Follow-up Report Turkey: towards membership of the European Union

October 10, 2005 - nr.37


Since the European Council decision of 1999, Turkey has been a candidate for membership of the European Union. In view of the time which has elapsed, the question of whether Turkey can, in principle, become a member has already been answered. The European Council has never sent out any other signal and Turkey can count on joining the Union. In several other cases accession requests were rejected in advance, Morocco being an example.1

The AIV agrees. The question is now whether negotiations can begin. The AIV has based its answer on several premises:

  1. Turkey can count on not being treated differently from the member states that acceded recently. As noted, this principle was adopted by the December 2002 European Council which concluded that for Turkey to accede to the Union, it must satisfy the same criteria as the other candidate states.
  2. Turkey's moves to democratisation and full compliance with the political Copenhagen criteria will take time and, as recent history has shown, may experience setbacks.
  3. The European Union must learn from the mistakes it made during the last accession negotiations even though this may be at odds with the first principle.2 In this respect, the European Union has not fully played by its own rules and has lost credibility. The situation of the Roma in some of the new member states does not meet the European standards for dealing with minorities but was not an obstacle to starting negotiations or to accession. Although the economic criteria and the adoption of the acquis will not be a yardstick for the decision in December 2004, they will form the background to that decision and will be on the agenda. Here too, the European Union made mistakes from which lessons must be learned. During the negotiations on adoption of the acquis, the Union agreed that chapters would no longer be completed on the basis of results achieved but of promises to achieve them in time. The remedy of introducing supervisory mechanisms and safeguard measures proved ineffective because, in practice, this could only be done under great political pressure.
  4. Turkey's size and position mean that, during the negotiations, the European Union will be confronting different risks from those it faced with other new member states. The Union's absorptive capacity, effectiveness and governability will come into play more than at the time of the last enlargement.3 In 2004, Turkey has a population of over 68 million but, in time, it may exceed that of Germany, currently the largest EU member state. The negotiations over a new Constitutional Treaty for the European Union showed how difficult it is to resolve many issues, institutional ones in particular. And then there is the question of whether the reforms will be sufficiently far-reaching to guarantee that the European Union remains governable. An enlargement with Turkey will not only put the Union's institutions to the test but will also require radical changes to programmes like the Common Agricultural Policy and the Structural and Cohesion Funds.4

Before making recommendations on the basis of these premises, the AIV would first deal with the question of Cyprus. A satisfactory solution to this problem must be found before Turkey can be admitted into the European Union even though it cannot be a prerequisite for a decision on opening negotiations. In its previous report, the AIV recommended that the member states and the European Union should use political and financial instruments to deal with Greece's veto policy. As mentioned above, Greece's role has shifted. Still, mutatis mutandis the AIV recommends that in five years, the Dutch government should urge the European Union to do everything possible to circumvent a possible veto by Greek Cyprus and, thus ensure that the integration process between Turkey and the European Union is not frustrated.

The AIV has noted in this report that there must be a satisfactory solution to the Cyprus question before Turkey can accede because, to put it mildly, it would be most peculiar if one member state had a 35,000-strong military force stationed on the territory of another member state without its express consent. For a solution to the Cyprus question before Turkey joins the European Union, the AIV recommends that, despite the failed referendum of 24 April 2004, attempts should be made to develop initiatives in keeping with the Annan plan. This is how to pave the way for a gradual withdrawal of Turkish troops.

It is not the purpose of this updated report to further elaborate on possible solutions. The dust of the referendum has barely settled, and the effects of EU economic support to ‘Turkish’ Cyprus, and of the movement of persons – tourists in particular – between the two parts of the island, still cannot be felt. There is also ample time to work on possible improvements to the Annan plan. Suffice it to point out that the European Union member states have the obligation to apply pressure so that a workable resolution will be found.

Accordingly, the AIV recommends that the EU member states continue to apply appropriate pressure in order to come up with a workable solution which, as Turkey must understand, will also have consequences for its military force on Cyprus.

We now come to the central question: what are the AIV’s recommendations to the Dutch government about opening accession negotiations with Turkey?
On the basis of the four premises indicated above, the AIV recommends that in European Union policymaking, the Dutch government should work to ensure that the EU

  1. informs Turkey that negotiations will begin within 24 months at the most, or earlier if possible, if it meets several specific action points based on the political Copenhagen criteria not satisfied to date. These are concrete, clear matters. The European Council should decide in December 2004 that negotiations can begin and delegate oversight power to the European Commission in respect of progress on these action points. It will then be up to the European Commission to determine when to begin actual negotiations. Such a decision will make the European Union more certain that Turkey will satisfy the political Copenhagen criteria at the outset of negotiations. It will also send a positive signal to Turkey that no further Council decision will be needed. A decision in December 2004 will put the start of negotiations in Turkey’s own hands within the very near future. A list of concrete action points is given after point 6 below;
  2. makes it clear to Turkey in advance that membership will take considerably more time than was the case with previous accession states. The move towards democratisation and satisfying the political Copenhagen criteria requires time and, as recent history has shown could face setbacks. In addition, unprecedented economic differences must be overcome and the European Union’s absorptive capacity will be tested;
  3. does not set a date for accession. This would be unfair not only because false expectations would be created but also because caution would be subordinated to artificial, politically charged time pressures, putting the accession negotiations under unnecessary strain;
  4. builds in benchmarks for the Copenhagen political criteria. The AIV recommends that in December 2004 the European Union should decide to keep a ‘benchmark chart’ when negotiations begin. Emphasis must be on measuring actual implementation of legislation. It should be noted that such rules must apply not only to Turkey but to all candidate states;
  5. sets up the benchmarks in such a way that negotiations will be suspended whenever one of these indicates that Turkey has not (yet) achieved the agreed objectives. Membership is never irreversibly automatic once negotiations have begun but always the common goal. In any case, the benchmarks would give the European Union and Turkey the opportunity to make sure that no gaps exist or still exist between legislation and its implementation;
  6. clearly states that the chapters of the acquis must be truly and successively completed during the negotiations phase and that the Union will not be satisfied with mere promises and undertakings. The European Union must therefore play according to its own rules.

In point 1, the AIV recommends that negotiations should begin once Turkey has satisfied several concrete action points so that all parties know that the Turkish government is maintaining the pace of implementation, too. The European Commission must ensure progress on these action points. Specifically, the AIV recommends that Turkey carries through on the following:

  • to demonstrate in the practice of law enforcement and actual measures that the (new) legislation on freedom of expression is not intended to impose restrictions other than those permitted by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) and to guarantee that effective application thereof can be enforced through the legal system;
  • to lift the prohibition on associations championing internationally recognised cultural rights;
  • to withdraw the reservation entered to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights with respect to the right to education and the rights of minorities;
  • to show in practice that it is serious about effective access to radio and television broadcasts in languages other than Turkish;
  • to effectively combat torture and cruel and inhuman treatment and, if these continue, to show in practice that it will guarantee effective prosecution;
  • to bring government supervision of associations and non-governmental organisations in line with Council of Europe case law on freedom of association and assembly;
  • to show in word and deed that it is serious about eliminating violence against women and is doing everything to prevent, identify and prosecute such violence;
  • to ensure that the proposed amendments to the criminal code which make it possible to combat violence against women more effectively are in fact approved;5
  • to actually dismantle the state security courts;6
  • to stipulate in law that the length of proceedings must be made consonant with the standards set in the ECHR;
  • to fully adopt the recommendations directed at Turkey by the ILO and the Council of Europe in respect of the rights of employees and trade unions.

These points have been formulated in a way that provides objective insight into the extent to which the Turkish government is able to turn intentions and legislation into deeds. The AIV recommends that the European Commission draft periodic reports on progress in carrying out these points. If the European Commission finds that they have been implemented, the negotiations will begin in December 2006, or earlier if possible, that is, as soon as Turkey has carried through on these points.

In conclusion, the AIV recommends that the European Union and the national governments go to great lengths to strengthen support for Turkey’s accession. As already noted, there are hesitations in several countries of the Union about the very idea of possible Turkish membership, not only because of the potential for large flows of migrants from Turkey but also because of the idea that Turkey ‘is different’.7 Despite the European Council’s repeated promises to Turkey about membership, no serious attempts have been made to inform the public about the why and the what of these decisions and the consequences they may have.


1 In 1987, Morocco submitted a formal request for membership which was rejected with the argument that it was not a European country and did not satisfy the requirements for membership of the European Community.

2 The European Commission has announced that in autumn 2004 it will publish a communication on the lesson to be learned from the last enlargement.

3 During the June 1993 Copenhagen European Council, the following criterion for accession was formulated: ‘the EU must be able to take in new members without obstructing the European integration process’.

4 In its 2003 progress report to be released on 6 October 2004, the European Commission will consider and/or make projections about the possible consequences of Turkish membership for the institutions, finances and programmes of the European Union.

5 See the Amnesty International report of May 2004, 'Turkey: Women Confronting Family Violence'.

6 The earlier observation that the court had ruled in a recent case that no further cases could be brought before the state security courts because they had been disbanded by the latest constitutional amendment is appropriate here also.

7 See also Annex II which shows that the Netherlands had some hesitations about Turkish membership.

Advice request

Because this is an advisory-report that has been made of the council's own accord, it doesn't have a request for advice.

Government reactions

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr F. Korthals Altes
Chairman of the Advisory Council on International Affairs

The Hague
2 December 2004

Dear Mr Korthals Altes,

It gives me great pleasure to send you the government’s response to the AIV’s follow-up report, ‘Turkey: Towards Membership of the European Union’. The government studied the report with much interest and thanks the AIV for its constructive contribution to the debate surrounding Turkey’s possible accession to the European Union.


Yours sincerely,

Bernard Bot

The government’s response to the AIV’s follow-up report ‘Turkey: Towards Membership of the European Union’

On 25 August 2004 the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) published the report ‘Turkey: Towards Membership of the European Union’, a follow-up to an AIV advisory report of 1999. The follow-up was written on the initiative of the AIV, which felt there was a need for a more up-to-date report, given the forthcoming European Council decision on accession negotiations with Turkey on 17 December 2004.

Premises of the follow-up report
Echoing the conclusion of the 1999 report, the AIV contends that the fact that Turkey’s cultural, historical and religious background differs from that of the other EU member states is no reason to deny it admittance to the Union. The AIV also believes that the EU has generated such expectations within Turkey that it may be assumed that membership is the ultimate goal.1

In 1999 the AIV also concluded that in many respects Turkey still had a long way to go to meet the Copenhagen criteria. The main stumbling block was the lack of a pluralist, democratic system, which gives rise to problems in the area of human rights and democracy, particularly with regard to the relationship between the civilian and military sides of Turkish society and the treatment of the Kurds.

The AIV points out that much has changed in the international landscape since 1999. Relations between Turkey and Greece have improved significantly; the Cyprus issue was ‘imported’ into the EU on 1 May; Turkey is less focused on the region and the US than previously, and is increasingly EU-oriented. In the follow-up report, the AIV reaffirms the conclusions of the earlier report and addresses the developments in the priority areas between 1999 and 2004.

Reforms since 1999, support and sustainability
The AIV believes that Turkey has made progress towards meeting the political Copenhagen criteria in many of the areas discussed in the 1999 report. The country has implemented social and legal reforms, particularly in the field of human rights and democratisation. The AIV is of the opinion that the AKP, the party of Prime Minister Erdogan, is responsible for accelerating the reform process. The party’s short-term objectives seem to parallel the amendments proposed by the EU. The reforms enjoy broad public support, suggesting that it is unlikely that they will be repealed in the future. The army leadership also backs internal reforms in order to pave the way for a positive decision in December, even though this means limiting its own role.

In what areas is there room for improvement?
Though the report acknowledges that considerable progress has been made in these areas, it points out that Turkey has not yet met all its objectives. Now more than ever, promises must be translated into action. There are still restrictions on the exercise of certain civil, political and cultural rights. In this connection and with respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms, the AIV mentions freedom of expression, freedom of association, employee and trade union rights, the functioning of law-enforcement institutions and concerns about disappearances, extra-judicial executions, cruel and inhuman treatment and torture, the judiciary, the protection of cultural rights and the status of women. Liberalising, easing and lifting these restrictions, effective application of the new legislation and changing attitudes and mentality are the keys to solving problems in the areas mentioned above.

The AIV devotes a separate chapter to Turkey’s economic prospects, despite the fact that the economic Copenhagen criteria play no part in the forthcoming decision. The report concludes that the government has made appreciable improvements, but that the market economy is not yet operating at optimal level. An issue of particular interest in this regard is migration. The AIV indicates that concerns about a rise in the number of economic migrants have made various countries hesitant about Turkish accession, and acknowledges that these concerns are genuine. The AIV expects that a positive decision in December will boost the economy and serve to sustain reforms. However membership of the EU will only be possible once Turkey has met the Copenhagen economic criteria.

The report’s overall conclusion is that Turkey has gone a long way towards EU membership, while the EU for its part has never given any signal to suggest that Turkey would not be admitted to the Union in due course. The AIV then poses the question of whether negotiations can now begin. To answer this question, the AIV relied on the following premises:

  • Turkey should receive the same treatment as the other states that have recently joined the Union;
  • To prevent disappointments, Turkey needs time and should be given it, if it is fully to satisfy the criteria;
  • The EU must learn from the mistakes made in previous accession negotiations, even though this may be at odds with the principle of equal treatment;
  • Turkey’s size and special location may entail more risks when it comes to negotiating with the EU, particularly with regard to the Union’s absorptive capacity, effectiveness and governability. Admitting Turkey will inevitably involve a radical reorganisation of, for example, the common agricultural policy and the structural and cohesion funds.

The report also examines the Cyprus question. Although resolving this conflict should not be made a condition for opening negotiations, it is imperative that a solution be found before Turkey’s accession. The AIV advises the Dutch Presidency to attempt to prevent a Cypriot veto. It also recommends that the EU develop initiatives along the lines of the rejected Annan plan. The AIV further recommends that the EU member states continue to use all appropriate means to put pressure on the various parties to find a workable solution. For its part, Turkey will have to realise that any solution will have consequences for its military presence on the island.

In its recommendations to the Dutch government, the AIV advises the EU t

  1. inform Turkey that negotiations will start within 24 months (or earlier, if possible), providing the country takes action on a number of specific points based on the political Copenhagen criteria2. In addition, the EU should also indicate that after that point no new Council decision will be necessary to open negotiations;
  2. make it clear to Turkey that the accession process will take longer than it did for other member states;
  3. refrain from setting a deadline for accession;
  4. include specific benchmarks based on the Copenhagen criteria. In using a ‘benchmark chart’ to follow Turkey’s progress, the EU’s emphasis should be on measuring actual implementation of legislation;
  5. design these benchmarks in such a way that negotiations will be suspended whenever one of them indicates that Turkey has not – or not yet – attained the agreed objectives. Membership is not the inevitable result of an automatic process set in motion by opening negotiations but always a common goal;
  6. clearly state that the chapters of the acquis should be truly and successively completed during the negotiations phase and that the Union will not be satisfied with pledges and promises. In other words the EU must play by its own rules.

The government appreciates the AIV’s initiative in issuing a follow-up report on Turkey in the run-up to the European Council in December. Taken together with the first report, it offers an interesting overview of developments in Turkey over a relatively long period. The government feels that the report presents a good analysis of the role and position of the army in these reforms. The report addresses a number of important questions and concerns which have been voiced in the Netherlands and various other member states.

Together with a number of other reports to appear this year (from the Commission, the Advisory Council on Government Policy (WRR) and the Social and Economic Council (SER)), this follow-up report is a valuable contribution to the formation of a well-founded and balanced position for the Netherlands.

The AIV’s recommendation to the Presidency to try to prevent a Cypriot veto is in line with Dutch objectives. However, the same cannot be said of the AIV’s recommendation that the Presidency develop initiatives along the lines of the Annan plan. The government believes that the mandate for such an initiative still lies with the UN. Moreover the government feels that any solution must first come from the island itself and that the EU should only play a supporting and motivating role.

On many points the AIV’s recommendations are similar to those in the Commission’s report on Turkey presented on 6 October. That said, there are also a number of significant differences. The Commission’s report states that – provided that six specific laws enter into force – Turkey will be sufficiently in compliance with the political Copenhagen criteria, and in such a case the Commission advises that negotiations be opened. At no point does the AIV explicitly say that Turkey has sufficiently met the political criteria, but it does make a number of recommendations for the time when that is the case. In contrast to the AIV, which speaks of a time limit of no more than 24 months, the Commission does not suggest any deadline for opening negotiations. Both reports recommend that a control mechanism be built into the negotiation process (benchmarks/monitoring, suspension/emergency brake), in order to oversee the reforms and ensure that progress is being made. With respect to the proposed benchmarks, the government would observe that a number of these points are already out of date, considering that the AIV report is based largely on information published in 2003.

The government is of the opinion that the European Council can decide in December to open accession negotiations with Turkey as soon as the six laws have entered into force, since this will mean that Turkey has complied with the political Copenhagen criteria. If this is not the case, the beginning of negotiations will be postponed until such time as Turkey has met the conditions. This delay could last longer than 24 months.

The government endorses the AIV’s recommendation that, in the event of a positive decision in December, the EU should be candid about the fact that this process will be a lengthy one, in order to prevent setbacks and disappointments. The government also agrees with the suggestion that no target date should be set for accession.

The government endorses the recommendation that some way of suspending negotiations if the need arises must be built into the process. The details of such a mechanism will have to be worked out in greater detail, in consultation with the other member states and the Commission.

Finally, the government also agrees with the AIV’s recommendation that during the negotiation phase, chapters should be completed at the point when legislation is actually amended and the acquis is implemented. A similar recommendation has been made by the Commission.


1 Since 1999, this standpoint has been underscored by the conclusions of the Helsinki Council (which state that ‘Turkey is a candidate State destined to join the EU on the basis of the same criteria as applied to the other candidate States.’), the Turkish government’s strong commitment to the Copenhagen criteria, and the conclusions of the 2002 Copenhagen European Council, at which it was decided that the European Council of December 2004 would determine whether Turkey had met the Copenhagen criteria.

2 The AIV lists a number of action points as minimum requirements, in the area of: improving law enforcement, lifting bans on groups that champion internationally recognised cultural rights, withdrawing reservations to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, allowing effective access to radio and television broadcasts in languages other than Turkish, effectively combating and prosecuting torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, bringing government supervision of associations and NGOs into line with Council of Europe case law, eliminating violence against women, amending the criminal code, abolishing state security courts, making trials consonant with the standards enshrined in the ECHR, and adopting the ILO and Council of Europe’s employee and trade union rights.

Press releases

Press release 25 August 2004

"Negotiations with Turkey on EU membership should start within 24 months"

The Netherlands should urge the European Council of December 2004 to decide to open negotiations with Turkey on EU membership within 24 months. The intervening period can then be used by Turkey to implement a number of specific action points relating to democracy and the rule of law. It will be up to the European Commission to decide exactly when negotiations will begin.

After the start of the negotiations a 'benchmark chart' should be set up, so that negotiations will be suspended whenever one of the benchmarks indicates that Turkey has not (yet) achieved the agreed objective. No specific accession date should be mentioned, because this would give rise to false expectations and could sacrifice precision to artificial, politically charged time pressures.

This is the advice given by the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV), which has updated an advisory report on Turkey issued in 1999.

In December 2004 the European Council, under Dutch presidency, has to decide whether or not to open negotiations with Turkey on membership of the European Union. This prompted the AIV to update its earlier report on relations between Turkey and the European Union. The AIV stands by its earlier contention that just because Turkey is 'different', has a different cultural and historical background and a predominantly Muslim population is no reason to exclude it from the European Union. The inclusion in the European Union of a mainly Muslim country may be a new development, but is not fundamentally different from earlier enlargements. Islam should have a place in Europe anyway, if only because over 20 million Muslims now live in the EU. Furthermore the European Union has held out the prospect of membership to Turkey ever since 1959, and has gone further and further in its promises.

Turkey has been a candidate country since 1999, and in 2002 the European Council promised that it would decide in December 2004 whether or not to open negotiations for membership.

This decision hinges on the political "Copenhagen criteria", in other words whether Turkey is a stable democracy governed by the rule of law and can guarantee human rights and the rights of minorities. The AIV acknowledges that the Turkish government has carried through far-reaching reforms in a very short space of time, with the support of the population at large. However, the AIV recommends waiting until 2006 at the latest to allow Turkey to demonstrate that it is capable of converting legislation into reality.

The AIV's recommendations also take into account that Turkey's size and position mean that the EU will be facing different problems during negotiations with Turkey than it did with the new member states in Central and Eastern Europe: the Union's absorptive capacity, effectiveness and governability could easily be compromised. And lastly, the AIV is of the opinion that the European Union itself should learn from the mistakes made with the last enlargement, when it did not always play by its own rules.