Immigration update: Turkey

I’ve been asked to add to my earlier post on immigration regarding the situation with Turkey, since it was in the press a lot over the weekend.

So is Turkey really going to join the EU?

Turkey is categorised as a candidate country of the EU. It has a population of approximately 77,000,000, which would make it the second largest country in the EU if it joins, after Germany.  It applied to join the European Economic Community (which became the EU) back in 1987, and in 1997 was deemed potentially eligible to join. Negotiations on an Accession Agreement (the treaty that needs to be agreed upon to enable a candidate country to join) began in 2005. The Association Agreement has 35 chapters, or distinct areas that need to be agreed upon. In the last eleven years, 15 of the 35 chapters have been opened, that is, areas in which negotiations have begun, and just one has been provisionally closed. Here you can see a list of the chapters of the Agreement and which have been opened and provisionally closed.

It is interesting to compare the pace of negotiations with other new member states of the EU. The most recent member state, Croatia, applied to join the EU in 2003. Negotiations on the Accession Agreement ran from 2005 to 2011, and Croatia officially joined the EU on 1 July 2013. One of the newest member states before Croatia, Romania, applied to join the EU in 1995, began negotiations in 2000, concluded them in 2004 and joined the EU on 1 January 2007. It is clear to see that the pace of negotiations on Turkish accession is dramatically slower than the norm.

Each year the EU prepares a report on the progress of the negotiations with its candidate countries. The 2015 report on Turkey notes a slow down in the pace of the negotiations over the preceding year due to: long and complicated elections within Turkey; a deteriorating security situation; shortcomings with regard to rights and freedoms, and inadequate efforts to combat corruption. Progress was made in the areas of economic development, company law, science and research and the free movement of goods. There remain significant reforms and progress required before Turkey will be ready to join the EU. This is just the first obstacle to Turkish accession.

The process as set out in the Treaty on European Union (article 49) states that all EU governments must agree that the negotiations on each chapter have reached an appropriate conclusion before the chapter can be closed. Once every chapter is closed, a Treaty is drawn up that has to be agreed to by the European Council (the heads of government of all of the EU member states), the European Parliament (the directly elected representatives of the European citizens), and the European Commission (the executive branch of the EU governance), as well as the country that is looking to join. As the decision in the European Council has to be unanimous, every country effectively has a veto to the accession at this stage. Even once past this stage the treaty must be ratified in each member state, which for some states means a referendum must be held and in others, such as the UK, the national parliament must vote to agree with the new member country joining.

One major limiting factor to the accession of Turkey to the EU is Cyprus. Cyprus is a member state of the EU, having joined in 2004. However, this applies only to the southern part of the island, the Republic of Cyprus, with the northern part recognised as The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus only by Turkey (it is not internationally recognised as a legitimate state). The tensions between the two sides of the island are ongoing since it was divided in 1974, though discussions on a resolution resumed last year. In 2006 Turkey was obliged by the Council of the EU to fully implement an agreement on the free movement of goods and open transport links with the Republic of Cyprus before eight specific chapters of the Association Agreement are opened, yet it continues to resist this, significantly impeding its progress towards joining. It is also fair to say that without a resolution to this ongoing dispute it is highly unlikely that the Republic of Cyprus would agree to Turkey joining the EU at the stage that the European Council and European Parliament must consent.

Even if, and it is a very big if at this stage, Turkey overcame all of the obstacles I have highlighted and became a member of the EU, it is likely that arrangements would be made to protect the labour markets of the existing member states, as was the case when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 (existing member states were allowed to keep their labour markets closed to Romanians and Bulgarians for seven years). Protections for member states in other areas where they have concerns are also likely to be secured should the existing member states agree to the accession. In addition, significant reforms to the EU institutions and operating procedures would likely be required to accommodate a country as large as Turkey within the EU. A period of reform of the EU took place ahead of the 2004 accession of ten new countries and something similar would be likely if Turkey were to join.

It is true that as part of the ‘refugee deal’ with the EU Turkey has asked to re-start talks on five chapters of the Association Agreement, but the EU has offered only two. However Turkey has also asked for visa-free travel within the Schengen area, but has failed to fulfil the conditions that it was asked to, including the EU’s request that it change its counter-terrorism laws,  in order for this to be possible. Tensions between the EU and Turkey on this issue at present are exacerbating the strained relationship between the entities, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has warned that Turkey will put an end to the refugee deal if it doesn’t get visa-free travel by the end of the May 2016. The current lack of willingness for cooperation is not indicative of smooth and swift negotiation on accession to the EU.

So, in conclusion, Turkey is a candidate to join the EU and negotiations on its joining are ongoing. However, progress is very slow and is not likely to speed up until a resolution to the long running Cyprus problem emerges and Turkey addresses several of the areas in which its progress is considered to be stagnating. Every member state retains the capacity to veto the accession of any candidate country at various points in the process, if they feel that the accession is in any way inappropriate or potentially threatening.



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