Later this month, on the 26th, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, will meet in Bulgaria the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in order to try to improve the relations between the European Union (EU) and Turkey. One of the aims of the summit, hosted by the prime minister of Bulgaria as the country holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, is to discuss how to “move the EU-Turkey relationship forward”. A relationship that started back in 1963 when Turkey signed the Ankara Agreement establishing an association with the European Economic Community. Yet its most important milestone happened in 2005 when formal accession talks were launched (the same year as the opening of negotiations with Croatia, a member of the EU since 2013), after in 1999 Turkey became an official EU candidate country.
So this seems a good opportunity to analyze what the current attitudes toward full membership for Turkey are in the EU political sphere.
When it comes to the European institutions, things do not look good for Turkish aspirations. In his annual State of the European Union address to the European Parliament in September 2017, Jean-Claude Juncker rejected Turkey’s EU membership in the “foreseeable future”, considering that the country “has been taking giant strides away from the European Union [in terms of rule of law, justice, and fundamental rights] for some time”.
The European Parliament’s opinion on the subject is not different. In November 2016 the members of the parliament (MEPs) approved a resolution urging a freeze on EU accession talks with Turkey, based on the “disproportionate repressive measures” by the Turkish government after the coup attempt in July 2016. Less than one year later, after the 2017 referendum in Turkey – which marks the moment when the country voted for a presidential system –, the MEPs discussed again the Turkish situation and warned that talks between the EU and that candidate country should be suspended if the (voted) constitutional changes are implemented the way they were approved. In addition, the text mirrored the concerns about “the rule of law, human rights, media freedom, and the fight against corruption” in Turkey.
What about the member states? Regarding Turkish accession, they do not speak in one voice.
The preliminary deal between the Angela Merkel and the Social Democrats to form a new German government indicates that no new negotiation chapters should be opened at least while Turkey refuses to change some of its policies on fundamental rights and rule of law, mainly taken after the failed coup in 2016, albeit it doesn’t mention anything related to a “partnership”, a stance the German chancellor took in the past, and which Ankara has always rejected. In September, during a televised election debate, Merkel said that “Turkey should not become a member of the EU”, calling for an end of the accession talks – position with which Martin Schulz, the then leader of the Social Democrats, has totally agreed. Considering the new pact, it seems that both parties have softened their position on the issue.
That is a stance shared by the president of France. After the joint press conference with Erdoğan during his official visit last January to France, Emmanuel Macron stated that “it is clear that [Turkey’s] recent developments and choices allow no progress in” the EU integration process. The French president considers that it’s “hypocrisy” to think “that a natural progression toward opening new chapters is possible”, suggesting instead “a cooperation, a partnership” which makes sure that “Turkey remains anchored in Europe”. These words followed Erdoğan’s comments on the “exhaustion” of Turkish people due to more than 54 years at the door of the EU: A fact that Macron acknowledged when he said that the EU, by allowing the rise of unrealistic expectations concerning Turkey’s membership, had not always acted well toward the country.
As we’ve seen, both France and Germany, “the motor of European integration”, rule out that possibility – and that means in practice that the EU rules out that possibility.
However, that does not mean that the other countries officially agree with the two EU heavyweights’ opinion. Even though during the Brexit referendum campaign, Boris Johnson used a supposedly imminent Turkey’s full membership as a threat to the UK’s national security (due to a possible flood of Turkish immigrants) if his country stayed in the European Union, a few months after, already as Britain’s foreign minister, he went to Ankara and made sure he would help Turkey to join the EU. His (contradictory) position has sparked lots of criticism: a British member of the parliament said that “Boris Johnson’s cynicism and dishonesty knows no bounds”.
As for Italy, its governments have been constant supporters of Turkey’s accession, especially because “the trade balance has been in favor of Italy” and due to the importance of Turkey to the security of the EU. However, the two most voted parties in the recent elections, the “5 Star Movement” and the “Lega Nord”, which together received more than half of total votes, voted for the EU Parliament’s resolution in 2016 to freeze accession talks with Turkey, showing a “radical way” to express their concern for the Turkish situation. Since to form a new government at least one of those parties must be part of it, we could witness a change on Italy’s traditional position on the subject.
On the contrary, Spain will likely continue to be an extremely loyal supporter of Turkey’s membership. Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has already expressed several times his support as the Spanish government regards Turkey as a “key player” in the Middle East and as a “basic strategic ally”, essential in “any significative European strategy in the Balkans”.
Apart from the five biggest countries (by population) in the European Union, the vast majority of the other 23 member states, in spite of expressing some concerns about the reaction of Turkish State after the 2016 failed coup, have a favorable perspective toward Turkey’s accession.
Officially, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Portugal, Sweden, Hungary, Finland, Slovakia, Ireland, Croatia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia, Luxembourg, and Malta are for Turkish accession. Besides these countries, in this group, although some serious diplomatic rows these states have with Turkey, we can still find The Netherlands (the problem with the Dutch government, which started when some Turkish ministers were not allowed to campaign before the 2017 presidential referendum, has not been solved yet and lead to the Dutch ambassador in Ankara to be withdrawn. However, The Netherlands is the biggest foreign investor in Turkey and that is an important fact to have in mind), Greece and Cyprus – one must not forget that Erdoğan’s call for review of Lausanne Treaty, which regulates Greek-Turkish relations, and the Northern Cyprus issue, respectively, are huge points of disagreement among these countries and Turkey and can change the current situation.
Contrariwise, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, and Denmark are against the continuation of EU-Turkey negotiation. All of them are of the opinion that while the country is governed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan it will be absolutely impossible for it to join the European club. Actually, the new coalition government in Austria, a country with a considerable Turkish community, has even assured it was going to “seek allies to achieve a final cancellation of the EU accession negotiations, in favor of a Turkish-European neighborhood concept”.
All in all, most of the countries in the European Union believe that the best way to have Turkey close to the European Union is to continue the formal accession negotiations. However, as Emmanuel Macron himself once said: “When France and Germany speak with one voice, Europe can move forward”, adding that “there can be no pertinent solution if it is not a pertinent solution for France and Germany”. The fact that neither Germany nor France agrees with the majority’s position means that, unless (or until) those two states change their perspective on this issue, it will be impossible for Turkey to join the European club.
José Miguel DIAS ROCHA – Erasmus Volunteer of SASAM
Click here for the other articles of the author
 General Secretariat of the Council – “EU-Turkey leaders’ meeting in Varna (Bulgaria)”. 03/14/2018. http://www.consilium.europa.eu/pt/meetings/international-summit/2018/03/26/
 European Comission – “PRESIDENT JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER’S State of the Union Address 2017”. 09/13/2017. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-17-3165_en.htm
 European Parliament – “Freeze EU accession talks with Turkey until it halts repression, urge MEPs”. 11/24/2016. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20161117IPR51549/freeze-eu-accession-talks-with-turkey-until-it-halts-repression-urge-meps
 European Parliament – “Turkey: MEPs raise the alarm on EU accession talks”. 07/06/2017. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20161117IPR51549/freeze-eu-accession-talks-with-turkey-until-it-halts-repression-urge-meps
 Anadolu Agency – “Merkel bloc, SDP clinch deal for coalition government”. 01/12/2018. http://aa.com.tr/en/europe/merkel-bloc-sdp-clinch-deal-for-coalition-government/1029149
 The Independent – “Turkey will never become EU member, says Angela Merkel”. 03/09/2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/turkey-german-chancellor-angela-merkel-eu-member-president-recep-erdogan-nato-a7927861.html
 The Telegraph – “EU must end ‘hypocrisy’ of allowing Turkey to become a full member, says Emmanuel Macron”. 05/01/2018. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/05/eu-must-end-hypocrisy-letting-turkey-think-can-become-full-member/
 Le Figaro – “Face à Erdogan, Macron propose un « partenariat » plutôt que l’intégration de la Turquie à l’UE “. 01/06/2018. http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2018/01/06/face-a-erdogan-macron-propose-un-partenariat-plutot-que-l-integration-de-la-turquie-a-l-ue_5238179_3214.html
 The New York Times – “Britain’s ‘Brexit’ Debate Inflamed by Worries That Turkey Will Join E.U.”. 06/13/2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/14/world/europe/britain-brexit-turkey-eu.html
 Huffington Post – “Boris Johnson Backs Turkey’s EU Bid After Vote Leave Warned Of Its Impending Membership “. 09/29/2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/boris-johnson-backs-turkeys-eu-bid-after-vote-leave-warned-of-its-impending-membership_uk_57ea6bb0e4b00e5804ef4f29
 Bianca Benvenuti – “Italy”. 05/29/2017. http://www.feuture.uni-koeln.de/eu-28-country-reports/italy/
 Europa Press – “España excluye a Kosovo del proceso de ampliación de la UE a los Balcanes”. 01/30/2018. http://www.europapress.es/internacional/noticia-espana-excluye-kosovo-proceso-ampliacion-ue-balcanes-20180130180130.html
 In this article, countries are listed in order of population size.
 Poland “During the debate, Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Poland] Waszczykowski recalled that Poland supports the aspirations of EU candidate countries and that the EU is the only rational alternative for the development and modernisation of countries aspiring to EU membership.”: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland – “Minister Witold Waszczykowski at informal EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Malta”. 04/28/2017. http://msz.gov.pl/en/news/minister_witold_waszczykowski_at_informal_eu_foreign_ministers__meeting_in_malta
Romania “Romania says Turkish access to EU would boost economies”: Anadolu Agency – “Romania says Turkish access to EU would boost economies”. 05/22/2017. https://aa.com.tr/en/europe/romania-says-turkish-access-to-eu-would-boost-economies/823534
Czech Republic “The Czech diplomacy still supports the continuation of accession negotiations because of the need to keep communication channels open”: Vít Beneš & Kristýna Tamchynová – “Czech Republic”. 05/22/2017. http://www.feuture.uni-koeln.de/eu-28-country-reports/czech-republic/
Portugal The Portuguese government “strongly supports” Turkish accession: Sapo24 – “Santos Silva diz que Portugal “apoia integralmente” processo de aproximação UE-Turquia”. 03/08/2018. https://24.sapo.pt/atualidade/artigos/santos-silva-diz-que-portugal-apoia-integralmente-processo-de-aproximacao-ue-turquia
Sweden “Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom has said that the country continues to support Turkey’s EU membership bid.”: Hürriyet Daily News – “Sweden ‘supports Turkey’s EU membership’”. 08/06/2016. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/sweden-supports-turkeys-eu-membership-102550
Hungary “He stated that ‘Whatever anti-Turkish statements there are in important European Union countries, Hungary will never add its voice to them, but will stand by Turkey.’”: Hungarian government – “Hungary is on Turkey’s side”. 06/30/2017. http://www.kormany.hu/en/the-prime-minister/news/hungary-is-on-turkey-s-side
Finland “‘We know there are problems with human rights in Turkey, but I’m not in favour of cutting the negotiations because … if we don’t talk to each other this is not a constructive way forward,’ Finnish foreign minister Timo Soini said in Tallinn on Thursday (7 September).”: EUObserver – “German bid to end Turkey talks not going well”. 09/07/2017. https://euobserver.com/enlargement/138936
Slovakia “In contrast, Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak of Slovakia, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said his country favored continuing talks on Turkey’s EU membership, describing them as ‘the best leverage the EU could have’ with Ankara — a position others lined up behind.”: Associated Press – “EU foreign ministers seek unity on relations with Turkey”. 09/02/2016. https://www.apnews.com/f70829a656da4602a21887fd5d779736
Ireland “Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said: ‘It is important for the EU to remain close to Turkey and keep dialogue open, and also to maintain the prospect in the future of Turkey’s accession.'”: Anadolu Agency – “EU foreign ministers back Turkey dialogue”. 09/08/2017. https://aa.com.tr/en/europe/eu-foreign-ministers-back-turkey-dialogue/904401
Croatia “As a pro-enlargement member state, Croatia supports accession of all candidate countries on the condition that they meet the criteria laid down by the EU.”: Višnja Samardžija & Senada Šelo Šabić – “Croatia”. 05/22/2017. http://www.feuture.uni-koeln.de/eu-28-country-reports/croatia/
Lithuania “Linas Linkevicius, the Lithuanian foreign minister, said: ‘No. We should continue the process and engagement. It’s not easy but we have to value contacts’. ‘By stopping, by cutting, we will … encourage them [the Turkish authorities] to go away even more [from EU values],’ he said.”: EUObserver – “German bid to end Turkey talks not going well”. 09/07/2017. https://euobserver.com/enlargement/138936
Slovenia “In my opinion, Turkey’s EU membership is surely important but Turkey is already a part of Europe,” the Slovenian [deputy prime] minister added.”: Anadolu Agency – “Slovenia: EU-Turkey refugee deal should not collapse”. 06/01/2017. https://aa.com.tr/en/europe/slovenia-eu-turkey-refugee-deal-should-not-collapse/832449
Latvia “Edgars Rinkēvičs also voiced Latvia’s support for the further integration of Turkey with the EU and the opening of new negotiation chapters when the set criteria are fulfilled. The Minister [for foreign affairs] also stressed the need for a continued active dialogue between the EU and Turkey.”: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia – “Edgars Rinkēvičs in Ankara emphasizes the need for taking forward active dialogue between the EU and Turkey”. 09/29/2016. http://www.mfa.gov.lv/en/news/latest-news/54972-edgars-rinkevics-in-ankara-emphasizes-the-need-for-taking-forward-active-dialogue-between-the-eu-and-turkey
Estonia “Prime Minister Jüri Ratas assured Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yıldırım and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara today that Turkey is an important strategic partner for Estonia, and the fact that it would remain on the European course is the desire of both Estonia and the rest of the European Union.”: Eu2017.ee – “Prime Minister Jüri Ratas: It is important for Estonia that Turkey would remain on the European course”. 08/16/2017. https://www.eu2017.ee/news/press-releases/prime-minister-juri-ratas-it-important-estonia-turkey-would-remain-european
Luxembourg The minister for foreign affairs of Luxembourg thinks that stopping the accession talks would be essentially bad for those in Turkey who believe in the EU values: Le Quotidien – “Jean Asselborn : ‘La Turquie s’éloigne de l’Union européenne’. 09/26/2017. http://www.lequotidien.lu/politique-et-societe/jean-asselborn-la-turquie-seloigne-de-lunion-europeenne/
Malta “Speaking at a joint news conference in the Maltese capital Valetta, Yildirim said the Mediterranean island nation had always supported Turkey’s EU membership bid without preconditions.”: Anadolu Agency – “Turkey optimistic about EU ties with Maltese presidency”. 02/17/2017. https://aa.com.tr/en/europe/turkey-optimistic-about-eu-ties-with-maltese-presidency/752703
 The Netherlands “The [Dutch] official position still does not exclude Turkey’s membership of the EU”: Jan Marinus Wiersma – “The Netherlands”. 05/22/2017. http://www.feuture.uni-koeln.de/eu-28-country-reports/the-netherlands/
Greece “’We continue to support the Turkish course towards Europe,’ Tsipras said at a White House news conference after a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. ‘We respect it as a regional power and we believe that it must stay oriented towards the European perspective.’”: Reuters – “Greek prime minister says Turkey should continue its European orientation”. 10/17/2017. https://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFKBN1CM2Q6
Cyprus “The Government of the Republic of Cyprus generally supports Turkey’s accession to the European Union (EU). That support however is not unconditional. Nicosia blocks some important chapters in the EU’s accession negotiations with Turkey.” Giorgos Kentas – “Cyprus”. 05/26/2017. http://www.feuture.uni-koeln.de/eu-28-country-reports/cyprus/
 Belgium “'[Belgian prime minister:] Here and now, I have impression that the membership process is not the right framework to have a successful dialogue with Turkey’”: Associated Press – “AP Interview: Belgian PM says Turkey’s EU bid should end”. 05/05/2017. https://www.apnews.com/b0fbef77ab5144bfb1929b72536e7cc3/AP-Interview:-Belgian-PM-says-Turkey%27s-EU-bid-should-end
Bulgaria “‘Let’s abandon the hypocrisy on Turkey’s membership in the EU,’ Boyko Borisov, President of Bulgaria, EU term president, said recently. ‘Let’s sign a special treaty between Turkey and the EU.'”: Xinhuanet – “Spotlight: Turkey attempts to mend ties with EU though little hope for progress in accession”. 01/14/2018. http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-01/14/c_136895089.htm
Dinamarca “Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said on Thursday that Turkey did not belong to the EU under Erdogan’s leadership”: Anadolu Agency – “Turkish premier slams Danish PM over remarks on Erdogan”. 10/21/2017. https://aa.com.tr/en/turkey/turkish-premier-slams-danish-pm-over-remarks-on-erdogan/944244
 Leopold Traugott – “What EU policy under Austria’s new right-wing government?”. 12/19/2017. https://openeurope.org.uk/today/blog/eu-policy-austrias-new-right-wing-government/
 Deutsche Welle – “EU leaders agree on trade but remain split over refugees”. 06/23/2017. http://www.dw.com/en/eu-leaders-agree-on-trade-but-remain-split-over-refugees/a-39385102