1963. This Agreement envisaged Turkey’s full membership after certain stages.

–                    Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987.

–                    A Customs Union is established between Turkey and the EU in 1995.

–                    During the EU Council held in Helsinki in December 1999, Turkey is designated    as a “candidate State destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to other candidate States”.

–                    The Copenhagen EU Council decided in December 2002 that accession negotiations with Turkey will start “without delay” should the Council be led to the conclusion that Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria of the EU.

In this process, the next logical and natural step is the accession to the EU. However the EU is still hesitant on whether the accession negotiations with Turkey should start or not. Such a hesitation is in contradiction with what EU has done with the other candidate countries. For instance, it was mentioned in the progress report regarding certain candidate countries that, 2 years after the accession negotiations started with these countries, they still did not fully abide by the Copenhagen criteria, while in the case of Turkey, the abidance by these criteria is put as a pre-condition for the start of the accession negotiations. I leave it to your sound judgement whether Turkey could be considered as having been treated on equal footing.

Despite this unfair treatment by the EU, Turkey undertook a challenging reform process to harmonize the Turkish legislation and the State structure with the standards of the EU.

Major achievements

The National Program, adopted in March 2001, contained general principles and strategy governing the reforms Turkey would make for accession. Turkey has worked seriously and with determination, taking every necessary step to meet the Copenhagen criteria and achieve this goal. Significant legislative packages have been adopted and numerous steps taken. More than 40 articles of the Constitution were amended to eliminate several discrepancies in the field of democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms.

The legislative harmonization packages adopted in June and July 2003 –the sixth, seventh and eighth reform packages– have further reinforced previous reforms in the field of fundamental rights and freedoms including the abolishment of the death penalty.

  • They have ensured a widening of the scope of the freedom of expression by repealing Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Act.
  • State security courts that included a military representative were abolished.
  • Private broadcasts in languages and dialects other than Turkish are now permitted.
  • The construction of places of worship such as churches has been facilitated.
  • The application period for the registration of real estate by community foundations has been extended.
  • The duties and competences of the Secretariat of the National Security Council have been aligned with the consultative nature of the Council and with the needs of a democratic executive.
  • The Secretary General of the NSC could now be a civilian.
  • Parliamentary scrutiny has been extended to cover the use of public assets and public expenditure in the areas outside the budget, including military expenditure.

Implementation of the Legislative Measures

After the adoption of these reforms, complementary legislative and administrative measures soon followed to ensure their effective implementation.  Implementation is important and Turkey is fully aware of it.

This is why the implementation of the reforms is a permanent item on the agenda of the Council of Ministers. Monthly progress reports on the implementation of the National Programme are presented to the Council of Ministers by the Secretariat-General for EU Affairs; a special Monitoring Group has been established at the political level in order to oversee progress made in the actual implementation of the political reforms.  This Group, which is chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, also include the Minister of Justice and the Minister of the Interior.  These ministers meet on a regular basis with the aim of defining and addressing issues of implementation.  Furthermore, senior officials from the above-mentioned three ministries also take part in these meetings together with the Secretary-General for EU Affairs, the Head of the Human Rights Department of the Prime Ministry and the Chairman of the Human Rights Advisory Council

The fact there are violation of the law should not be taken a criteria when an assessment is made for the implementation. What is more important on this subject is whether the government tolerates such violations. Violations do occur in the member counties as well. This is demonstrated by hundreds of lawsuits filed against the member countries in the European Court of Justice. As a result of this member countries are punished by the count. This is a proof that violation of acquis communautaire takes place in the member countries as well. Therefore, it will be unfair to say that Turkey is not eligible for the start of accession negotiations because of such violations.

In view of these significant steps, much of the Copenhagen criteria have now been met and Turkey remains committed to ensuring the full and effective implementation of the legal reforms.

            What will the EU gain from Turkey’s membership?

How will the EU benefit from Turkish membership?  From the EU perspective, Turkey’s membership will help strengthen the EU’s role as a global actor.  If the EU wants to be one of the major players in the global scene, it will achieve this goal more easily with Turkey’s contribution.

As a key regional actor and ally located in close proximity to many existing and potential hotspots that are high on the European and international agenda, Turkey can help enhance stability and promote welfare in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East. In fact, out of 15 hot spots identified by NATO as potential threat to the alliance, 12 are located in areas adjacent to Turkey or in areas where Turkey has cultural or historical ties. These areas are Middle East (including Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Iran), Caucasus, the Balkans and the Central Asia. I do not want to suggest that EU cannot carry out its goals in these areas without Turkey’s contribution. However, I may say without undue modesty that these goals could be achieved more easily, with less effort and resources and with much less acrimony, if it is done in cooperation with Turkey.

The importance attributed by the US to the role to be played by Turkey in the Iraqi crisis is a living evidence of this. It was also an important development when the Turkish parliament denied authorisation to American troops to cross Turkish territory into Iraq in order to open a second front in the northern Iraq. This example demonstrates the importance of both the cooperation and the absence of cooperation with Turkey.

Turkey contributes to the ongoing rapprochement between Europe and Asia and hence helps extend modern values in regions neighbouring Turkey.

Furthermore, Turkey’s membership in the European Union will surely be a symbol of harmonious co-existence of cultures, and enriching the spiritual fabric of the European Union.

Moreover, once Turkey becomes a member of EU, it will be able to contribute much more to the Common Foreign and Security Policy.  With its experience and capabilities in the military field, Turkey will definitely increase the weight of the EU in the global arena.

With Turkey as a full member, the Union will no doubt have a stronger voice.  The prevention and settlement of conflicts that involve the western community of nations and other countries will be easier.  The world will be safer. Above all, it will be a serious blow and an outright response to radical terrorism shaking the world today.

Turkey is located at the crossroad linking Asia to Europe and serves as a gate to the warm seas for the Black Sea basin countries, namely Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, the Russian Federation and Georgia. On the other hand Turkey is located on the natural route between Europe and basins rich in oil and natural gas such as Iraq, Iran, Caspian Sea and Central Asia

In the economic field, Turkey could become an asset because of its geographical location and its young population. Statistics indicate that, because of the aging population, there will be an increasing need for young manpower in the EU countries during the next decades. The EU Commission reports point out that the size of the labour force in the EU-15 countries will decrease by one million each year between 2010 and 2030, amounting to a total decrease of 20 millions in 20 years. The same reports point also out that the problem of aging population is even more acute in the 10 new member countries of central and Eastern Europe. Turkey’s population is much younger as compared to the EU average. The age group between 0 and 25 constitute 57 % of the entire population of Turkey. The age group between 0 and 14 constitute 36 % of Turkey’s population, as compared to 18 % in most of the EU countries.

There are at present 3.5 million Turks working in the EU countries. 2.5 million Turks have worked in the EU countries and now came back to Turkey. They are adapted to a great extent to the living and working conditions in these countries.

Turkey has a customs’ union with the EU since 1996. Industrial commodities circulate between Turkey and the EU countries free of customs duties. This demonstrates that Turkey’s free market economy will be able to compete with the economies of the EU countries. Therefore Turkey’s economy will not have major difficulty in adapting itself to the economies of the EU countries.


Turkey is progressing steadily in its aspirations to join the EU.  It has accomplished more than what the other candidate countries had accomplished at the time they started accession negotiations. However, Turkey believes that the subject of its accession to the EU is not like a court case in a tribunal where the verdict is made according to tightly defined legal provisions. Turkey’s accession to the EU is a political question and the decision on its accession will be made in light of political considerations. Turkey is aware of this reality and is acting accordingly.

As to the membership of the other Balkan countries, Turkey believes that the European integration will be more complete when these countries will be fully integrated in the EU.  The goals of the EU could not be better attained by leaving outside certain countries of the region, no matter how reasonable may seem the justification for it. The more these countries feel excommunicated, the less they will be able to contribute to the consolidation of peace and stability in the region. This is valid for every single country in the Balkans.

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