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29th Feb 2024

Turkey marks 50 years as EU suitor

Turkey has marked a sad anniversary of 50 years knocking on Europe's door, with some enthusiasts hoping that the EU's recent deal on the Nabucco gas pipeline could speed up Ankara's membership bid.

The Eurasian country of 74 million on Friday (31 July) marked a half century from the first official announcement of its application to join the EU, which was then called the European Economic Community.

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  • In 1959 Turkey sent the first application to join the EU, which numbered just six member states (Photo: European Commission)

On the same day in 1959, Turkey's prime minister Adnan Menderes made the first partnership application to join the economic bloc of what was then six countries, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, created only two years before in 1957.

Ankara's bid came before several other EU countries now seen as the bloc's heavyweights, such as Britain or Spain, joined the currently 27-member club. But it has proceeded in a death-slow tempo and along with re-emerging doubts about the ultimate goal of the mutual relationship and contacts between Turkey and Europe.

First off, the EEC turned down the country's application. In 1963 however, the two sides adopted an association agreement which did mention the membership prospects for Turkey. But it took almost 40 years for Ankara to acquire a formal candidate status and six more years to kick off the actual talks on the conditions to join the bloc, in 2005.

"Our country has no longer any tolerance for time wasting and delays," Turkey's chief negotiator with the EU, Egemen Bagis, said in a statement on the anniversary which he said the country remembers but is "not a cause for celebration," AFP reported.

"We have to learn lessons from past mistakes, fulfil our responsibilities and achieve the goal of full membership as soon as possible," Mr Bagis added, stressing Ankara's determination to continue on the path of reform.

After four years of accession talks, Turkey has opened 11 chapters out of 35 policy areas which contain existing rules that need to be transcribed into all candidate countries' national legislation.

From the outset, the process of opening and provisionally closing its negotiating chapters has been halted due to disagreements with Cyprus - as all current EU members need to give their formal blessing to any progress in the talks of candidates.

The dispute between the two countries dates back to Turkey's invasion of Cyprus in 1974, which took place five days after a brief Greek-inspired coup. Ankara has been present with its troops in the northern part of the island, as the only country recognising the state of Turkish Cypriots.

In 2006, the EU decided to block eight negotiating areas from further discussion due to Ankara's failure to meet its commitments regarding Cyprus, notably its refusal to allow Cypriot ships and planes into Turkish ports and airspace.

Nabucco pipeline

Recently, Nicosia refused to give its nod to a closure of Turkey's energy chapter due to Ankara's moves against the Cypriot efforts to exploit the island's energy sources off its southern coast.

Ironically, Turkey is viewed as a key ally in future energy co-operation that could help break the bloc's energy dependence on Russia. On 13 July, an intergovernmental agreement between Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria was signed by five prime ministers on the construction of the Nabucco pipeline.

The project, supported by both the EU and US, is due to diversify the current natural gas suppliers and delivery routes for Europe, by pumping gas from Erzurum in Turkey to Baumgarten an der March in Austria.

Speaking at the signing ceremony in July, the European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso hinted the pipeline could eventually improve the chances for Turkey's EU bid.

"I believe that with the arrival of the first gas - and some experts have said this will be as early as 2014 - this agreement will open the door to a new era between the EU and Turkey," Mr Barroso said, adding: "Gas pipes may be made of steel, but Nabucco can cement the links between our people."

But some Turkish experts warn that similar hopes in Ankara might prove unrealistic.

"There are many countries with whom the EU trades extensively; however, the EU did not give any hope of EU membership to any of them. I think it would be wrong to build a direct link between Nabucco and the EU," Emre İseri, a professor at Kadir Has University, said, according to Today's Zaman daily.

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