The Inevitable Crisis in the EU-Turkey Relations

by Giorgos Kentas, PhD candidate at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels

Research Fellow, Research Center - Intercollege



In its Declaration of September 2005, the EU called for “full, non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol, and the removal of all obstacles to the free movement of goods, including restrictions on means of transport”[i]. The declaration also stated that:


“Turkey must apply the Protocol fully to all EU Member States. The EU will monitor this closely and evaluate full implementation in 2006. The European Community and its Member States stress that the opening of negotiations on the relevant chapters depends on Turkey’s implementation of its contractual obligations to all Member States. Failure to implement its obligations in full will affect the overall progress in the negotiations”[ii].


According to the European Commission’s 2005 Regular Report on Turkey’s progress towards accession, three Chapters of the acquis are affected by Ankara’s attitude towards the Republic of Cyprus. Restrictions to operations of vessels and aircrafts prevent free circulation of goods between Turkey and Cyprus (Chapter 1:  Free Movement of Goods)[iii]. Turkey also applies restrictions to Cyprus Airways and other Cypriot transport companies to use the Turkish national airspace. It also applies restrictions on communications between the Turkish and Cypriot civil aviation authorities[iv]. Further restrictions are applied on Cyprus-flagged vessels and vessels serving the Cyprus trade[v]. Cypriot vessels or vessels having landed in Cyprus are still not allowed in Turkish ports (Chapter 14: Transport Policy). Although Turkey amended the communiqué on rules of origin in free movement of goods between Turkey and the EU to add the name of “Cyprus” into the list of the EU member states (October 2004)[vi], pending the implementation of the Ankara Protocol Turkey has not extended its Customs Union to the Republic of Cyprus (Chapter 29: Customs Union).


Having those facts in mind, we conclude that unless Turkey implements the Protocol fully to all EU member states and removes all obstacles to free movement of goods, including restrictions on Cypriot means of transport, the opening of negotiations on Chapters 1, 14 and 29 will be problematic. It is worth noting that according to Turkey’s Negotiating Framework, as set forth by the Council on 3 October 2005, advancement of the negotiations will be measured, inter alia, by Turkey’s progress in the fulfillment of its obligations “under the Association Agreement and its Additional Protocol extending the Association Agreement to all new EU Member States, in particular those pertaining to the EU-Turkey customs union, as well as the implementation of the Accession Partnership, as regularly revised”[vii].



In May 2005, the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Mr. Abdullah Gul, issued a Statement on Turkey’s intentions with regard to the Protocol[viii]. In that statement, Mr. Gul attempted to link the fulfillment of Turkey’s obligations towards the EU with the political situation in Cyprus. He claimed that if special arrangements are made for the direct inclusion of north Cyprus (i.e. the areas not under the effective control of the Government of Cyprus[ix]) as an economic entity into the EU’s Customs Union and if all obstacles that prevent the Turkish Cypriots to participate in international activities of sports and culture are removed, Turkey will remove all obstacles to free movement of goods, including restrictions on Cyprus’ means of transport. On 24 January 2006, Mr. Gul issued a new Statement which was based on his ideas set forth on the Statement of 30 May 2005[x]. He said that if the sea ports and the airport in northern Cyprus open to international traffic, Turkish sea ports and airports will be opened to Cypriot sea vessels and air carriers. His plan also envisaged the establishment of a time-table for the removal of all obstacles to the free movement of goods, persons and services, including restrictions on means of transport.


There is no good reason to expect that Turkey will change its mind. On the other hand, there is a good reason to expect that the EU will not overlook this situation. Commissioner Olli Rehn held that the whole process may turn into a ‘train wreck’ if Turkey fails to deliver on its commitments. In our view, a serious crisis in the EU-Turkey relations over Cyprus is inevitable.


Some contend that Washington and Brussels should help Turkey to meet its obligation by rewarding Turkish Cypriots for their decision to support the Annan Plan and by renewing pressure on Greek Cypriots[xi]. In this view, the implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement should be examined in the light of Mr. Gul’s ideas of May 2005 and of January 2006. The majority of the EU member states, however, seem no to accept that view. The EU has already made its decisions with regard to results of the April 2004 Cyprus referendum and particularly with regard to the Turkish Cypriot community[xii]. Although Washington has a strong interest in the progress of Turkey’s accession negotiations, the decision on the future of those negotiations will be made in Brussels by the EU member states within the context of their national interest and in line with the Union’s law (i.e. the acquis communautaires). The progress of Turkey’s accession route is evaluated by the European Commission. The evolution of those negotiations, however, is debated in the Council of the EU where decisions are made unanimously.


The European Commission is persistently urging Turkey to fulfill its obligations and implement the Protocol within 2006. The Council of the EU is committed to monitor and evaluate full implementation of the Protocol in 2006[xiii].


Two options are likely to surface before the EU leaders next autumn. The first option would be to declare that a certain number of Chapters of the acquis will not be opened (e.g. Chapters 1, 14 and 29) up until Turkey fulfils its obligations. The second option would be that Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU freeze up. Neither decision is easy to make. The first option will not be acceptable to Nicosia (neither to some other EU member states). The second option is equally challenging for all parties concerned. Possible suspension of Turkey’s accession negotiations will destabilize its bilateral relations with the EU and question the Union’s enlargement policy. It is quite difficult to calculate the collateral effect of such a decision on Turkey’s domestic politics and its external relations with its neighbors.


We also need to take into consideration that other issues, beyond the implementation of the Additional Protocol, such as delays in the implementation of the reforms promised by Turkey and its poor human rights record, will be examined before the EU leaders makes any decision. Silent, and sometimes overt, skepticism over the capacity of Turkey to meet all pre-accession criteria is becoming the norm in the majority of the EU member states. Almost simultaneously, the idea of EU membership is getting less popular in Turkey. Across both camps (i.e. Ankara and Brussels) the idea of a special/privileged relationship rather than full membership seems to mature, slowly but steadily, and it is gradually becoming a reasonable option.


Nicosia and Athens need to elaborate alternative scenarios and tactics with regard to their position towards Turkey. Their strategy, which draws on the assumption that Turkey’s way towards EU accession will induce a new foreign policy culture in Ankara, is progressively depreciating. Both countries need to contain in their calculations the waning support of EU accession among the Turkish public opinion and among some figures of the political and military elite, as well as the growing skepticism across the EU over further the enlargement of the Union.


Although predictions are difficult to make, our expectation is that the EU will give Turkey a final deadline to implement the Protocol and accelerate the necessary political reforms including its human rights record. Such a decision, however, will not settle the crisis but it will freeze it with the hope that a compromise could be reached in the meantime.


[i] Declaration by the European Community and its Member States in response to the declaration by Turkey made at the time of signature of the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement, 21 September 2005.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] European Commission (9 November 2005), “Regular Report on Turkey’s Progress Towards Accession”, p. 56.

[iv] Ibid. p. 84.

[v] Ibid. p. 85.

[vi] Ibid. p. 124.

[vii] Council of the European Union, “Negotiating Framework for Turkey”. October 3, 2005, par. 6.

[viii] Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gul”, 30 May 2005.

[ix] See Cyprus EU Accession Treaty; Protocol 10

[x] Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Gul”, 24 January 2006.

[xi] “The way Forward for Turkey”, The New York Times, January 31 2006.

[xii] General Affairs Council, Luxembourg, 26 April 2004 (EU Doc 8566/04)

[xiii] Declaration by the European Community and its Member States, 21 September 2005.


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