Candidacy Process

A Chronology on the Accession Process



With the decisions taken at the European Council’s Copenhagen Summit in June 1993, the European Union (EU)  initiated an extensive enlargement process related to the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs), determining the criteria to be met by the candidates for a full membership. The criteria were stated under three headings; political, economic criteria and the adoption of the Community legislation* :

Membership requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate's ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.

The Union's capacity to absorb new members, while maintaining the momentum of European integration, is also an important consideration in the general interest of both the Union and the candidate countries.

The European Council will continue to follow closely progress in each associated country towards fulfilling the conditions of accession to the Union and draw the appropriate conclusions.

The fulfillment of the political criterion was the prerequisite for commencing the accession talks. The absorption capacity of the Union to keep the integration process going was also set as another criterion which was going to be evaluated throughout the process.

In order to align CEECs with the EU in an enlargement perspective, preparing them for a possible membership, the EU has adopted “The Pre-Accession Strategy” at the Essen Summit in December 1994. The EU also adopted the instruments (European Agreements that enable partnerships  between the parties, White Paper related to the Single Market and PHARE Programme) that will be used. This strategy is composed of mainly three categories; the implementation of the Europe Agreements, PHARE Programme with its financial assistance and the issues related to the common interests. It is set as a dialogue that brings all EU member states and candidate countries together under a “structural cooperation” framework.

The proposals that the European Commission prepared as guidelines to the EU’s enlargement strategy were published in the “Agenda 2000” presented on the 16th of July 1997. The report envisaged two accession waves in early 2000 regarding the CEECs, Malta and the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus.

Luxembourg European Council

At the Luxembourg Summit in December 1997, a new process of EU enlargement was initiated. The guidelines of the “Agenda 2000” report were fully adopted. The strengthening of the EU institutions according to the decisions of the Amsterdam Treaty was set as the prerequisite for Union’s further enlargement. Related to the enlargement policy, it was decided that the accession negotiations were going to be put in action with ten CEECs, Malta and the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus. Negotiations were to start right away with six of these countries that already fulfilled the political aspects of the Copenhagen criteria,  in 1998. It was specified that the accession processes of the countries listed above were going to be based on the same criteria. The necessary procedures, agenda and assistance tools were precisely stated. Under this framework, the EU added a new tool named “the Accession Partnerships” while approving the Enhanced Pre-Accession Strategy. In addition to Accession Partnerships, the Community Programmes were also presented for the countries’ participation. The Enhanced Pre-Accession Strategy which aims to initially align the CEECs legislation with the acquis, is composed of the Accession Partnerships and the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance.

In order to start the negotiation talks with Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus, the European Council decided to hold an intergovernmental conference in spring 1998. It was also decided that the preparation for the negotiations with Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria should be speeded up through an analytical examination of the Union’s acquis. 

The Council has confirmed Turkey’s eligibility for the EU accession. Although the political and economic prerequisites necessary to envisage accession negotiations were not satisfactory, as claimed by the Council, the European Council, nevertheless, stated that it was important to draw up a strategy for Turkey’s preparation for accession, titled as a “European strategy for Turkey”,  which should include:

– Development of the possibilities stipulated by the Ankara Agreement;
– Intensification of the Customs Union;
– Implementation of financial cooperation;
– Approximation of laws and adoption of the Union acquis;
– Participation, to be decided case by case, in certain EU programmes and in certain agencies.

At the summit it was also decided to set up a European Conference which would bring together EU Member States and European States aspiring to accede to the Union and sharing its values and objectives. The European Council further stated that the participants of the Conference had to share a common commitment to peace, security and good neighborliness, respect for other countries' sovereignty, the principles upon which the European Union is founded, the integrity and inviolability of external borders and the principles of international law and a commitment to the settlement of territorial disputes by peaceful means, in particular, through the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in the Hague. The States which accepted these criteria and subscribed to the above principles were to be invited to take part in the Conference. It was decided that the first meeting of the Conference would be in London in March 1998.

The reaction of the Turkish government to the conclusion of the European Council in Luxembourg was quite indignant and negative. EU declared the candidacy of the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus, Malta and the CEECs but not Turkey. As a consequence, the Turkish government held a meeting on the 14th of December 1997 and hence immediately suspended its political relations with the EU due to the fact that Turkey was not included in the summit’s decision on starting the accession negotiations. The Turkish government stated that it was going to proceed with the Customs Union as it was stated in the Association Agreement. The government adopted a counter-strategy stating that political dialogue with EU would be suspended if EU progresses towards the accession of Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus to the EU and Turkey would intensify its relations with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

At the Cardiff Summit in June 1998, it was announced that a progress report, which was prepared by the European Commission in order to observe the preparation of the candidate countries for accession, was going to be prepared annually for Turkey as well and that Turkey should speed up its preparations in the alignment of its legislation with the Union’s acquis. It was decided that the progress report for Turkey would be based on Article 28 of the Ankara Association Agreement of 1963 and on Luxembourg Presidency Reports. “Europe Strategy”, which the European Commission developed for Turkey, was approved and it was further underlined that this strategy could be enriched with Turkey’s suggestions. As a result, the European Commission, in accordance with the decision taken at the Cardiff Summit, prepared the Progress Report for candidate countries and for Turkey on the 4th November 1998.

The enlargement process was revised during the Vienna Summit in December 1998 during which decision to strengthen the relations between Turkey and the EU was taken while developing the “Europe Strategy” to prepare Turkey to EU candidacy.

Helsinki European Council

The European Council approved the comprehensiveness of the accession process in Helsinki Summit held in December 1999 and decided to start the accession negotiations with six more countries in consultation with the European Commission (Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovakia). On the 15th February 2000, accession negotiations with the six countries listed above officially started.

The Helsinki summit was of great importance for Turkey’s candidacy process since EU leaders confirmed Turkey as a candidate country for the EU accession subjected to the same criteria as the other candidate countries. According to the decisions taken at the Helsinki Summit, it was envisaged that Turkey should benefit from Pre-Accession Strategy and other pre-accession instruments. Hence Turkey acquired the right to participate in the Community Programmes and Agencies as well as in the meetings that were held between EU and candidate countries under the accession process framework. It was also decided that an Accession Partnership Document should be prepared for Turkey focusing on the preparations for the accession and on the adoption of the EU acquis, in accordance with the political and economic criteria. Therefore, in order to monitor the developments related to the alignment of the Turkish legislation with the acquis and  the priorities of the Accession Partnership, it was accepted with the Decision  3/2000 of the EC-Turkey Association Council to establish eight  sub-committees supporting the EC-Turkey Association Council (Agriculture and Fisheries; Internal Market and Competition; Trade, Industry and European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Products; Economic and Monetary Issues, Capital Movements and Statistics; Innovation; Transport, Environment and Energy including trans-European networks; Regional Development, Employment and Social Policies; Customs, Taxation, Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering).

At the Feira Summit in June 2000, it was stated that there had been a positive progress in Turkey in the alignment to the criteria determined for the accession. However, the EU required more concrete progress in the areas of human rights, supremacy of law and judiciary.

During the Nice Summit in 2000, the European Council adopted the Commission’s 2000 Strategy Paper and set the year 2004 as a target year for most of the candidate countries’ full accession. A strategic roadmap for accession was outlined for each candidate country. The Council welcomed Turkey’s progress in the implementation of the Pre-Accession Strategy and also asked Turkey to prepare and present the national programme in accordance with the Accession Partnership Document.

Laeken Summit in December 2001 underlined the progress Turkey made in terms of aligning its legislation in parallel to the political criteria. It was also ensured that the EU supported Turkey on its road to further alignment with the political criteria related to the human rights, along with the economic criteria.

Copenhagen European Council

Copenhagen Summit in December 2002 witnessed the most extensive enlargement decision of the EU integration history where it was decided that out of thirteen candidate countries Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus would become members as of the 1st May 2004 while Romania and Bulgaria were provided with roadmaps targeting EU membership as of 2007. Concerning Turkish membership, the reforms that were undertaken and the new government’s determination were welcomed and was also stated that during the summit in December 2004, it could be decided to start without delay accession negotiations with Turkey if the 2004 Progress Report prepared by the European Commission will confirm that the Copenhagen political criteria were met.  With the addition of the “One Europe” Joint Statement to the Accession Agreement of the ten new member states as of the 1st of May 2004, it was decided that the new Member States would not block the process of new candidates for accession.

With the Thessaloniki Summit in December 2003, the Council stated that the referendums held in Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic after the signing of the Accession Agreements on the 13th of April 2003, further accelerated the adoption processes and that these processes would be completed by the targeted day of the 1st of May 2004. The facts that Turkish government wanted to complete the rest of the legislative tasks before 2003 and that the reform process was strictly monitored by the government were perceived as positive progress. The leaders also underlined that Bulgaria and Romania were undoubtedly part of the extensive enlargement process of the EU which were finalizing the negotiations and the preparations to become full members as of 2007. As a result, the EU completed its most extensive enlargement wave on the 1st of May 2004 with the accession of ten new member states to the Union.

One important problem regarding the accession of 10 new states to the EU was related to the Cyprus question. The island was still not unified by the time it joined the Union since the Annan plan embodying a plan for the reunification of the northern Turkish and southern Greek parts of the island under the aegis of the UN was rejected by the Greek Cypriots (76% No) in a referendum held on 24 April 2004, while it was accepted by 65% of Turkish Cypriots. Cyprus became a member of the EU on May1, 2004. However, the government did not represent the whole of the island and only the Greek community. Turkey, also a candidate to join the EU, did not recognize the Republic of Cyprus as the sole representative of island and recognized the existence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This unresolved issue was later to cause problems in Turkey’s accession process to the EU, as exemplified by the European Council’s decision in 2006 to suspend negotiations in 8 chapters seen to be associated with the customs union, and to close provisionally negotiations in any of the other chapters. The reason for this suspension was explained as Turkey’s not implementing the customs union to all the EU member states in a non-discriminatory way, owing to Turkey’s not opening its ports and airports to vehicles originating from the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus.

Brussels European Council

With the decisions taken at the 2004 Brussels Summit, Turkey-EU relations were moved to a whole new level. The reforms that Turkey initiated to align to the political criteria and to strengthen the implementation processes were speeded up after the 2002 Copenhagen Summit. The EU and Member State leaders hence decided that Turkey met the political criteria. Thus the accession negotiations with Turkey started on the 3rd of October 2005 along with Croatia.

The European Council decided that the accession negotiations that will be held with each candidate country should be placed under a negotiation framework. The framework detailing all the negotiation procedures and principles for the candidate countries was presented at the summit and the Council asked the Commission to present the details of the accession process of Turkey.  EU leaders welcome Turkey’s decision to extend the 1963 Ankara Agreement.

Accession negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania, which started in 2000, were completed in December 2004. They signed the EU Accession Agreement on the 25thof April 2005 in Luxembourg. According to the Agreement, the countries would under the condition of undertaking the necessary reforms reach the full membership status beginning from the 1st of January 2007.

Accession Negotiations Framework Document

On the 29th of June 2005, the European Commission submitted the “Accession Negotiations Framework for Turkey” to the European Council. The framework details the principles governing the negotiations, the scope of the negotiations, negotiating procedures and list of negotiation chapter titles. On the same day, the Commission also published the Communiqué on “Civil Society Dialogue between EU and Candidate Countries” aiming at strengthening the civil society of both Turkey and Croatia. On the 30th of July Turkey signed the Additional Protocol, which extend the Ankara Agreement to the new member states but at the same time announced its reservation to the fact that this was not meant to be the diplomatic recognition of the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus. Turkey insisted that recognition would only come, when both Cypriot communities on the island would be reunited. In September 2005, Turkey was called by the European Council to recognize Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus. According to the European Council, leaving the recognition out of consideration would be ignoring a necessary element of the accession process. Nevertheless, the European Council started formal accession talks with Turkey on the 3rd of October.

In 2006, Turkey presented a strategy for the solution of Cyprus issue to his Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan, then the Secretary General of the UN which proposed the removal of the isolation policy on the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, in exchange of opening Turkey’s harbors to the Greek Administration. At the outset, Greek Cypriot Administration of South Cyprus expressed its reluctance to open some chapters, unless Turkey met its obligation to recognize all 10 new EU Member States.

Negotiations for Accession

“Science and Research” Chapter was opened on the 12th of June 2006 in the Intergovernmental Conference held in Luxembourg and negotiations on this chapter were provisionally closed on the same day. However, the EU issued a statement that referred implicitly to “Turkey’s continuing refusal to open its ports to Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus (GASC)” which was evaluated by the EU as a requirement of the Turkey-EU Customs Union. In July 2006, Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen called Turkey to resolve the contentious issue with GASC over access to ports and airports by the end of the year.

On the 14th of September 2006, Foreign Minister George Lillikas of the GASC suggested that without Turkey’s adherence to its obligations, Cyprus would oppose the opening of any further chapters of the acquis. Later that month, European Parliament’s conclusion regarding the Progress Report contended that reforms in Turkey were not sufficient especially in the fields of religious and minority rights, law enforcement as well as independence of judiciary, freedom of speech and expression.

The European Commission’s evaluation of Turkey’s accession negotiations on the 29th of November 2006 noted that “Turkey had not met its obligations toward Southern Cyprus and recommended the Council to take actions regarding the opening of any new chapters”.

At the EU Summit in December 2006 The European Council adopted a decision with a clear standing against Turkey. Based on the recommendations of the European Commission, the Council again noted that Turkey had not fully implemented the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement and therefore decided not to open negotiations on eight chapters: “Free Movement of Goods”, “Right of Establishment and Freedom to Provide Services”, “Financial Services”, “Agriculture and Rural Development”, “Fisheries”, “Transport Policy”, “Customs Union” and “External Relations”. It was also stated that no further chapter should be provisionally closed until Turkey implemented its commitments under the Additional Protocol.

On the 7th of December 2006, Turkey submitted a comprehensive settlement plan within the UN framework to the European Council, which consisted of Turkey’s opening one airport and one port to trade with Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus for one year in return for opening Ercan airport to international traffic and opening Mogusa port to the direct trade under Turkish Cypriot authority. On the 11th of December 2006, the European Commission’s recommendation on the suspension of negotiations with Turkey on 8 Chapters was accepted by the European Council. The European Council also confirmed the Commission recommendation that none of the chapters shall be provisionally closed until Turkey’s fulfillment of its commitments regarding the Additional Protocol.

On the 29th of March 2007, the EU decided to open additional chapters of the acquis and started with the chapter “Enterprise and Industrial Policy”. The European Commission, in its annual recommendations to the Council, noted some progress in the political reform process but also pointed out that progress was needed in areas such as freedom of expression, fight against corruption, cultural rights, and civilian oversight of the security forces. Two more chapters were opened for Turkey on the 26th of June 2007, which are “Financial Control” and “Statistics”, followed with two other chapters opened on the 19th of December 2007, “Consumer and Health Protection” as well as “Trans-European Networks”.

At the end of 2007, the European Council stated that Turkey took a good step by resolving the political crisis that ensued the boycotting of presidential elections by the main opposition party.. Resolution of the crisis was a clear sign of democratic standards and rule of law that were sufficiently implemented. On the 12th of June 2008, the chapters related to “Company Law” and “Intellectual Property” were opened. Additional chapters of the acquis were formally opened on the 18th of December 2008; those being “Free Movement of Capital” and  “Information Society and Media”. Some other important events in Turkey-EU relations were held in 2008 such as the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding for Turkey to participate in the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP). Moreover, on the 11th of July, the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance Framework Agreement was signed between Turkey and the EU.  However, key chapters related to energy, external relations, and security and defence matters have been held up by several EU member states, including France.

In early 2009, State Minister Egemen Bağış was appointed as the Chief Negotiator of Turkey. This office was formerly governed by Ali Babacan, Minister of Foreign Affairs, since 2005. During the year of 2009, two more chapters of the acquis were opened: “Taxation” in June and “Environment” in December.

In 2009, Members of the European Parliament accepted a resolution which stressed the need to reach a solution on the Cyprus issue and called for Turkey to remove its armed forces from the Island. The Parliament also noted that the Agreement related to the Customs Union, specifically related to Southern Cyprus, had not been fully implemented, and expressed concerns over the deceleration of the reforms carried out in Turkey.

The European Commission’s annual assessments of Turkey’s progress between 2009 and 2012 consistently emphasize the need for Turkey to pursue its efforts for reforms. The Commission praised Turkey for the launch of its constitutional reform process (2010 constitutional package) and for democratization measures such as the 2012 law on the Ombudsman institution. The adoption of the EU acquis via legislative reforms has been carried on over the last three years albeit with a lack of regularity. On the other hand, key problems have regularly been underlined. Turkey needs to ensure a non-discriminatory implementation of its Customs Union obligations under the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement. The fact that the freedom of the media and the freedom of expression have not been guaranteed in practice and the lack of consultation in the legislative process remained amongst the major concerns of the Commission.

After the Chapter 12 on “Food Safety, Veterinary and Phytosanitary Policy” was opened to negotiation in June 2010, the EU and Turkey launched the Positive Agenda in May 2012 in order to give an impetus to the stalling membership negotiations. Aimed at creating a new negotiation momentum, this initiative enhances cooperation and reforms in Turkey in various areas such as fundamental rights, visa liberalization, mobility and migration, trade, energy, counter-terrorism or dialogue on foreign policy. Within this framework, the European Union and Turkey have agreed to establish working groups with the aim to further support and accelerate the process of alignment of Turkey with EU policies and standards under eight chapters.

The 2013 Turkey Progress Report presents a contrasted assessment of Turkey’s progress towards EU membership, particularly as regards the political criteria. On the one hand, Turkey continues to show a commitment to political reforms. The democratisation package presented by the government in September contains a number of measures (changes to the law on demonstrations; education in languages and dialects other than Turkish in private schools; potential changes to the current high thresholds for representation in parliament and financing of political parties…). This initiative, along with the implementation of the 3rdand the adoption of the 4thJudicial Reform Package as well as the start of the peace process in Southeast Anatolia, counts among the government’s key efforts towards further democratization.

On the other hand however, the Commission underlines that excessive force was used by the police during the June protests sparked by the Gezi events. It also emphasizes that a law enforcement monitoring body overseeing police offences should be set up according to European standards, particularly as regards its independence. Breaches to the freedom of media and freedom of expression (pressure on the media, widespread self-censorship, dismissals of journalists and website bans) in Turkey remain a serious concern for the EU.

Regarding the Constitution reform process, despite persisting disagreements among the four political parties involved on issues such as the separation of power, the new definition of citizenship or mother tongue education, a consensus could be reached over 60 articles.

On the economic front, Turkey is presented as a country that broadly fulfils the requirements posed by the EU membership in terms of a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. After a severe drop in 2012 (2.2%), Turkey’s economic growth has recovered during the first half of 2013 (3.7%). The Central Bank’s unconventional monetary policy framework targeting inflation and macro-financial stability, which sometimes hampers transparency and predictability, was carried on in a context where the Turkish lira suffered downward pressure. Domestic political unrest and the civil war in neighbouring Syria have turned the net capital inflows of the first five months of 2013 into a net capital outflow and led to the depreciation of the lira over the summer months. These exchange rate fluctuations are also the consequence of Turkey’s reliance on international markets to fill up its structural current account deficit.

The decision to open a new chapter of the acquis communqutaire to negotiation was agreed upon in spring 2013. However, due to the heavy-handed reaction by the Turkish police following the Gezi protests, the Council of the EU postponed the formal opening of the chapter. After three years of stalling negotiations, the Council finally confirmed the opening of Chapter 22 on Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural Instruments on 22nd October 2013. Chapter 22 is the fourteenth chapter opened to negotiation since the launch of negotiations for accession. 

Following the opening of a new negotiating chapter, the European Union and Turkey signed on the 16th December 2013 the Readmission Agreement and the visa liberalisation dialogue was therefore launched. This is an important step towars ensuring visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in EU Member States that are in the Schengen Area.

 *Conclusions of the Presidency, Copenhagen, June 21-22 1993,

Last updated : November 2013

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