European Affairs

The so-called negotiating framework adopted by the European Union for the entry negotiations states that the shared objective is accession. At the same time, the negotiations are described as “an open-ended process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand.” If Turkey is unable to assume all the economic and political obligations of membership (the so-called Copenhagen Criteria), the negotiating framework stipulates that “it must be ensured that Turkey is fully anchored in the European structures through the strongest possible bond.”

The document specifically cites all the Copenhagen requirements, including the capacity of the European Union to absorb a new member, while maintaining the momentum of European integration. This crucial provision, while not officially one of the three economic and political conditions for entry laid down by the EU leaders in Copenhagen in 1993, is defined as “an important consideration in the general interest of both the Union and the candidate countries.” Moreover, negotiations can be suspended in case of a serious and persistent breach by Turkey of the principles of liberty, democracy, human rights, individual freedom and the rule of law, on which the European Union is founded.

As the negotiating framework envisages failure of the entry negotiations as a real possibility, while stressing that Ankara should not be completely repulsed if that were to happen, the document clearly implies the need to consider options other than full membership for Turkey if necessary.

During the negotiations, the European Commission will undertake a formal process known as “screening” to determine what Turkey must do to conform to the entire corpus of EU rules, regulations and practices – the so-called acquis communautaire. Turkey’s correct implementation of the rules will generally determine the pace of negotiations, although no specific agreement will be considered final until all outstanding issues have been resolved.

It is the strict and tough screening process that is responsible for the “open-ended” character of the negotiations. Implementation of all the rules will be a major challenge for Turkey and will entail costs that will be intensified by demands for structural adjustments. Moreover, the socio-economic disparity between Turkey and the European Union means the talks will probably last much longer than the four years or so it took to negotiate the entry of the ten new members, mainly in Central and Eastern Europe, that joined the European Union in May, 2004.

Against this background, the possibility of an alternative solution would give Brussels the confidence that any decision to break off the entry negotiations would not have adverse political implications for EU-Turkish relations, but would ensure that Turkey could still be “fully anchored in the European structures through the strongest possible bond,” in the words of the negotiating framework.

The same reasoning could work the other way around, if the political and economic imponderables of Turkish membership were to lead to a change of thinking in Ankara. Turkey could conclude that EU membership demanded too much in adaptation costs and entailed too much loss of sovereignty. In that case, it would also be useful to have an alternative solution as a back-up.

The unusual emphasis that the European Union has placed on the requirement that it must be capable of absorbing a new member is largely due to the diplomatic efforts of Austria, which has strong reservations about Turkish EU membership. As a result of Austria’s efforts, the absorption capacity of the European Union is now being given much greater importance than it was in an earlier draft negotiating framework prepared in July.

There are good reasons for bringing this issue to the fore in the Turkish entry negotiations. The European Union is in a state of crisis. It is confronted with a number of challenges that might undermine its capacity to absorb Turkey, such as the future of the proposed EU constitutional treaty, changes in the EU budgetary framework and the general need to consolidate the Union after the recent admission of ten new members.

Perhaps most importantly, however, we have to resume discussion of the final political objectives of the European Union – an issue that was largely neglected during the discussions preceding the opening of negotiations with Turkey. The prospect of Turkish membership, however, obviously raises this question and calls for an urgent answer. Europe must be clear in its own mind about its borders. It should move beyond its traditional case-by-case approach to the admission of new members and develop an overall doctrine on enlargement.

Even if Turkey complied with all the requirements of the screening process, it might still not become a member if Brussels, or one or more of the member states, were to conclude that Turkish entry was incompatible with the borders that the European Union had defined in the meantime. The entry of new members requires the unanimous consent of the existing member states, and at least two countries with strong doubts about Turkish membership, France and Austria, have already committed themselves to referendums on the issue if and when the entry terms are finally agreed.

The fact that Europe has rushed into negotiations with Turkey without clarifying the question of its final destination (or finalité politique) has increased the chances that the negotiating process could lead to an impasse that would seriously damage EU-Turkish relations. This would be the exact opposite of what advocates of Turkish membership are seeking, but their over-eagerness to open negotiations is partly responsible for creating this potential dilemma.

An alternative to Turkish EU membership would be the creation of what might be called a “Privileged Partnership,” comprising three core elements:

First, institutional cooperation between the European Union and Turkey would be improved by expanding existing structures or establishing new ones. It would be difficult to admit Turkey into the European Economic Area (EEA), which provides for free movement of goods, services, capital and labor between the European Union and three non-member European states, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

It would seem sensible, however, to use the EEA’s structures and institutions as a model for expanding future cooperation in the EU-Turkey Association Council. For administrative purposes, a Joint EU-Turkey Committee could be established to adopt and monitor the implementation of EU legislation applicable to the Privileged Partnership. The Joint Committee would comprise representatives of the Commission, the EU member states and Turkey.

An EU-Turkey Council attended by foreign ministers would define general political guidelines and provide a policy impetus. A Joint Parliamentary Committee would bring together members of the Turkish Parliament and the European Parliament. It would also be worth considering Turkish participation, in an advisory capacity, in the preparation of decisions in the committees and internal market agencies of the Commission.

Second, restrictions could be removed and cooperation intensified in numerous policy areas. Derogations from the existing customs union could perhaps be abolished. The Commission is already planning the removal of barriers to the free movement of services as a short-term priority, and some restrictions could also be eased on the movement of Turkish workers. Although the European Union could not offer completely free entry to Turkish workers, it could consider relaxing visa regulations for residents of the border area who regularly undertake cross-border travel, as well as perhaps allowing more visa-free travel. It would also be possible for Turkey to adopt EU rules and regulations in many more policy areas than it has done so far.

Third, Turkey should be offered full participation in the European Union’s common foreign, security and defense policies. Turkey’s current involvement in these activities can in fact already be described as privileged. An enhanced political dialogue with Turkey was established as part of the accession strategy, and Turkey participates in all meetings devoted to the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). In recent years, Ankara has regularly aligned itself with EU decisions, resolutions and declarations, and has associated itself with a number of the Union’s common joint actions – although less often than other candidate countries in the past.

Turkey is also monitoring the development of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) and participating in meetings between the European Union and the non-European members of NATO. Turkey is involved in the work of the EU Political and Security Committee (PSC) and various EU Council working groups. Ankara is engaged in regional cooperation programs such as the Barcelona Process for developing relations with the Mediterranean countries and the Stability Pact for the Balkans. Turkey has taken an active interest in ESDP operations in the Balkans, and is currently contributing forces to EU-led police missions in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is clearly in the European Union’s interest to strengthen Turkey’s participation in this area. In an enhanced special relationship with Turkey, a regular foreign, security and defense policy dialogue could also be initiated at ministerial level, in parallel to the political dialogue in the EU-Turkey Council. Before Turkey’s full integration into the CFSP/ESDP, it could be granted associate status and receive special briefings after all meetings of the PSC and of foreign ministers.

As a more far-reaching measure, such an association arrangement could also provide for regular and intensive consultations (not simply hearings) with Ankara before every meeting of the foreign ministers and the PSC. Such prior consultations, and involvement in administrative preparations, would be essential if Turkey’s participation were to be more than symbolic. Finally, it would also be possible for Turkey and the European Union to coordinate their positions before meetings of international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

For all these reasons, we must have alternative models up our sleeves that would guarantee Turkey the “strongest possible bond” to the European Union during the negotiating process. If we do not, a failure of the entry negotiations would constitute nothing less than the final rejection of Turkey – the worst case scenario.

Options other than full membership for Turkey are of vital strategic necessity for Turkish-European relations – especially now that the entry negotiations have started. The negotiating framework clearly implies scenarios under which Turkey would not actually join the European Union. We need to take the utmost care to avoid the possibility of Europe rebuffing Turkey completely.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is a Member of the German Parliament in which he serves as a member of the Committees on Foreign Relations and Defense. He is a member of the Christian- Social Union of Bavaria (CSU), the sister party of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), and heads the CSU’s foreign affairs committee.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 6, Issue number 4 in the Fall of 2005.