Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2010

Perceptions and misperceptions in the EU and Turkey: Stumbling blocks on the road to accession

Peter M.E. Volten, editor

October 2009

Centre for European Security Studies


In 1963, Turkey and the European Union (EU) agreed on an Association Treaty. Turkey did not apply for EU membership until 1987 and this formal application was recognised at the EU summit in Helsinki as late as 1999. Political reforms in Turkey started in earnest after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, indicating a sincere interest in membership. As a result of these steps, the EU decided in 2004 to start negotiations; these began in 2005. Fairly soon thereafter, however, developments on both sides stalled and relations between the two deteriorated. No one ever expected Turkey’s accession to the European Union to be plain sailing or easy. The political obstacles have been and are still proving formidable; today, even the periodically expressed enthusiasm on both sides of the Bosporus is waning, making the outcome of this major endeavour uncertain. Much of the debate on the many problems is shallow and self-serving, lacking a careful and dispassionate look at the obstacles in Turkey and in the EU, as well as those between Turkey and the EU. No doubt, these three simultaneous debates and attempted dialogues are a tall order. Neither side has control of all three, or is capable of steering them in one direction, but their interrelationship is undeniable.