Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2013

Avoiding a Divorce: A Virtual EU Membership for Turkey

Sinan Ülgen

December 2012

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Turkey’s prospects of becoming a member of the European Union (EU) are now more uncertain than ever. Having been forced to spend their residual political capital on passing unpopular austerity packages to combat the eurozone crisis, European leaders have little enthusiasm for championing an equally unpopular proposition like EU enlargement. Despite commencing membership negotiations in October 2005—along with Croatia—Turkey has so far been able to open only thirteen of a grand total of 33 chapters. None has been opened since June 2010. In contrast, during the same period Croatia was able to finish its negotiations and is expected to join the EU in 2014—potentially the last state to join for the foreseeable future. Ankara’s problems are not limited to a loss of zeal for enlargement. The intractability of the Cyprus problem and additional political hurdles imposed by the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy have led to a loss of enthusiasm for reform in Turkey, further weakening its case for accession. And the longer the negotiations process remains stalled, the more acrimony is being injected into the Turkey-EU relationship, poisoning relations in many domains. For instance, Ankara is content to do no more than necessary to stem the flow of illegal immigrants entering EU territory across Turkish borders. Similarly, the EU is no longer a central topic of discussion in Turkish policy circles, nor is it at the top of the Turkish foreign policy agenda. In fact, there were almost no references to the EU in Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s two and a half hour speech at the ruling Justice and Development Party convention in October 2012.