Why Calls to Restart Negotiations for Turkey’s Accession to the EU Will Likely Fail


Negotiations for Turkey’s accession to the European Union (EU) have been stalled since 2008.[1] Democratic concerns, human rights violations, and regional political conflicts have stood in the way of the success of this deal.[2] The European Union has strict requirements regarding these political and social attributes.[3] Since its 2008 Progress Report, Turkey has worked to integrate the strict requirements into their constitution and implement other legislative reforms.[4] However, such efforts slowed over the last decade and motivation from both Turkey and the EU has since subsided.[5] At the 2023 summit for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, boldly put the issue back on the table.[6] Now, he faces criticism that his pursuit of accession is a “complete policy contradiction” to the Turkey-centric governance system he continues to reinforce.[7] If Erdogan wants to resume negotiations, he must demonstrate to the member states the integrity of Turkey’s democratic system and his desire to align Turkey’s policies with the EU and NATO allies on regional political issues.

The Copenhagen political criteria delineate comprehensive requirements for a country’s political system, in order for a state to become a member of the EU. Such requirements include “stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.”[8] Further, the criteria allow for the EU to monitor a country’s “respect for international obligations, regional cooperation, and good neighborly relations with enlargement countries and Member States.”[9] Turkey had made progress regarding the Copenhagen criteria and EU standards by amending their constitution multiple times and reforming other past practices.[10] They abolished the death penalty, outlawed torture, and reduced military involvement in government[11] However, there is still room for more transparency and accountability in Turkey’s government systems.[12] Talks have also stalled because of doubts about the Capital of Turkey, Ankara’s, record on human rights and respect for the rule of law.[13] Political experts suggest Turkey must establish “a better democratic architecture” for the good of its own citizens, not just for the purpose of joining the EU.[14]

Regional political conflicts also lessen the likelihood of Turkey’s accession to the EU.[15] Erdogan’s social and economic policies differ greatly from that of leaders in the European Union.[16] After his most recent election, his foreign policy has become even more Turkey-centric, focusing on the country’s own economic interests.[17] Recent trade deals with countries like Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Syria demonstrate Erdogan is not averse to taking a different political path than its more traditional allies, like the EU member states.[18] Further, Turkey is at odds with Sweden and other member states over the treatment of Kurds in Europe.[19] Ankara and Washington D.C. diverge “over the role of Syrian Kurdish forces against the self-proclaimed Islamic State.”[20] Because of the close ties between the United States and the European Union, this divergence between Turkey and the U.S. could pose another barrier.

Finally, Cyprus, an EU Member State, has veto power over Turkey’s accession to the EU.[21] Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus on the divided island of Cyprus.[22] Tensions on the island have become problematic since Turkey invaded the island in 1974.[23] The territory has been split since then, causing political tension and periodic outbreaks of violence on the island.[24] The German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, recently suggested “Turkish actions on Cyprus should be taken into account in assessing overall relations with the EU.”[25] Thus, the Cyprus veto would likely interfere with the final vote on Turkey’s accession.

If European Union member states were to warm up to the idea of Turkey’s accession, it is still unclear whether Turkish leaders want the same.[26] After recent, belittling statements from Turkish officials about the EU’s “strategic blindness,” the narrative between Erdogan and Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Hakan Fidan, appears inconsistent.[27] Given the ambiguity of Turkish officials regarding their desire to join the EU, the stall of negotiations regarding Turkey’s accession to the EU will likely continue indefinitely.

[1] Patrick R. Hugg, Accession Aspirations Degenerate: A New Chapter for Turkey and the EU, 9 Wash. U. Global Stud. L. Rev. 225, 227 (2010).

[2] Commission of the European Communities, Turkey 2008 Progress Report, at 2-3, SEC(2008) 2699 (May 11, 2008).

[3] Id. at 6.

[4] Hugg, supra note 1, at 227.

[5] Id. at 228.

[6] Marc Pierini, Turkey’s European Goals: Prospects and Impediments as Seen from Brussels, Carnegie Europe (Sept. 18, 2023), https://carnegieeurope.eu/2023/09/18/turkey-s-european-goals-prospects-and-impediments-as-seen-from-brussels-pub-90557.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Hugg, supra note 1, at 227.

[11] Id.

[12] Turkey 2008 Progress Report, supra note 2, at 8.

[13] Reuters, Closer Turkey-EU Relations Must Come Through Us, Says Cyprus, Voice of America (Feb. 12, 2024, 7:43 AM), https://www.voanews.com/a/closer-turkey-eu-relations-must-come-through-us-says-cyprus-/7483870.html.

[14] Pierini, supra note 6.

[15] Turkey 2008 Progress Report, supra note 2, at 28.

[16] Id.

[17] Pierini, supra note 6.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Reuters, supra note 14.

[22] Pierini, supra note 6.

[23] Reuters, supra note 14.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Pierini, supra note 6.

[27] Id.