Every week leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the international challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

Bayram Balcivisiting scholar in Carnegie’s Middle East Program

Démarrées officiellement en 2005, les négociations d’adhésion de la Turquie à l’UE avançaient à une vitesse d’escargot : sur les 35 chapitres concernés, treize avaient été ouverts, un seul clos. Par-dessus tout, l’attitude particulièrement hostile du président Sarkozy qui dès 2007 avait mis son véto sur cinq chapitres fondamentaux avait conduit les négociations dans une impasse totale.

Toutefois, l’élection de François Hollande à la présidence de la République a ouvert une nouvelle page dans les relations franco-turques, y compris sur la question de l’adhésion. Cette nouvelle ère a été confirmée le 13 février dernier grâce à une rencontre officielle à Paris entre les ministres turc et français des affaires étrangères. En effet, la partie française a publiquement déclaré qu’elle était favorable à l’ouverture de discussion sur le chapitre 22 qui concerne la politique régionale, ce qui signifie la fin du véto français sur l’adhésion turque à l’UE.

La levée de ce véto pose dès lors une question fondamentale : ce geste de Paris constitue-t-il pour les Turcs un espoir d’adhésion ? La réponse parait plutôt négative. Certes depuis le 13 février les relations franco-turques entrent dans une nouvelle phase, mais celle-ci concerne surtout les relations entre Paris et Ankara et non entre Bruxelles et Ankara. Car le véto français pouvait donner le sentiment que la France et son ancien président étaient les seuls obstacles à l’adhésion, et donc uniques responsables du blocage.

Pourtant, d’autres pays, l’Allemagne et Chypre notamment, n’étaient pas moins opposés à l’adhésion mais ils ne le faisaient pas savoir aussi publiquement. Par ailleurs, cette reprise des discussions entre Paris et Ankara ne signifie pas que tous les obstacles ont été levés. Loin de là, les plus rudes sont toujours là. En effet, il reste l’attitude des autres pays, mais surtout le problème chypriote, les réformes institutionnelles, la situation des droits de l’homme, sans oublier l’attitude des opinions publiques européennes qui n’ont jamais été très favorable à l’intégration de la Turquie. Ainsi, la décision française montre surtout la volonté de Paris de normaliser ses relations avec la Turquie et de ne plus être la seule à payer le prix d’une large aversion européenne vis-à-vis d’une éventuelle adhésion turque.


Almut Möllerhead of the Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Policy Studies at the German Council on Foreign Relations

How the president of France sees Turkey’s role in the EU certainly matters. However, there are other equally important stumbling blocks that prevent the accession talks with Turkey from gaining fresh momentum.

I have a different angle on the Turkey-EU question. What kind of Union are we looking at anyway? This was a question raised by analysts in Europe when Turkey’s accession talks were kicked off in 2005. Then, the EU was grappling with a round of institutional reforms that eventually led to the Lisbon Treaty of 2009. It therefore made perfect sense to suggest that the Union which Turkey would eventually join—not within less than a decade—would look rather different.

We know now that the high expectations arising from the Lisbon Treaty have in many cases not been met. But the argument remains valid, even more so today: Due to the euro crisis, the EU’s architecture is undergoing a fundamental shift. Overcoming the crisis will bring about the end of the Union as we know it. Eurozone governments have come to agree that the only way to make the dysfunctional eurozone sustainable is to further develop the economic and monetary union. By further integrating the seventeen member countries’ economies, the gaps between the “ins” and “outs” of the eurozone will widen to unprecedented levels.

Governments in Europe, in my view, tend to de-dramatize this potentially powerful dividing line by pointing to the UK as the only odd country out. But while it is likely that the eurozone will continue to attract new members in years to come, certainly not all EU countries will be willing and able to join any time soon, even if they do not have an opt-out for the currency union.

European governments will therefore have to deal with multiple speeds and levels of integration among eurozone and non-eurozone member states. This entails a great deal of risk for the overall cohesion of the EU-27—soon to be 28, with Croatia joining in July 2013. But it also offers opportunities for the Union’s difficult relations with its neighbors.

This is where Turkey comes in. A Union that consists of a more deeply integrated economic and monetary core and member states that, while participating in the common market and other EU policies, have different levels of ambition regarding that core, might find it easier to deal with countries such as Turkey. Framing the Turkish question in the context of the new EU emerging from the crisis might offer a fresh perspective on Turkey’s EU membership. What kind of Union are we talking about anyway? Certainly it is not as monolithic as often portrayed, and in contrast to many critical voices I argue that this might be good news both for the EU and for those still advocating—with good arguments—the accession of Turkey to the EU.


Jonas Parello-Plesnersenior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations

There is genuine new momentum in Turkey’s accession negotiations since France lifted its reserve on opening new chapters. President Hollande is putting into action his government’s new stance on Turkey.

At the same time, developments have become more open-ended inside the EU, since the last time a chapter was opened in 2009–2010. As a reaction to the euro crisis, the EU has developed into a much more complex institution than is encompassed in an accession package. The fiscal compact was enacted outside the treaties. The eurozone is moving toward solidifying its institutional existence. The UK is stumbling toward the exit door, generating discussion on new kinds of association within the EU. Indeed, the UK might end up carving out for itself the “privileged partnership” that France and Germany had blueprinted for Turkey.

Approaching a more fragmented EU could be positive for Turkey’s accession, since it would no longer be a question of “all or nothing.” Instead, more flexible models of integration could be on the table for both sides.

To conclude, I recommend my colleague Dimitar Bechev’s excellent blog on Turkey’s new opportunities vis-à-vis the EU. The ECFR’s recently released EU foreign policy scorecard also assesses relations with Turkey.


Marc Pierinivisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe

The arrival of President Hollande at the Elysée Palace in May 2012 raised hopes in Turkey that France might take a more open position on the EU accession negotiations that had been launched with Turkey in October 2005. Initial contacts between the new French authorities and Turkey went well. Now, the lifting of the French veto on one negotiation chapter, although limited in scope, is of great symbolic significance. Although criticized in Turkey for its modest scale, the decision marks a clear reversal of the French stance. As such, its political value is much higher than its face value.

Undoubtedly, Turkey will now be attentive to France’s next moves on the four remaining “French-vetoed” chapters. It will also be important to manage the obvious difference between France’s and Turkey’s positions on the issue of the Armenian genocide. Such differences will probably be better managed if they are not linked to EU accession negotiations. Similarly, a renewed French interest in investment in the dynamic Turkish business sector will offer French industry an additional margin of competitiveness but will require careful explaining to the country’s labor unions.

More generally, other developments may further boost EU-Turkey negotiations. On the one hand, the expected change of guard in Cyprus after the second round of presidential elections could set the scene for a resumption of discussions about a comprehensive settlement of the island’s long-standing division, which has hampered Turkey’s accession negotiations.

On the other hand, a favorable evolution of several key dossiers within Turkey might give the accession negotiations a decisive helping hand. The adoption of the fourth judicial reform package would do away with some of the most acute criticism that Turkey has been facing over issues of fundamental liberties. Furthermore, a successful outcome of the current discussion on the Kurdish issue would be a game-changer not only for the accession negotiations but also for Turkey’s image on the international stage.


Hugh Popeproject director for Turkey/Cyprus at the International Crisis Group

If all goes well, the French move will allow Turkey to open its first EU negotiating chapter in two and a half years. This development is part of a quiet European springtime in Ankara that includes a more positive rhetoric, more mutual visits, and the news that Turkey may soon reform its notorious anti-terrorism law.

But France has shifted its position on Turkey only slightly, allowing an undisputed reference to Turkey’s “accession” to reappear in EU policy papers in December, and this month releasing just one of the five negotiating chapters it was blocking. In the meantime, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still attacks the EU over its policy toward Turkey’s Kurdish insurgents. He also continues to castigate member states over their reluctance to state openly that Turkey can become a member. So for now any common goal can only be modest: to restart the negotiation process, and normalize EU-Turkey relations. The question of ultimate membership is being left to the next generation of politicians.

What’s more, no EU-Turkey initiative will ever get far without progress on the divided island of Cyprus, a problem that directly and indirectly blocks half of Turkey’s 35 negotiating chapters. The probable election of a new, more pragmatic president in the Republic of Cyprus on Sunday raises hopes that a new start can be made on those talks on the basis of more realistic parameters. Cyprus’s priority is, of course, its EU bailout. But there is no surer and quicker route to economic recovery—and reaping profits from Cyprus’s newly discovered gas reserves—than a deal that settles this long-frozen conflict and normalizes ties between Greek Cypriots and Turkey.


Nathalie Toccideputy director of Istituto Affari Internazionali

Turkey and the EU need each other far more today than they did when Turkey was recognized as a candidate for membership well over a decade ago. Yet the relationship has been comatose since accession negotiations began. As a result, the EU has been unable to act as the unifying anchor for Turkey’s democratic consolidation and to capitalize on the country’s strategic leverage in its neighborhood. Furthermore, if Turkey’s domestic de-democratization persists, Ankara cannot remain a positive source of inspiration for its neighbors. Appreciating the costs of the status quo, Hollande’s France has lifted its veto over one negotiation chapter: regional policy. The significance of this shift on Turkey cannot be overestimated.

Unfortunately, however, the French decision is unlikely to turn the tables in Turkey’s accession process. EU-Turkey relations have reached such a low point that Prime Minister Erdoğan now speaks openly of joining alternative groupings such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Erdoğan’s bombastic SCO remark should be taken with a pinch of salt, but it is nonetheless indicative of a growing disaffection among the Turkish public toward the EU. This disaffection is such that the opening of just one chapter is unlikely to re-dynamize the relationship. But it’s a start.

It should be followed by a French unblocking of the other four negotiation chapters that it has vetoed and by Turkey’s implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Customs Union agreement, which could in turn lead to the unfreezing of all other chapters. Add to this the implications of the current Greek-Cypriot presidential elections and the forthcoming German elections, and a virtuous dynamic in Turkey’s accession process could suddenly be reignited.


Sinan Ülgenvisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe

France’s decision to unblock one of the five chapters that it had vetoed during the Sarkozy years is certainly going to be welcomed in Turkey. For almost thirty-two months there has been no concrete progress in the negotiations. The opening of at least one chapter during Ireland’s EU presidency would give much-needed new momentum to the Turkey-EU relationship. It may also placate Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan who has lately been pushing the EU for an answer on Turkish accession.

But France’s move will prove to be a temporary boon. It will not dispel the ambiguity over the prospects of Turkey’s membership. As long as the EU remains mired in its economic and institutional crisis, the question of enlargement—and especially an expansion that takes in a large and significant country like Turkey—will remain unsettled. Viewed from that perspective, it is clear that the future of enlargement will be determined the EU’s own institutional future. In particular the eventual emergence and acceptance of a multi-speed, multiple-geometry Europe could end up facilitating the accession of a country like Turkey to the EU’s outer core, where it could join forces with a recalcitrant UK.

The real value of Hollande’s decision to lift the French veto is that it allows both parties to postpone the ultimate decision on Turkey to a time when the EU will have regained confidence about its future and can therefore engage Turkey much more constructively than today.