Lale Sürmen Aran

Photos and short videos are better for captivating an audience. However, as a guide I also know that greater majority of our travelers want to know about Turkey and EU relations. Hence, the following article, while oversimplifies, capsulizes the history EU & Turkey relations in a nutshell.


The European Union (EU) is an international organization that aims to create a close economic and political integration with 28 member states. It was formed in 1993 with Maastricht Treaty as an evolution of the European Economic Community (EEC). The Treaty of Rome established the EEC in 1957 and six founding members envisioned to prevent any possible war in Europe and to contain Germany. (Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy).  The main idea is to guarantee the 4F principle: Free movement of goods, capital, services and people.

After becoming a member of the Council of Europe in 1949, NATO in 1951, Turkey applied for associate membership to the EEC in 1959 and signed Ankara Agreement with the EEC in 1963. This agreement was to abolish the quota and tariffs on the goods traded between the EEC and Turkey, it would lead to a customs union and to a full membership to the EEC.

EEC was renamed as the European Community (EC) and it’s first enlargement took place in 1973 whenGreat Britain, Ireland and Denmark became members. As Turkish democracy was struggling with internal problems, the military took over the control in 1980. Turkey was asked by the EC to apply for full membership but the current Turkish government of the day declined. Relations with the EC were frozen. In 1981, 6 years after submitting its application, Greece became a member. The EC kept enlarging with membership of Spain and Portugal in 1986. In 1987, “Single European Act” was signed which was to facilitate the “free-flow” of the goods and thus create one single market within Europe. Turkey submitted its formal application to the EC for a full membership in the same year but due to the poor relations with Greece and Cyprus, the European Commission did not start the negotiations with Turkey.

In 1992, the EC was replaced by the European Union (EU) with Maastricht Treaty towards a better European integration.

In 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden became members of the EU.  The “Schengen Agreement” was signed to allow millions of European Union Citizens to travel without border checks or passports. Turkey signed a Customs Union Agreement with EU also in 1995.

In 1999, the European Commission declared that Turkey would be treated as a potential candidate for the EU membership like other candidates.

Any country willing to join the union must comply with the Copenhagen Criteria, which require institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law and human rights.  A functioning market economy and the competence to deal with competitive pressures effectively within the EU are essential. The ability to meet the obligations of membership (acquis) is also a must. The acquis is approximately 130,000 pages of legal documents, divided into 35 chapters and establishes the rules that the member states of the EU should adhere.  

In 2002, EU stated its intention to start negotiations with Turkey as Turkey fulfilled the political requirement of the “Copenhagen Criteria”.

Same year, Turkish parliament passed many reforms, including the abolition of the death penalty and facilitating the use of the Kurdish language inorder to meet some of the EU’s human rights criteria.

The Justice and Development Party came to power and Turkish Parliament approved a package about Human Rights.

The majority of the Eastern European Countries and two Mediterranean islands fulfilled the “Copenhagen Criteria” and had their accession to the EU in 2004. (Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Estonia, Cyprus). Bulgaria and Romania completed their accession procedure in 2007 and the last country to join the EU was Croatia in 2013. The EU has a total of 28 members today.

Negotiations started in early 2006 with Turkey on “Science and Research” Chapter. The EU-Turkey relations were stagnant between 2006 and 2011 as Turkey refused to open its ports and harbors to Cyprus, as the EU did not lift the sanctions against Turkish Cypriot Administration. The Cyprus issue still remains unsolved. The European Commission initiated a “positive agenda” towards a more constructive relationship with Turkey in2011 but relations became tense during the Greek Cypriot Presidency of the EU.

The EU has started a “Visa Liberalization Dialogue” with Turkey at the end of 2013, along with the signature of the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement. (RegardingSyrian refugees).  At the EU-Turkey Summit of 29 November 2015, Turkey committed to a speedy fulfillment of the visa-free travel requirements.  In March 2016, European Commission presented a progress report that the readmission agreement would be fully applicable as of June 2016 and by October 2016, European Commission will monitor Turkey’s compliance with the visa liberalization process and may lift any visas for the Turkish Citizens in Schengen Zone.

Schengen Zone: EU Members (Except UK – Ireland – Romania – Bulgaria – Croatia – Cyprus)+ Non-EU Members (Switzerland+Norway+Liechtenstein+Iceland)


After Turkey was recognized as a potential candidate in 1999, a fast and intense reformation period took place till 2005 to meet standards for membership. The reforms included significant improvements on human rights and abolishment of the capital punishment. During this time, public support formembership was highest, at around 80%.

However, the double standards and pseudo reasons crafted delaying progress of negotiations lead Turks and the government to get “cold feet” for membership. Currently the public support for membership is estimated to be around 50%. According to a research by University of Ankara, 32.8% of Turksthink membership will never happen, 83.9 % think EU is unreliable and hypocratic.

These sentiments are not without a reason. Some EU countries has been claiming that geographical location and historical identity of Turkey don’t fit the EU norms. They point out that most of Turkish soil is on Asia but not in Europe, and that granting a membership to Turkey might lead Asian and African countries located on fringes of EU wanting to join. However, portion of Turkey located in Europe is larger than many members, besides Cyprus, a member state, is entirely in Asia.

Economic reasons and reforms were claimed to be among the main reasons for slow negotiations. However, after the admittance of some economically slower countries to membership, this claim lost it’s meaning.

These resulted with a Eurosceptisism among the Turks who started thinking EU as a Christian club. Yet, in spite of all the sentiments, it must also be noted that most Turks still believe in norms, standards and principals of EU and that these will secure higher standards for themselves and their children.

Article by Mine Karahan Taner and Lale Sürmen Aran.

Mine has been a senior guide with SRM Travel since 2007. She has a B.A. degree from Marmara University, Political Sciences and International Relations and an M.A. degree on European Studies from Bogazici University.