EU-Turkey relations: from “candidacy” to “partnership”

Muhammed Kaya examines the transformation of EU-Turkey relations by looking at the annual Progress Reports.

On January 13, Turkish President and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Chair Tayyip Erdoğan met with the European Union (EU) countries' ambassadors at the Çankaya Palace in Ankara. Turkish President Erdogan said that the EU Membership process is among Turkey's priorities. In his speech addressing the ambassadors of the European Union member states, Erdogan said, “let me sincerely note that Turkey, which is a part of the continent of Europe geographically, historically and socially, surely is committed to its goal of full EU membership…Despite all the injustices we were subjected to, the EU remains to be our strategic priority. Indeed, we continue to endeavour to this end."

In this article, I will examine the transformation of EU-Turkey relations by looking at the annual Progress Reports. I wonder how much the EU membership process is among Turkey's strategic priorities? To what extent does Turkey comply with the decisions taken by the EU? Most importantly, how does the EU view Turkey with the disruption in the functioning of democratic institutions that the Erdogan regime constantly interferes with?

EU Declarations and Council Decisions and Turkey’s Participation

First, the table below has been prepared in light of the Turkey Progress Reports published by the EU between the years 2007-2021. The table includes the number of EU Declarations and Council Decisions published by the EU in this time period, the number of decisions/declarations Turkey has participated in and their annual rates.

When analyzed on a yearly basis, Turkey has been pulling down its trend in complying with the EU Declarations and Council Decisions almost consistently since 2008. Each year lags behind the previous year. Considering the decreasing trend in complying with the decisions, it should not be difficult to say that the concept of "strategic priority" expressed by Erdoğan is left in the air.


Number of EU Declarations and Council Decisions

The number of Turkey's participation to EU Declarations and Council Decisions

Rate of Harmonization of Turkey to EU Declarations and Council Decisions
























































Up to August %14


From “Candidacy” to “Partnership”

In the post-2015 period, Turkey is a “partner” for the EU; even in 2021, it is the opponent it faces with "hostile policies". Turkey's refugee policy, common foreign policy participation, relations with Cyprus, Syria policy, and most importantly, unilateral action in the Eastern Mediterranean has brought Turkey and the EU into conflict. Now, Turkey is in the opposite position to the EU in the fields of foreign, security and defense.

The Progress Report of 2015 actually summarized the transformation of Turkey-EU relations with the statements as “Turkey has been linked to the EU by an Association Agreement since 1964 and a customs union was established in 1995. The European Council granted the status of candidate country to Turkey in December 1999 and accession negotiations were opened in October 2005" [2] 2016 emphasized the transition from a candidate country position to a partnership relationship by stating that “Turkey remains a key partner for the European Union”[3] in the following years.

While it was stated at the beginning of the period that Turkey was “moderately prepared as regards the alignment with the EU in the area of foreign, security and defence policy" [4], at the end of the period, Turkey has now reached a position of “some level of preparation" [5]. Determining that the political dialogue between the EU and Turkey on foreign and security policy continues, the EU side noted that Turkey has made "some progress" in the field of foreign, security and defense policy. In 2021, it was emphasized that " [t]here was backsliding in the framework of political dialogue on Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) as Turkey’s increasingly assertive foreign policy continued to collide with the EU priorities under CFSP, notably due to its support for military actions in the Caucasus, Syria and Iraq."

During this period, discussions continued on the developments in the MENA region (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Qatar, the Middle East Peace Process), Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Ukraine, which stand out in the field of EU-Turkey relations, foreign, security and defense policies. In addition to Syria, Russia, Ukraine, South Caucasus and Central Asia, expert consultations were held on counter-terrorism and foreign terrorist fighters, and an agreement was reached on concrete steps to be taken to increase operational cooperation. In addition, Turkish foreign policy in the Report focused “ mainly on developments in the Middle East and North Africa region (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, Israel and Palestine and the Middle-East Peace Process) but also on Russia, Ukraine, South Caucasus, Central Asia, the Western Balkans and on key international developments (Rohingya, Jerusalem). Turkey attended a number of conferences organised or supported by the EU on the Black Sea region (fisheries), Palestine/Gaza, Gambia, Somalia and the Sahel region, as well as the Brussels II Conference on Syria at the level of Deputy Prime Minister".[6] It can also be stated that Turkey's alignment with the EU in foreign, security and defense policy is gradually decreasing and it is deteriorating due to the Turkish side's pursuit of it alone. As a matter of fact, the "operation", which Turkey launched "Operation Peace Spring", carried out by Turkish Armed Forces and the opposition Syrian National Army. The proclaimed Turkish objectives of the operation were the removal of the Democratic Union Party/People's Protection Units (PYD/YPG), that Turkey considers to be a terrorist organisation, from the border region, and establishing a buffer zone to resettle Syrian refugees. This operation led to a deterioration in Turkey’s relations with the EU, the US and countries in the region. The EU condemned Turkey's unilateral military action in north-east Syria and urged Turkey to end its military action, withdraw its forces and respect international humanitarian law. The vast majority of Member States decided to halt arms export licensing to Turkey.”[7]

When the 2021 Report is analyzed within the scope of foreign, security and defense policies, “high-level political dialogue has not taken place […] on issues related to foreign relations and security policy” between Turkey and the EU; and Turkey is having political discourses such as "domestic and national", "strong on the field and at the table" or "the world is bigger than five" in the annual strategy document of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "violating the arms embargo" in Libya and having a "lack of legitimate views" against the IRINI operation, “an occupying power” in Syria;, which "prevents the participation of the Republic of Cyprus in the Disarmament Conference", does not "agree to give up its military investment" against the US sanctions due to the S-400 arms deal, has "risky" investments in Somalia. Against the "forcing an EU plane to change routes" in Belarus has been a partner who "in coordination with Russia" to mitigate NATO's response to Belarus. Again, “Turkey has taken a leading role in supporting Azerbaijan's military efforts in Nagorno-Karabakh by providing military aid, intelligence and weapons, and has been informed that it is supporting foreign fighters.[8]

To sum up, when the EU progress reports, which have been published since 1998, are examined, Turkey is a country that regularly harmonizes its own positions with those of the 

Union up to the years of 2010s. However, it has turned into a country that has not had a “high-level political dialogue” with the EU on foreign relations and domestic relations because of Turkish aggressive foreign policy and anti-democratic domestic policy. Even though Turkey-EU relations have a long history, Turkey is no longer a country for EU membership negotiations to be continued. However, the European Union defines Turkey as a trading partner, excluding topics such as Cyprus, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Greece. Therefore, it should not be difficult to argue that the EU membership issue has changed from a "candidate country" position to "still a key partner" and that the membership process has been suspended by both the EU and Turkey.

To put it briefly in the light of the above evaluations, Turkey is no longer a country whose membership negotiations will be continued for the EU. When viewed from Strasbourg, Turkey is a trade relations country like Saudi Arabia and Qatar; it has even been evolved into a country that is both traded and opposed, like Russia.

[1]  These figures are taken from Reports between 2007 and 2021.

[2] 2015 Country Report, tr_rapport_2015_en.pdf

[3] Country Reports between 2016 and 2021.

[4] 2016 Country Report, 20161109_report_turkey.pdf

[5]  Turkey Report 2021,

[6]   2019 Country Report Turkey ,20190529-turkey-report.pdf

[7] 2020 Country Report Turkey, turkey_report_2020.pdf

[8]  Turkey Report 2021,