UK-Turkey relations and Turkey's regional role - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

7 Blocked accession process

Blocked negotiations

189.  Turkey's accession negotiations are stalled, and none of our witnesses or interlocutors thought that the process was likely to regain momentum in the near future. For the purposes of accession negotiations, the EU acquis is divided into chapters—35, in the case of Turkey and Croatia. To increase its leverage over the candidate state throughout the process, the EU sets 'benchmarks' which the state must meet in order for each negotiating chapter to be opened and provisionally closed. The opening and closing of each chapter is subject to unanimity among the Member States, as is the final decision to conclude an Accession Treaty. Croatia started accession negotiations in 2005 at the same time as Turkey, and it signed its Accession Treaty in December 2011. However, in early 2012, Turkey and the EU had opened only 13 of the 35 negotiating chapters, of which they had provisionally closed only one. Turkey had opened a new chapter most recently in mid-2010.

190.  Two factors have caused the accession talks to become blocked:

  • Cyprus dispute. Following the conflict of 1974, Turkey does not recognise Cyprus, the EU Member State; while only Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), where it continues to maintain troops. After Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, Turkey and the EU agreed an Additional Protocol to the EU-Turkey Association Agreement under which Turkey would extend the Association Agreement (including the Customs Union) to the EU's new Member States, including Cyprus. Most importantly, the Additional Protocol obliged Turkey to allow free movement of goods from Cyprus, and thus to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic. However, Turkey has not implemented the Additional Protocol. In December 2006 the EU decided as a consequence that it would not close any further negotiating chapters with Turkey, nor open negotiations on eight chapters directly related to the Customs Union.[422] While the EU regards Turkey's implementation of the Additional Protocol as an unconditional legal obligation, Turkey will not move to implementation unless the EU allows direct trade with northern Cyprus, a step which Cyprus is blocking as tantamount to recognition of the TRNC.[423] Cyprus is also unilaterally blocking the opening of negotiations with Turkey on a further six chapters, including the chapter on energy (see paragraph 142).[424]
  • French opposition. In line with President Sarkozy's opposition to Turkey's EU membership, under his leadership France is blocking the opening of negotiations on five chapters which it regards as not relevant if Turkey is not to accede to the Union.[425]

Table 6 shows the state of the accession negotiations which has resulted from these two factors. Without political movement on Cyprus and/or in Paris, only three substantive chapters of the 35 remain available for the EU and Turkey to discuss.


Stalemate costs

191.  The blocking of negotiating chapters by the EU and/or its Member States once accession negotiations have been opened is unique in the history of EU enlargement. The situation has given rise to a perception in Turkey that it is unwelcome in, and is being treated unfairly by, the EU. This in turn is helping to drive a fall in public support for EU membership in Turkey (see Charts 2 and 3).

192.  We heard mixed information about the impact of the stalemate in the accession negotiations on reforms in Turkey. Some witnesses, and not least our official Turkish interlocutors, reported that Turkey was continuing with its alignment with the EU acquis in at least some areas.[426] We were reminded that substantial EU pre-accession funding continued to flow to Turkey and was linked to the implementation of reforms.[427] However, other witnesses reported instances where a loss of EU credibility and leverage appeared to be allowing Turkey to delay reforms. For example:

  • David Lidington told us that the pressure for Turkey to make reforms regarding the judiciary and human rights would be "much greater" if there were steady movement forward in its accession process (see paragraphs 58-76).[428] Dr Bechev, and Dr Cengiz and Dr Hoffman, attributed what they saw as illiberal recent steps by the Turkish government to the weakness of EU oversight.[429]
  • John Roberts made clear that the lack of progress on EU accession was making Turkey more reluctant than it might otherwise have been to co-operate with EU preferences on energy policy (see paragraphs 140-143).[430]
  • Turkey appears to be failing to implement some of its obligations under the EU-Turkey Customs Union because implementation would bring no benefit in terms of the accession process (see paragraph 163).

In its October 2011 'progress report' on Turkey, the European Commission proposed a "positive agenda" with Turkey, involving intensified dialogue across a range of areas, outside the formal accession process; and the continued monitoring of Turkey's progress towards accession negotiation 'benchmarks', even if the relevant chapters are ones that cannot be opened or closed. The Commission is to inform the Member States as and when Turkey meets benchmarks that cannot currently lead to any progress in the accession talks.[431]

193.  Despite the stalemate in the accession negotiations, none of our witnesses thought that either the EU or Turkey was likely formally to suspend them in the near future. On the EU side, such a step would require unanimity among the Member States. For Turkey, any such move would reinforce the views of those who regard the country as turning away from the West, and it would be disquieting for foreign investors.[432]

194.  Turkey's EU accession—a key Government objective with respect to the country—is stuck, effectively hostage to the Cyprus dispute. By undermining the force of EU leverage, the stalemate in the accession talks is having consequences in Turkey that are detrimental to UK objectives there, as well as to Turkish citizens looking to the EU as an anchor for liberalising domestic reforms. We regard this as especially regrettable at a time when Turkish democracy and work on the proposed new constitution may be in a critical phase. By helping to create uncertainty over the timing, if not the fact, of Turkey's EU accession, the stalemate is also discouraging both the EU and Turkey from starting to address some of the most difficult issues that would be involved in Turkey's EU membership.

Cyprus breakthrough?

195.  Turkey's EU accession process is effectively hostage to the reaching of a settlement on Cyprus. The situation is becoming acute because Cyprus will take over the rotating six-monthly Presidency of the EU Council on 1 July 2012 and will thus assume responsibility for convening and presiding over accession negotiations with Turkey, as well as a range of other meetings chaired by the rotating Presidency country. Ankara has threatened that its relations with the EU Council cannot continue as normal while Cyprus holds the Presidency.[433]

196.  The two entities on Cyprus have been engaged since 2008 in UN-mediated talks aimed at reaching a settlement. After overseeing a round of negotiations in January 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced that he was asking his Special Adviser on Cyprus, former Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, to provide a review of the process, and that he would himself shortly be providing one of his regular reports on Cyprus to the Security Council. Mr Ban said that—subject to Mr Downer's report—he proposed to convene a multilateral conference in late April or early May 2012 with the objective of agreeing a settlement by mid-year. The aim would be that a reunited Cyprus could take over the EU Council Presidency on 1 July.[434] However, in his own latest report to the Security Council, dated 12 March, Mr Ban said that:

the negotiations on the 'core core' issues that remain to be agreed are close to deadlock. Despite the leaders' repeated commitments to intensify the negotiations and push for a conclusion as soon as possible, the fact that there has been such limited movement towards convergence on core issues in recent months is a matter of concern. [...] There is no doubt that the political environment in which the negotiations are currently taking place has become increasingly difficult. Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon the leaders to foster a more conducive atmosphere for the talks [...]. The time for an agreement is now. [...] The current window of opportunity is not limitless and there is little to suggest that the future will bring more propitious circumstances for as settlement. The United Nations remains convinced that if the necessary political will could be mustered on both sides, a durable settlement could be achieved in the interests of all Cypriots.[435]

Our understanding was that the Security Council was due to consider Mr Ban's report on 29 March 2012, while this Report was in press.

197.  A number of our witnesses, including the Turkish Embassy in London, felt that the UK could be doing more to encourage a Cyprus settlement.[436] David Lidington told us that the UK had "special responsibilities as guarantor power, but [was] also in a situation where too up-front a position from the UK can risk being counter-productive in certain cases".[437] The Government is maintaining its predecessor's offer to cede just under 50% of the UK's Sovereign Base Area territory to Cyprus in the event of a settlement.[438]

198.  A new factor in the situation is the possible existence of significant gas reserves off the southern coast of Cyprus. In 2010, the US Geological Survey estimated that the Levant Basin (encompassing Cypriot, Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian waters) could contain 122,000 billion cubic feet (bcf) (compared to 159,000 bcf in Algeria's proven reserves, for example). Cyprus regards the reserves as lying within its exclusive economic zone (a position also backed by the EU and US) and is proceeding with exploratory drilling of the area. However, Turkey disputes Cyprus's right to proceed with the plans without involving the TRNC, and when the UN-mediated talks to try to reach a Cyprus settlement are supposed to be in a critical phase.[439]

199.  Cyprus has said that any gas revenues would be shared by both Cypriot communities. Turkey has proposed a UN commission to develop plans whereby this could be achieved.[440] The FCO backed this general idea, as did a number of our witnesses.[441]

  1. We recommend that the Government should offer every assistance to UN Secretary-General Ban and Special Adviser Downer that they might feel would contribute to the securing of a Cyprus settlement by mid-2012. We further recommend that if this effort fails and there is still no settlement on Cyprus once Cyprus's period as President of the EU Council is completed at the end of 2012, the Government should consider whether any alternative approach to the Cyprus situation, by itself and the international community, might be more likely than previous efforts to yield a settlement. We further recommend that the FCO should support the use of prospective revenues from possible gas reserves off Cyprus to facilitate a settlement on the island.

422   Conclusions of the General Affairs Council, 11 December 2006. Back

423   On the Cyprus issue, see Qq 64 [Sir David Logan], 91 [Ms Barysch], Ev 101 [Dr Cengiz and Dr Hoffman], 129-30 [Economic Development Foundation]. Back

424   Ev 72 [FCO] Back

425   Ev 72 [FCO]. On the Turkey-EU enlargement process, see also, for example, Sinan Ulgen, "Turkish politics and the fading magic of EU enlargement", Centre for European Reform Policy Brief, September 2010; Katinka Barysch, "Turkey and the EU: Can stalemate be avoided?", Centre for European Reform Policy Brief, December 2010. On the EU and the Cyprus settlement process, see "Cyprus: Six Steps toward a settlement", International Crisis Group, Europe Briefing No. 61, 22 February 2011. Back

426   Q 81 [Sir David Logan], Ev 97 [Turkish Embassy] Back

427   Q 239 [Mr Lidington] Back

428   Q 212 Back

429   Ev 86-87 [Dr Bechev], 99 [Dr Cengiz and Dr Hoffman] Back

430   Qq 16-17, 19-21 Back

431   European Commission, "Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges", COM(2011) 666 final, 12 October 2011, pp 19, 25 Back

432   Q 99 Back

433   "Turkey warns of crisis with EU over Cyprus", Agence France Presse, 13 July 2011 Back

434   "Secretary-General's remarks to press following his meeting with the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot Leaders", New York, 25 January 2012 Back

435   UN Security Council, "Assessment report of the Secretary-General on the status of the negotiations in Cyprus", S/2012/149, 12 March 2012 Back

436   Qq 50 [Mr Peet], 97 [Ms Barysch], Ev 111-112 [Dr Aybet], 131-132 [Economic Development Foundation] Back

437   Q 232 Back

438   Ev 72 [FCO], Q 227 [Mr Lidington] Back

439   Qq 25-29 [Mr Roberts], 192 [Mr Lidington]; "Tensions flare over gas finds in Mediterranean", Financial Times, 10 October 2011 Back

440   "Turkey seeks mediation on drilling", New York Times, 27 September 2011 Back

441   Qq 25-29 [Mr Roberts], 192 [Mr Lidington] Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 4 April 2012