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Turkey's pre-accession strategy

This summary has been archived and will not be updated, because the summarised document is no longer in force or does not reflect the current situation.

Turkey's pre-accession strategy

Turkey is adopting the Community acquis in stages; the approach is set out in the following documents:

  • the Association Agreement between the European Community and Turkey (1963) and the 1970 additional protocol;
  • the Commission's communication on a European strategy for Turkey (4 March 1998);
  • the Commission's Regular Reports on Turkey's progress towards accession;
  • The Council Decision of 19 May 2003 on the principles, priorities, intermediate objectives and conditions contained in the Accession Partnership with Turkey.


The Association Agreement ("Ankara Agreement") signed between the Community and Turkey in 1963 and the protocol added in 1970 lay down basic objectives in their relations, such as the continuous and balanced strengthening of trade and economic relations and the establishment, in three phases, of a customs union. Another objective of the Ankara Agreement is the free movement of workers. For socio-economic reasons however, it has not been possible to achieve this according to the timetable set. Decision No 1/95 of the Association Council (31 December 1995) completed the final phase of the customs union and gave significant impetus to Turkey's efforts to align its national legislation with that of the Community. In fact, for the customs union to operate smoothly, Turkey had to adopt a large part of the acquis before it entered into force; in particular, this concerned aspects relating to customs, trade policy, competition and the protection of intellectual, industrial and commercial property.

On 4 March 1998, following the request of the Luxembourg European Council (12 and 13 December 1997), the Commission adopted its Communication on a European strategy for Turkey. The main elements of the pre-accession strategy for Turkey include the approximation of legislation and the adoption of the acquis. The Communication also contains initial operational proposals for implementing the strategy. Apart from extending the customs union to the service sector and agriculture, the Communication proposes closer cooperation between the EC and Turkey and the approximation of legislation in certain areas. The strategy was welcomed by the Cardiff European Council (15 and 16 June 1998), where it was felt that the Communication, "taken as a package, ... provides the platform for developing our relationship on a sound and evolutionary basis".

Subsequently, on 17 July 1998, Turkey responded with its own suggestions in a document entitled "A strategy for developing relations between Turkey and the European Union - Turkey's proposals", which is generally in line with the Commission's text.

The Communication of 4 March 1998 contains proposals which can be followed up in future. Indeed, the Cardiff Council invited the Commission and the appropriate Turkish authorities "to pursue the objective of harmonising Turkey's legislation and practice with the acquis". In due course, there would need to be a thorough examination of Turkish legislation. The Council, recalling the need for financial support for the European strategy, noted "the Commission's intention to reflect on ways and means of underpinning the implementation of the European strategy, and to table appropriate proposals to this effect". On 21 October 1998, the Commission presented two draft regulations to provide funding of EUR 50 million a year for the European strategy.

As regards the administrative and judicial capacity to apply the acquis, the Madrid European Council (15 and 16 December 1995) set out the preconditions for the gradual and harmonious integration of the applicant countries. The Commission's Agenda 2000 communication showed that the Turkish administration had the capacity needed to draw up and apply legislation compatible with the acquis. Nevertheless, in its November 1998 report, the Commission highlighted certain weaknesses in the judicial system.

The Report on Turkey's progress towards accession, published in November 1998, followed the same methodology as that used for the Opinions on the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEECs). It was based on Article 28 of the Association Agreement and the conclusions of the Luxembourg European Council. When drawing up the report, however, the Commission encountered some difficulties in obtaining quickly all the information needed to assess Turkey's capacity to adopt those aspects of the Community acquis that go beyond what has already been integrated under the customs union or covered in the European strategy for Turkey.

The situation changed after the report was published in November 1998. The Commission's 1999 Regular Report on Turkey's progress towards accession, the European Commission recognised Turkey's status as an applicant country. It stressed, however, that negotiations would not start until the political criteria had been met. In the meantime, Turkey will benefit in the framework of the current European strategy from a pre-accession strategy designed to encourage and support its reforms. In this connection, the Commission intended to adopt a number of measures aimed at:

  • strengthening the political dialogue, with a particular focus on human rights issues, and involving Turkey in Community positions and activities under the CFSP;
  • coordinating all sources of EU financial assistance in the run-up to accession within a single instrument;
  • providing for Turkey's full participation in Community programmes and agencies;
  • adopting an accession partnership, linked to a national programme for the adoption of the acquis;
  • establishing mechanisms similar to those in the Europe Agreements for monitoring the implementation of the accession partnership, and starting with Turkey a process of analysing the acquis with a view to harmonising legislation and practices.

The Commission's 2000 Regular Report on Turkey's progress towards accession states that debate on political reforms with a view to accession to the European Union has already commenced. Turkey has adopted a number of international human rights instruments and accepted the work of the Supreme Board of Coordination for Human Rights. However, the situation on the ground remains unchanged and Turkey still does not meet the Copenhagen political criteria. Turkey is slow in implementing the institutional reforms needed to guarantee democracy and the rule of law. Corruption remains a problem. Although a large proportion of the Turkish economy is strong enough to cope with competitive pressure and market forces in a customs union with the European Union, implementation of a viable market economy is not yet complete. Restructuring is required in a number of sectors, such as banking, agriculture and state enterprises. The report states that alignment with the acquis in Turkey is very far advanced in the fields covered by the customs union, but that greater effort is required with regard to other policies. An implementation and enforcement mechanism must be put into action. Administrative reform at all levels is also necessary.

The 2001 Regular Report considers that all components of the pre-accession strategy for Turkey decided upon a the Helsinki European Council will be in place by the end of that year and that the next, more intensive phase can be launched with a detailed analysis of Turkish legislation and preparations to align it on the Community acquis. The Commission encourages Turkey to continue the process of political and economic reform and to implement the priorities set out in its partnership for accession. In the short term, Turkey should give priority to improving the observance of human rights and creating conditions conducive to development and economic growth. The report finds that Turkey has not managed to progress towards attaining a viable market economy, even though large parts of its economy are already competitive on the EU market under the customs union.

According to the 2002 Regular Report, Turkey, through constitutional reform and a series of legislative packages, has made noticeable progress towards meeting the Copenhagen political criteria, as well as moving forward on the economic criteria and alignment with the acquis. Nonetheless, considerable further efforts are still needed. Against this background and with a view to the next stage of its candidacy, the Commission recommends that the EU should step up support for Turkey's pre-accession preparations and provide significant additional resources for this purpose. The report welcomes the progress made by Turkey, particularly in abolishing the death penalty (except in wartime), adopting important measures for authorising languages other than Turkish in radio, television and education, and lifting the state of emergency in two of the four provinces in which it was in force. It also points out that Turkey has made progress towards a viable market economy, which should improve its ability to deal with the pressure of competition and market forces within the European Union. However, it finds that Turkey does not fully meet the criteria relating to the acquis and needs to make further efforts in this area.

The 2003 Regular report describes the significant progress that Turkey has made towards meeting the political, economic and acquis-related Copenhagen criteria. In 2003 the Turkish government showed great determination in accelerating the pace of reforms, which brought far-reaching changes to the political and legal system. It also took important steps to ensure their effective implementation, in order to allow Turkish citizens to enjoy fundamental freedoms and human rights in line with European standards. However, much effort is still needed in quite a number of areas.

The 2004 Regular Report notes that Turkey has substantially progressed in its political reform process, in particular by means of far-reaching constitutional and legislative changes adopted over the last years, in line with the Accession Partnership priorities. Despite this, legislation and implementation needs to be further consolidated and broadened. This applies in particular to a zero-tolerance policy for combating torture and maltreatment and to the application of provisions on freedom of expression, religious freedom and women's and minority rights. In its Recommendation of 6 October 2004, the Commission considered that Turkey sufficiently meets the Copenhagen political criteria. It therefore recommends that conditional accession negotiations be opened with the country. On that basis, the European Council of December 2004 programmed the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey for October 2005.


EEC-Turkey Association Agreement (1963)Official Journal No 217 of 29.12.1964

Decision No 1/95 of the EC-Turkey Association CouncilOJ L 35, 13.2.1996

Commission Communication to the Council: European strategy for Turkey - COM(98) 124 finalNot published in the Official Journal

Commission Report - COM(98) 711 finalNot published in the Official Journal

Regular Reports on the applicant countriesComposite document COM(1999) 500 finalNot published in the Official Journal

Commission Report COM(1999)513 finalNot published in the Official Journal

Commission Report COM(2000)713 finalNot published in the Official Journal

Decision 2001/235/EC Official Journal L 85 of 24.3.2001

Commission Report COM(2001) 700 final - SEC(2001) 1756Not published in the Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 2500/2001 Official Journal L 342 of 27.12.2001, corrigendum: Official Journal L 285 of 23.10.2002

Commission Report COM(2002) 700 final - SEC(2002) 1412Not published in the Official Journal

Decision 2003/398/EC Official Journal L 145 of 12.6.2003

Commission Report COM(2003) 676 final - SEC(2003) 1212Not published in the Official Journal

Commission Report COM(2004) 656 final - SEC(2004) 1201Not published in the Official Journal

Conclusions of the Brussels European Council of 16 and 17 December 2004 The European Council decided that the European Union would open accession negotiations with Turkey on 3 October 2005. The negotiations will be based on the three pillars proposed by the Commission in its recommendation of October 2004.

Article 28 of the Association Agreement: "As soon as the operation of this Agreement has advanced far enough to justify envisaging full acceptance by Turkey of the obligations arising out of the Treaty establishing the Community, the Contracting Parties shall examine the possibility of the accession of Turkey to the Community"

Last updated: 01.06.2005