The EU-Turkey Stalemate: Detecting the Root Causes of the Dysfunctional Relationship

Written by | Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

Toni Alaranta (The Finnish Institute of International Affairs)

Turkey was granted the status of a candidate country for EU membership in 1999, since at that time the Union anticipated that the country would pursue structural reforms leading to democratization, without which the Turkish membership is not possible. AKP government, however, took advantage of these reforms to adopt an anti-Western discourse. Both sides are responsible for the current stalemate and they both have to shoulder the difficult task of finding a way to set a future course. What solutions are there to improve the level of mutual cooperation and what did these relations look like in the past?

Germany and Greece, which have maintained a negative attitude towards the prospect of Turkey becoming an EU member, changed their perspective on the matter in the 1990s when they began to look at this country’s membership as a possible alternative solution to the Cypriot issue. Thanks to this move, Turkey became an EU candidate country at the 1999 Helsinki Summit. In 2001-2002, Turkey implemented the first package of reforms, though the first accession talks between the EU and this country were initiated only in 2005. However, already at that time, countries such as France, Austria and Cyprus began to have serious doubts and reservations about Turkey’s accession to the EU.

A problem of the possible membership is the question of how to integrate an almost 80 million Muslim community in the EU. Following the election of AKP, another issue emerged that has not been taken into account by the European leaders: how can a state, in which an anti-Western Islamist regime has been installed, still maintain formal negotiations about an eventual membership in the EU? As a result of the neglect of these limits, the so-called ‘policy of pretending’ has been developed that has played a major role in the initiation of the current ineffective alliance.

There are a few starting points for both the EU and Turkey, which would mean a shift from this frozen state of affairs. Joint negotiations may be terminated, notably those in recent months in which both sides discussed the returning of illegal immigrants to the Turkish territory. Another option is to continue this dysfunctional model of cooperation, which, however, does not solve the very complicated situation. The last alternative is to define a new “special partnership”. What strategy will the Union and Turkey opt for in the future?

(The study can be downloaded here)

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