Turkey is the only pluralist secular democracy in the Muslim world and has always attached great importance to developing its relations with other European countries. Historically, Turkish culture has had a profound impact over much of Eastern and Southern Europe.
Turkey began "westernising" its economic, political and social structures in the 19th century. Following the First World War and the proclamation of the Republic in 1923, it chose Western Europe as the model for its new secular structure.
Turkey has ever since closely aligned itself with the West and has become a founding member of the United Nations, a member of NATO, the Council of Europe, the OECD and an associate member of the Western European Union. During the Cold War Turkey was part of the Western alliance, defending freedom, democracy and human rights. In this respect, Turkey has played and continues to play a vital role in the defence of the European continent and the principal elements of its foreign policy have converged with those of its European partners.
Having thus entered into very close cooperation with Western Europe in the political field, it was therefore only natural for Turkey to complete this in the economic area. Thus, Turkey chose to begin close cooperation with the fledgling European Economic Community (EEC) in 1959.
The Ankara Agreement
In July 1959, shortly after the creation of the EEC in 1958, Turkey made its first application to join. The EEC's response to Turkey's application in 1959 was to suggest the establishment of an association until Turkey's circumstances permitted its accession. The ensuing negotiations resulted in the signature of the Agreement Creating An Association Between The Republic of Turkey and the European Economic Community (the "Ankara Agreement") on 12 September 1963. This agreement, which entered into force on 1 December 1964, aimed at securing Turkey's full membership in the EEC through the establishment in three phases of a customs union which would serve as an instrument to bring about integration between the EEC and Turkey.
The Ankara Agreement envisaged the progressive establishment of a Customs Union which would bring the Parties closer together in economic and trade matters. In the meantime, the EEC would offer financial assistance to Turkey. Under the First Financial Protocol which covered the period 1963-1970, the EEC provided Turkey with loans worth 175 million ECU. The trade concessions which the EEC granted to Turkey under the form of tariff quotas proved, however, not to be as effective as expected. Yet, the EEC's share in Turkish imports rose from 29% in 1963 to 42% in 1972.
Although the Ankara Agreement envisaged the free circulation not only of goods, but of natural persons, services and capital between the Parties, it excluded Turkey from the EEC decision-making mechanisms and precluded Turkey from recourse to the ECJ for dispute settlement.
The Customs Union that was to be established between the Parties went much further than the abolition of tariff and quantitative barriers to trade between the Parties and the application of a Common External Tariff to imports from third countries, and envisaged harmonisation with EEC policies in virtually every field relating to the internal market.
The Additional Protocol
The Additional Protocol of 13 November 1970 set out in a detailed fashion how the Customs Union would be established. It provided that the EEC would abolish tariff and quantitative barriers to its imports from Turkey (with some exceptions including fabrics) upon the entry into force of the Protocol, whereas Turkey would do the same in accordance with a timetable containing two calendars set for 12 and 22 years, and called for the harmonisation of Turkish legislation with that of the EU in economic matters. Furthermore, the Additional Protocol envisaged the free circulation of natural persons between the Parties in the next 12 to 22 years.
Had the Additional Protocol been implemented in full, the free circulation of goods and services and the harmonisation of Turkish legislation with that of the EEC in a multitude of areas would have been achieved at the end of the 22 year timetable.
Turkey's Application for Full Membership in 1987
On 24 January 1980 Turkey shifted its economic policy from an autarchic import-substitution model and opened its economy to the operation of market forces. Following this development in the economic area and the multiparty elections in 1983, the relations between Turkey and the Community, which had come to a virtual freeze following the military intervention of 12 September 1980 in Turkey, began returning to normality. In the light of these positive developments, Turkey applied for full membership in 1987, on the basis of the EEC Treaty's article 237 which gave any European country the right to do so. Turkey's request for accession, filed not under the relevant provisions of the Ankara Agreement, but those of the Treaty of Rome, underwent the normal procedures. The Council forwarded Turkey's application to the Commission for the preparation of an Opinion. This has reconfirmed Turkey's eligibility, given that a similar application by Morocco was turned down by the Council on the grounds that Morocco is not a European country. The Commission's Opinion was completed on 18 December 1989 and endorsed by the Council on 5 February 1990. It basically underlined Turkey's eligibility for membership, yet deferred the in-depth analysis of Turkey's application until the emergence of a more favourable environment. It also mentioned that Turkey's accession was prevented equally by the EC's own situation on the eve of the Single Market's completion which prevented the consideration of further enlargement. It went on to underpin the need for a comprehensive cooperation program aiming at facilitating the integration of the two sides and added that the Customs Union should be completed in 1995 as envisaged.
Although it did not attain its basic objective, Turkey's application revived Turkey-EC relations: efforts to develop relations intensified on both sides, the Association's political and technical mechanisms started meeting again and measures to complete the Customs Union in time were resumed.
The Customs Union
Under these circumstances, Turkey chose to complete the envisaged Customs Union with the Community. Talks began in 1994 and were finalised on 6 March 1995 at the Turkey-EU Association Council (The highest ranking organ of the association and composed of the Foreign Ministers of Turkey and the EU Member States.) On that day the Association Council adopted its decision 1/95 on the completion of the Customs Union between Turkey and the EU in industrial and processed agricultural goods by 31 December 1995. At the same meeting, another Resolution on accompanying measures was adopted and the EU made a declaration on financial cooperation with Turkey as part of the customs union "package".
With the entry into force of the Customs Union, Turkey abolished all duties and equivalent charges on imports of industrial goods from the EU.
Apart from the rather technical provisions related to the establishment and the proper functioning of the Customs Union, the package also comprised an Association Council Resolution providing for the intensification of cooperation between Turkey and the EU in such areas not covered by the Customs Union as industrial cooperation, Trans-European networks, energy, transport, telecommunications, agriculture, environment, science, statistics, as well as matters relating to justice and home affairs, consumer protection, cultural cooperation, information etc. These provisions also aimed at ensuring that the higher degree of integration achieved between Turkey and the EU through the Customs Union was not limited solely to economic/trade matters and that the Customs Union did serve its purpose under the Ankara Agreement: constituting an important cornerstone towards Turkey's accession to the EU.
The third element of the Customs Union package was the statement on financial cooperation which the EU delivered at the Association Council meeting where Decision 1/95 was adopted. This financial cooperation, which amounted to 2.22 billion ECU over a five-year period, aimed at alleviating the burden which the opening up of the economy to EU competition would bring to Turkish economic operators on the one hand, and improving Turkey's infrastructure and reducing the economic disparities between the parties on the other hand.
1999 Luxembourg European Council
In preparation for the European Council held in Helsinki in 10-11 December 1999, the European Commission issued its regular Report on the progress which Turkey makes towards accession on 13 October 1999. In the Composite Paper which was also presented together with the Progress Report, the Commission took important steps by proposing that Turkey be considered as a candidate and backed this with concrete actions similar to those provided for the other candidates.
The Helsinki European Council held on 10-11 December 1999 produced a breakthrough in Turkey-EU relations. At Helsinki, Turkey was officially recognised without any precondition as a candidate state on an equal footing with the other candidate states. While recognising Turkey's candidate status, the Presidency Conclusions of the Helsinki European Council endorsed the proposals of the Commission made on 13 October 1999. Thus, Turkey, like other candidate states, would reap the benefits form a pre-accession strategy to stimulate and support its reforms. This would also include an Accession Partnership, which would be drawn up accordingly, combined with a National Program for the adoption of the acquis.
Towards Accession: 2004 Brussels European Council and 2005 Luxembourg Intergovernmental Conference
The progress report on Turkey issued by the European Commission on 6 October 2004 provided a full account of the sweeping political reforms realized since the Helsinki European Council in 1999. In addition, Commission concluded that Turkey had sufficiently met the Copenhagen political criteria and accordingly, explicitly recommended the opening of accession negotiations.
Thus, the vigorous agenda of reform pursued by Turkey and the colossal legislative effort realized, which has included among others such measures as the comprehensive Constitutional amendments in October 2001 and May 2004, new Civil and Penal Codes and eight reform packages, was acknowledged by the Commission’s recommendation.
On 17 December, 2004 the Brussels European Council, concurring with the recommendation of the Commission, pronounced the decision that the European Union would open accession negotiations with Turkey, on 3 October 2005.
During the Brussels European Council, the Turkish Government confirmed that it was ready to sign the Protocol on the adaptation of the Ankara Agreement extending it to all the members of the Union prior to the actual start of accession negotiations. However, Turkey also placed on record that this would in no way imply a formal legal recognition of the Greek Cypriot Administration by Turkey, a fact that was also publicly confirmed, among others, by the EU Dutch Presidency.
The said Protocol was concluded on 29 July 2005, on which occasion Turkey also issued a declaration to the effect that the signature of the Protocol would not in any form constitute a recognition of the Republic of Cyprus referred to in the Protocol. Accordingly, Turkey stated that, pending a comprehensive settlement, her position on Cyprus would remain unchanged and expressed her readiness to establish relations with the new partnership State which would emerge following a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus. Turkey also reaffirmed her commitment to finding a political settlement to the Cyprus issue within the parameters of the good offices mission of the UN Secretary General.
The President of the Commission Mr. Barroso, referred to the outcome of the December European Council as the historic decision of the EU to open its doors to Turkey. Indeed, this decision and the start of accession negotiations with Turkey as scheduled on 3 October 2005, marks the beginning of the final lap of a road traveled towards the objective of full membership for the past 42 years.
For, Turkey has the longest standing track record of all the candidates and new members combined in its relations with the European Union. The point of departure of Turkey’s association with the EU is the Ankara Agreement signed in 1963. Inherent in this Agreement that tied Turkey’s fate to that of Europe is the clear recognition of its prospect of full membership. This Agreement constitutes the intact political, legal and moral framework of Europe’s commitment towards Turkey.
Turkey’s application for full membership in 1987 and the completion of the Customs Union at the end of 1995 have represented further important milestones on its charted course towards full integration with the Union. The Customs Union now entering its 10th year is an arrangement that no other candidate has had with the Union prior to actual membership.
Thus, Turkey has throughout had a unique relationship with the EU which it seeks now to consolidate with nothing short of full membership at the end of the accession negotiations. In deed, full membership is the explicit common objective of the accession negotiations.
Turkey has appointed Minister of State Mr. Ali Babacan as its Chief Negotiator in the accession negotiations to be conducted with the Union following the Intergovernmental Conference on 3 October 2005 in Luxembourg at which the process was launched. Turkey has consequently shifted gears from “candidate” to “accession” country.
The successful conclusion of the accession negotiations with Turkey will demonstrate the EU’s determination to unify Europe without creating new dividing lines. The fulfillment of the European project will consolidate democracy and the unification of the continent by embracing all Europeans around shared values. Therefore, Turkey’s membership to the EU is a historical mission that will reaffirm the common values that constitute the very basis of the EU and usher in a new era in world affairs.
Turkey is an intrinsic part of the European system of democratic values and can make a major contribution to the dialogue and harmony of civilizations within the EU and beyond. The pioneering project of European integration would be incomplete without Turkey’s membership to the EU. Also in strategic terms, Europe would have a more compelling voice in world and regional affairs with the inclusion of Turkey which has woven an intricate web of peaceful relations in a multitude of geographies and can, as a secular pluralistic democracy, be a source of inspiration for other nations desiring reform in her extended region.