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Turkey’s EU accession after Brexit, what prospects

Turkey’s EU accession after Brexit

In its first five years in office, AKP’s commitment to democratisation led the party to implement a vast programme of reforms in line with the Copenhagen criteria that enabled Turkey to open formal accession negotiations with the EU in October 2005.

After 2007, the pace of reforms slowed down and authoritarian trends became more visible, including occupation of public office by AKP members, instrumentalisation of the judiciary, censorship, arrest of journalists, and moves towards a presidential system. The violent crackdown on the 2013 Gezi protests laid bare how reforms have reversed, as has the re-emergence of the Kurdish issue. As a result, since 2010 only one chapter has been opened, in the context of the EU-Turkey refugee deal. In this context, this article argues that Brexit may be the necessary boost to Turkey’s accession process, if AKP returns to the path of democratic reforms.


The close victory of Brexit[1] in the 23 June 2016 referendum has come as a shock to the EU countries. The far right, on the other hand, has lauded the results as yet another nail in the coffin of a debilitated EU (Guardian 2016a). This indeed seems to be the moment to re-found the EU, as Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Matteo Renzi have acknowledged in a recent summit in Ventotene, in Italy, the birthplace of the European project (Guardian 2016b). Hollande defended a new thrust for the EU, on three fronts (ABC 2016). The first should be security, with the protection of the external borders of the EU; Hollande aimed at the creation of a common coast guard. Secondly, the French President mentioned the need for strengthening defence. And the third one is boosting the economic growth. At the Bratislava summit, on 16 September 2016, the European leaders agreed to a “roadmap” that envisions full commitment to those three fronts, including the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement on refugees (European Council 2016a). These moves on the part of the biggest EU countries reveal a reinforced will to pursue European integration that could, in the future, benefit Turkey, an argument I will explain further ahead.


Much of the debate on the British referendum centred on opposition to Turkey becoming a member of the EU. In fact, many in the Brexit camp portrayed Turkey’s accession as boosting the inflow of Turkish nationals and criminals in the UK, with arguments verging on racism and xenophobia (see Independent 2016a). The debate has opened yet another fissure between Turkish leadership and the EU. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and pro-AKP media like Yeni Şafak hastily reacted by decrying the hypocritical behaviour of European leaders, who, according to the Turkish President, never intended to accept Turkey into the European bloc (Al Monitor 2016a). Erdoğan even mentioned the possibility of holding a similar referendum in Turkey to decide on the continuation of the accession process (Ibid).


The Brexit victory has been seen as harming Turkey’s prospects for EU accession (Al Monitor 2016b). On the one hand, the UK was the most powerful supporter of Turkey’s accession and thus the only country that could counter Germany’s doubts. On the other hand, in the face of previous crises, the EU has tended to turn inward and centre on its own problems. Third, the fear that the referendum results might have sparked growing racism and Islamophobia and thus secessionist campaigns in other EU member states are not unfounded. The far right continues to grow at a scarily fast pace, particularly in Northern and Central Europe.


Dr. Isabel David


 this publication as follows:


David, I. (November, 2016), “Turkey’s EU accession after Brexit: what prospects?”, Vol. V, Issue 11, pp.52 – 58,

Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=13068)