Turkey has been standing in the EU membership waiting room since its application for full European Economic Community (EEC) membership in April 1987. While accession processes are moving forward in the Western Balkans, the accession negotiations with Turkey which started in 2005 are in deadlock. Several negotiation chapters (17 out of 35) remain closed, while no chapter has opened over the past three years. 2012 acknowledged a reinvigoration in EU-Turkey relations, with the publication of both a European Commission Progress Report for Turkey, as well as a Progress Report prepared by Turkey. In addition, the year 2013 started with a note of hope for the accession negotiations, with a changing attitude on the part of some EU Member States (France and Germany in particular) and with the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU, as well as with the EU’s recognition of the progress made by Turkey in 32 out of 35 chapters.
The issues related to the Turkey’s accession process were presented at the European Policy Centre (EPC) event on 10 April 2013, on “A new chapter in Turkey’s struggle with terrorism – Implications for the EU accession process” by Egemen Bağış, Minister for EU Affairs & Chief Negotiator of Turkey. Minister Bağış stressed that Turkey had made immense progress in various areas of the negotiation process, especially in the fields of democratization, judiciary reform, and fundamental and religious freedoms. Yet, he drew the audience’s attention on what constitute two main points of contention in EU-Turkey relations, namely Cyprus and visa liberalisation. The Minister underlined that 14 out of the 17 blocked chapters relate to the dead-end with regard to Cyprus. However, Minister Bağış expressed the hope that newly elected Cypriot President, Nicos Anastasiades, will engage in a different dynamic towards his Turkish neighbor, considering his support for the Annan plan in early 2000s. The necessity to mutually open ports, airports and airspaces between Turkey and Cyprus was mentioned as a key element in overcoming the current frozen situation, but also in improving the economic and financial problems of the Republic of Cyprus. He expressed himself in favor of a formula based on a win-win situation, underlining that any deal between Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities would have the full support of Turkey, provided that they rely on political equality.
Terrorism is a major problem and source of expenses for Turkey. The approach adopted by the Turkish government over the past few years has been focused on tackling the roots of terrorism, rather than on the employment of force. Minister Bağış argued that the best counter-terrorism strategy is to further and deepen the democratisation process started in 2002, to forge empathy and mutual understanding amongst different ethnicities that compose the population of Turkey, and to create the conditions for peaceful and sustainable development. He underlined the importance of the initiatives and projects set up by the Turkish government for the mutual understanding and respect of multiple ethnicities, languages, lifestyles and religions. In this perspective, fighting terrorism in Turkey relates to furthering the democratisation process and fighting discriminations; it is, thus, also a major move forward in the accession process.
Minister Bağış recognised that a lot remains to be done, but that the constitutional amendment package of 2010 was fundamental for this new era of Turkish history. He called for the full support of the EU and EU Member States in Turkey’s fight against terrorism, as he expects resistance both from those who benefit from its side-products, as from those who turn a blind eye on terrorist activities.
Answering questions regarding Turkey’s interest in the EU, Minister Bağış said that the simple fact that a Ministry for EU Affairs was set up to deal exclusively with all dimensions of EU accession is testimony. Pointing to the EU’s credibility problem, the Minister estimated that over 50% of Turks would support EU membership, 75% would consider that the implementation of the EU’s acquis has a positive impact for Turkey, while only 25% would actually consider that Turkey will eventually be admitted to the EU.
Finally, the Minister referred to the situation in Syria as devastating, and clearly asserted that President Assad had to go. He regretted that the international community, the EU and the UN were not more assertive in their actions, and argued that work needed to be done to prepare for the post-Assad Syria. With this in mind, he called for Russia to “stop supporting the killing machine in Syria”. He further argued that Turkey could play a role-model in the Middle-East and North Africa, spreading the idea that a secular state could maintain its core values and its religion while increasing personal freedoms and achieving great economic success. He concluded by arguing that the EU should also watch and draw some conclusions from the Turkish experience, and expressed his concern over the growing tensions related to religions in Western Europe.
 On 12 February 2013, French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius, announced France’s unblocking of the negotiation chapter on regional policy. Four chapters (i.e, Common Agricultural Policy, Economic and Monetary Union, Institutional dispositions and Financial dispositions) remain closed for the moment.