7 April 2014
The Accession Process Should Be Relaunched

Contact: Pelin Bardakçı, +90-533-492-28-17, pbardakci@aciktoplumvakfi.org.tr

Istanbul—Independent Commission on Turkey was set up with Open Society Foundation’s support, and came to be known as the “Wise People” in the Turkish media. Aiming to closely follow Turkey’s accession process to the European Union, the Commission launched its third report on Turkey, Turkey in Europe: The Imperative for change in Istanbul on April 7, 2014. The report puts in a nutshell what to do for progress in EU-Turkey relations under present circumstances: “In the turbulance times we are living in, a stable, democratic and prosperous Turkey is ever more in the vital interest of the European Union and Turkey. We call upon Turkey to resume its democratisation and reverse its shortcomings. In this context we are firmly convinced that re-launching of a credible accession process can buttress Turkey’s efforts to cure its internal rifts, and accelerate political reform.”

Drawing attention to the fact that no new chapter was opened in Turkey’s accession talks between June 2010 and October 2013, the report concludes that: “The stalling of Turkey’s accession process was not exclusively due to the EU. Turkey also shared part of the responsibility.” The report underlined that change is an imperative under these conditions and calls on both Turkey and the EU to pursue a re-energised accession process.

The difference of the third report

The Independent Commission on Turkey, chaired by Finland’s former President Martti Ahtisaari, the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Laurate, consists of prominent figures such as former Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers in European countries and European Commissionaries as well as intellectuals.

As was the case with the previous reports, the third report includes an analysis of the developments and major incidents in EU and Turkey, in addition to the significant milestones in Turkey’s EU accession process in the relevant period. The first two reports published in 2004 and 2009 respectively were launched in Brussels and succeeded to create a favourable climate in European countries for Turkey’s membership. This time the Commission decided to introduce their third report in Istanbul, giving priority to sharing with the Turkish government authorities and opinion leaders their views and conclusions they have drawn from the recent course of events.

Developments closely followed

ICT looked into the developments of the past five years under four headings, namely political reforms, economy, energy, and foreign policies. In the section political reforms the Commission criticizes the Turkish government for displaying increasing authoritarian tendencies and draws attention to the widening gap between the EU and Turkey. Special emphasis is placed on judicial independence, seperation of powers, freedom of media, restrictions on internet and government’s poor performance in freedom of thought, expression and demonstration in the aftermath of the Gezi Park resistance. In its analysis of political reforms the Commission points out to a number of favourable developments in Turkey such as the steps taken towards the re-balancing of military and civilian authorities, while observing a regression in other areas such as freedom of expression and judiciary reforms, finding some tendencies even “worrisome”.

Observing that Turkey has been undergoing a period of severe polarisation between the government and political forces on the one hand, and major sections of the civil society on the other, the report also referred to the tension between the Fethullah Gülen movement and the government and warned about the possible outcomes: “… at the current juncture in which Turkey’s reforms remain unfinished, the current climate of polarisation and domestic conflict in the absence of a strong EU anchor is compromising further Turkey’s democratisation.”

Although acknowledging the narrowing gap between the EU and the Turkish economy, with the latter enjoying a growth rate higher than the EU average, the report reminds the fact that Turkey’s losing track of EU anchor increases the vulnerability of the country’s economy:

“In short Turkey can continue to represent an economic powerhouse for Europe, the EU can and should serve as an anchor to prevent Turkey from falling into short-term crisis or a middle-term income trap and the Turkish and EU economic futures will continue to be deeply intertwined.”

The report also states that in the areas of energy and foreign relations where Turkey plays the role of a regional hub, the country’s maintaining its presence under the EU umbrella will be to the benefit of both the EU and Turkey.

Seeking a common solution for a robust future

The report draws attention to the fact that the economic crisis hitting the European countries in the past several years has lost its retarding effect on Turkey-EU accession negotiations and a favourable climate has emerged even in countries like France where serious objections were raised against Turkey’s membership. An important aspect of the report is its putting forth a number of important suggestions and recommendations by the Commission for the near future that would contribute to a favourable progress in EU-Turkey relations.

In this context, in order to overcome the serious standstill experienced in the past five years between Turkey and EU relations, Turkey is recommended to make progress in not only economic stability and energy/foreign policy areas but more importantly, to reverse its recent shortcomings, moreover to make further progress in the field of political reforms. The EU, on the other hand, is advised to make sure that some critical chapters which so far have been blocked can be opened as soon as possible.

In the light of the above it is stated that opening the chapters Energy (15), Judiciary and Fundamental Rights (23), Justice, Freedoms and Security (24) and Foreign, Security and Defense Policies (31) would facilitate Turkey’s drawing a robust road map under the EU umbrella at a time when the country faces three successive elections.

Underlining the imperative for change both on the part of EU and Turkey, the report shares with the readers the Commission’s expectations from the revival of Turkey’s accession process as follows:

“Much like in 2001 and 2002 when the momentum in the accession process propelled Turkish authorities into a momentous reform effort, we believe that a reset in the EU-Turkey accession process in 2014 could have a similar impact on the new leadership that will emerge after a year-long electoral cycle that Turkey is entering.”

Members of the Independent Commission on Turkey

Chaired by Martti Ahtisaari, the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Laurate and former President of Finland, the Commission comprises prominent figures such as Emma Bonino, the former Foreign Minister of Italy; Hans van den Broek, former Foreign Minister of the Netherlands; Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of Munich Security Conference; David Miliband, Former Secretary of State of Great Britain; Marcelino Oreja Aguirre; former Foreign Minister of Spain; and former Secretary General of the Council of Europe; Michel Rocard, Former Prime Minister of France; and Albert Rohan, Former Secretary General of Foreign Affairs, Austria. The Rapporteur of the Commission is Nathalie Tocci, who is the Roma International Relations Institute Director.

2004 and 2009 Reports:

The Independent Commission on Turkey published two reports on Turkey in 2004 and 2009 respectively.

The first report Turkey in Europe: More Than a Promise? launched in Brussels on 6th September 2004 analysed the long history of Turkey’s convergence with Europe and assessed the opportunities and challenges expected to be brought by Turkey’s EU membership. It was stated in the report that upon Turkey’s fully meeting the Copenhagen Criteria the accession negotiations should start without delay. The Commission members visited Berlin, The Hague, London, Barcelona, Vienna, Paris, Rome and Warsaw to present their report personally to the policy makers and share it with the public. The report was printed in 6 languages; German, French, English, Italian and Turkish and sent to the Presidents, Prime Ministers, Speakers of Parliaments of all EU countries and to all European Parliament members.

The Commission launched its second report Turkey in Europe: Breaking the Vicious Cycle on September 7, 2009 and presented it to the policy makers and other concerned parties in major European capitals including Paris, London and Berlin. The main message of the report was the necessity for the European governments to honour their commitments and treat Turkey with fairness and for Turkey to encourage its many supporters in Europe through a dynamic, broad-based reform process.


Established in 2004, the Independent Commission on Turkey is a group of distinguished Europeans examining the challenges and opportunities presented by Turkey’s possible membership in the European Union. The Commission is made up of former heads of state and government, foreign ministers and European commissioners, and other Europeans who have previously held high positions in public office. More information at www.independentcommissiononturkey.org.

Note for editors:

The nine Commission members are: Martti Ahtisaari; Kurt Biedenkopf; Emma Bonino; Hans van den Broek; Bronislaw Geremek († 13 July 2008); Anthony Giddens; Marcelino Oreja Aguirre; Michel Rocard and Albert Rohan. The Commission is supported by the British Council and the Open Society Foundation (Turkey).

The Independent Commission on Turkey is supported by the
British Council and the Open Society Foundation–Turkey.
Independent Commission on Turkey