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Turkey has always been, is, and will likely remain one of the most important countries for the European Union.

Signing the Association Agreement on Sept. 12, 1961 in Ankara the then Commission President Walter Hallstein explicitly recognized: “Turkey is a part of Europe”

The 1961 Ankara Agreement was signed barely 16 months after the May 27, 1960 military coup that, not only removed from office a civilian government, suspended democratic rights and liberties, wrote a new constitution, far more serious than all, after a mock trial hanged a prime minister and two ministers.

For the Europe of 1961, a Turkey under military rule was “fit enough” to sign with an association agreement, foreseeing economic integration, full membership.

However, Turkey’s European-ness has been constantly under debate ever since by certain European leaders who have raised doubts about the appropriateness of admitting Turkey to the EU.

Treaty of Rome or the EEC Treaty of 1957 created the customs union.

The Association Agreement was signed in Ankara on 12 September 1961. (This association was not only based on economic purposes but also on political considerations: Eastern solidarity, peace between peoples and social betterment. One key clause was Turkey’s eventual accession.)

Turkey applied for full membership on 14 April 1987, 26 years after the Ankara Agreement was signed.

Customs Union started in 1995 and completed in 2001. Industrial goods between Turkey and EU have become free from tariffs and quantitative restrictions. Turkey has aligned its trade policies with the EU.

The deal between Turkey and the EU, however, went beyond a normal Customs Union. It also covered the harmonization of technical legislation, the elimination of monopolies and the protection of intellectual property.

“Turkish star will fit well among EU’s stars”

European Council decided to start accession negotiations with Turkey on 3 October 2005, 18 years after Turkey’s membership application and 44 years after the Ankara Agreement was signed.

Despite the euphoria in Turkey the 2005 mood in either at the European Council, European Parliament, or in the European public opinion was sustainable.

Turkey’s self confidence that the “Turkish star will fit well among EU’s stars” started to fade as Turks discovered that the EU membership process that Turgut Özal once described as a “winding uphill road” might be a dead-end for them.

Support for EU membership among Turks depreciated to less than 25 percent from the all-time high 75 percent in 2005.

What were the impediments that made Turkey move from 1963 Association Agreement to the start of Accession Talks in 44 years?

Can it be normal if since the 2005 start of the accession talks out of 35 chapters only 16 were opened? Furthermore, of the 16 chapters opened to negotiations only one was provisionally closed.

With such a speed how long could it take for the completion of Turkey’s accession talks?

What were the reasons that of the 35 chapters a candidate country is required to negotiate with the EU, Turkey so far managed to start negotiations a handful of them, provisionally closed one of them but a set of chapters remain not opened or blocked by a EU-member?

Turkey’s size, huge agricultural capacity, large population and its potential to change all current parameters in the EU if it joined the club. Turkey’s membership would alter all the balances at all European institutions at the expense of Germany and France. Were some EU countries fear they might lose some of their dominance in the club if and when Turkey joined? At least among Turkey’s current ruling politicians existence of such a strong suspicion cannot be ruled out.

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Territory wise Turkey is bigger than all EU states. With its 785,562 km2 territory Turkey is about three fold bigger than United Kingdom, about two fold bigger than the Germany and 2.5 times bigger than the Italy.

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Though lately rural Turkey’s population fall below 45 percent, with accession today most EU farm subsidies might go to Turkish farmers. Besides, capacity utilization has been rather law in almost all sectors of Turkish agricultural sectors, particularly in animal husbandry.

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Capacity utilization in most sectors of Turkish industry has been remarkably lower than that of the European average. However, the size of Turkey and the big Turkish market for European companies has been an advantage also. Only from the Netherlands more than 180 companies have either offices in Turkey or have been in joint partnership with Turkish companies in Turkey, as well as in some thirds countries.

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The 1993 Copenhagen summit of the EU established the “political criteria” required for applying for membership of the EU. These were:

1- Stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;

2- The existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union;

3- The ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic & monetary union.

“Respect for and protection of minorities” clause of the Copenhagen criteria has been often used in criticizing Turkey’s fight against separatist terrorism. It is a fundamental right for every country to take adequate security measures against threats aimed at its national or territorial integrity. However, in Turkey there is a Kurdish or “eastern” problem, which could not be resolved all through the republican period.

This issue, together with other ethnical, cultural or life style wise minority issues, can as well be considered part of Turkey’s overall democratization problem as if Turkey undertakes all the reforms required for EU membership, even if it might opt not to become a member or fail to get sufficient support to become a member, a democratic society and country will emerge. In such a Turkey there will not be a Kurdish problem or other minority problems produced by obsessive conservative ethno-nationalist perceptions. This issue remains to be one of the most intractable impediments of Turkey’s EU accession process.

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Immediately after the 1974 intervention of Turkey on Cyprus after an Athens-engineered coup, at talks in Geneva between Turkey, Britain and Greece, British Foreign Secretary James Callaghan reported to have told Turks: “Today you think Cyprus is your hostage. Tomorrow you will be the hostage of Cyprus.” Repeated efforts to solve the Cyprus problem failed to produce a result. Most lately talks collapsed at Crans-Montana round of talks of the two sides on Cyprus and the three guarantor powers under UN auspices.

Since the 2004 unilateral EU accession of the Greek-Cypriot held Cyprus government, Cyprus problem has become an internal issue of the EU and a complication for the Turkish accession process. EU solidarity has been an impediment, besides as full EU member Cyprus has been blocking opening of six chapters while eight other chapters were blocked by the EU council. With almost nil prospects for a quick end to the Cyprus problem, this issue is likely to remain as a very strong impediment for Turkish accession.

In giving Turkey a date for the start of accession talks and later when deciding for the opening of talks with Turkey the EU summit decided that Turkey sufficiently conformed with the Copenhagen Criteria. However, since 2007 and particularly after the Gezi Park incidents of 2013 there have been serious criticism directed at Turkish government’s performance as regards freedom of expression, press freedom, right to demonstrate and intolerance to criticism. Particularly failed coup and emergency rule declaration in the summer of 2016, Turkey has lost support of even most pro-Turkish European politicians.

See more articles about Cyprus:
[display-posts tag=”Cyprus”]

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Turkey’s geographical location might be a blessing, and a curse at the same time. Iran, Iraq, Syria, as well as Georgia, Russia and Armenia are some of the neighbors of Turkey. While one might praise Turkey of being a bridge in between East and West, cultures, living styles, two continents, for Europe it as well is a buffer zone between itself and a very unstable, difficult geography.

The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the Kuwait frenzy of Saddam Hussein, the first and second Gulf War, the so-called Arab Spring fire, reappearance of the “moderate Islam” and the Syria war… The region has been in serious problem of some sort over the past four decades.

As a consequence, the human suffering the region has been suffering was immense. Not only countries were devastated, fell prey to Jihadist gangs, people were displaced, millions sought refuge abroad. Statistics show 90 percent of refugees went to nearby countries while a fraction travelled to Wes in search of a better life.

Statistics show that most European countries have accepted negligible amount of refugees. Some EU countries have closed their eyes, minds and hearts to this immense human trauma.

The number of refugees in Turkey has reached over 3.4 million, making Turkey the largest refugee host country in the world. This number includes mostly Syrians but also Iraqis, Afghans, Iranians, Somalians and other nationalities.

Turkey has been complaining that over the past six years the burden of refugees on Turkish economy has exceeded 30 billion euro.

European nations remained distant to this until in Sept. 2015 the humanitarian tragedy hit home for EU nations with pictures of a lifeless 2-year-old child named Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish Aegean beach.

With those photographs, Europe woke up to the tragedy of refugees. For a two year 2016-2017 period Turkey and the EU made a deal under which Turkey would be extended a total of 3 billion euro in exchange of Turkey “closing the refugee flood gates”. Of this amount so far only 1.4 billion was extended to Turkey.

As a consequence, however, there has been a rapid surge in nationalist xenophobic political movements all through Europe.

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What is the real impediment? Is it the cultural, religious divide?

Obviously, Turkey needs EU as much as EU needs Turkey. Without Turkey, the EU will be a deficient if it was a project dreamed by its forefathers as one for peace, tranquility, and multicultural project.

What is the EU? Is it a Christian Club of nations?

Many people in Europe may or may not believe it, but have been acting so. In Turkey, there is such a strong suspicion.

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