Home World News Will Turkey Become a Member of the EU? Here’s What to Know.

Will Turkey Become a Member of the EU? Here’s What to Know.

Will Turkey Become a Member of the EU? Here’s What to Know.

As part of his surprising U-turn that unblocked Sweden’s bid for NATO membership Monday evening, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey appears to have extracted vague commitments to “re-energize” his country’s complicated relationship with the European Union.

In a Monday meeting, Mr. Erdogan and Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, agreed to focus on migration and refugees, economic links and the prospect of opening up visa-free travel to the E.U. for Turks, a senior E.U. official said. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to brief reporters, described the meeting as a change to a more positive tone.

Turkey is officially a candidate for membership in the European Union, a status it has held for two decades. The process was practically frozen in 2018, cementing a kind of frenemy status between the bloc and its neighbor to the east. The two are deeply connected, but the relationship between them has been strained.

Most E.U. countries consider Turkey’s E.U. accession bid to be dead — but they have not pushed to make that official out of concern that that would further alienate Mr. Erdogan and make improvements on key policy areas such as energy cooperation and migration harder. Here is a look at the history of Turkey’s E.U. bid and where it stands now.

Turkey applied to become a member of the then-smaller European Union in 1987; it was granted candidate status in 1999 and began negotiations to join in 2005. Talks for E.U. accession are normally lengthy, on average lasting about 10 years. In the case of Turkey they have officially been going on for 18 years, although they have been practically suspended for five of those.

Negotiations are organized in chapters — or policy areas — in which the candidate nation tries to meet E.U. laws and standards, usually through tough overhauls.

Membership talks hinge on a set of principles, known as the Copenhagen political criteria, such as respect for human rights, a well-functioning democracy and institutions, and the rule of law guaranteed through free and independent courts. These are seen as the cornerstones for membership in the club.

The E.U. suspended accession talks with Turkey in 2018, citing the country’s lack of progress on human rights and the rule of law. That came after Mr. Erdogan’s leadership took an even more authoritarian turn in response to a failed coup attempt in 2016, with thousands of public workers fired and hundreds of organizations closed.

E.U. diplomats believe Turkey is highly unlikely to join the E.U. anytime soon, if ever, saying the country’s standards on the rule of law and respect for human rights have worsened in recent years.

Turkey’s hostile relations with its neighbors Greece and Cyprus, both E.U. members, are another major problem. While both countries are NATO members, Turkish officials, including Mr. Erdogan himself, frequently question their common borders and say Turkey is entitled to more territory, to Greece’s outrage.

Turkey also maintains control and troops in the northern part of the island of Cyprus — which it invaded in 1974, claiming it was intervening to protect a Turkish-speaking minority. The international community does not recognize its administration there, and Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, an E.U. and United Nations member that governs the southern two-thirds of the island.

Efforts to resolve the Cyprus question, one of the world’s most intractable frozen conflicts, have stalled after several attempts. To be let into the E.U., or even to make genuine progress in that direction, Turkey would likely have to recognize the Republic of Cyprus.

But what is also evident is that the E.U. no longer has any appetite to expand eastward. Letting Turkey join would mean integrating a large Muslim country into the bloc and moving its external borders to Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Experts say that the current framework of the E.U.-Turkey relationship, which is still centered on Turkey’s candidacy, creates false expectations and lets both sides down, arguing that it would be better to create a new type of special relationship between the bloc and its neighbor.

But the E.U. and Turkey have their reasons for sticking to the existing framework. E.U. diplomats who see Turkey as key to managing migration and other major policy challenges believe that even if the process never leads to full accession, it can be a useful path, tethering Ankara to Brussels and providing a structure for talks.

If only they’d talk!

What is expected to happen next is a re-engagement, especially in terms of public communication, between the bloc and Turkey. The E.U. will produce a report about the future of the relationship, the senior E.U. official said.

The officials said there were no illusions about how difficult some parts of the bloc’s relationship with Turkey are, but the meeting still felt like a moment of resetting the tone toward the more positive.

A change of tack in E.U.-Turkey relations would help Mr. Erdogan say that he improved Turkey’s relations with the E.U., while enabling the E.U. to support NATO unity by helping Sweden’s accession, aiding its overriding goal of backing Ukraine against Russia’s aggression.


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