Turkey first sought cooperation with the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1959 (European Union (EU) as of 1992), and has since been key partner of the EU on matters relating to migration, counter-terrorism and trade. The EU and Turkey have been linked by an Association Agreement since 1964, and a Customs Union Agreement since 1995. In 1999 Turkey was granted the status of candidate country to join the EU, and negotiations for Turkey's accession began in 2005. However, in recent years, EU-Turkey relations have been suffered from Turkey's lukewarm adoption of EU standards and democratic principles and Ankara's actions in the EU neighbourhood.
Since the failed military coup (2016) and consequent constitutional reform (2017) that have consolidated and centralised power in hands of its president, Turkey has faced a backslide in the areas of democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights, and independence of the judiciary. The country has also undertaken military operations in the EU's eastern and southern neighbourhoods defying international treaties and the rights of EU Member States. A March 2021 statement by the members of the European Council highlighted the EU's strategic interest in developing a 'cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey', in particular within the context of wishing to build a stable and secure environment in the eastern Mediterranean.
Most recently, in June 2021, relations with Turkey were once more a focus of European Council discussions on EU external relations, and the objectives expressed in March 2021 were reiterated. The conclusions of June 2021 welcomed the de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean region and restated the EU's readiness to engage with Turkey in a 'phased, proportionate and reversible manner'. As per these conclusions, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Turkey remain a key concern of the EU, and dialogue on issues relating to respect for democracy, the rule of law, and women's rights will remain at the centre of any dialogue.
Mapping the EU's changing relationship with Turkey, by sketching out the background to EU-Turkey relations and the matters that have been prominent, this briefing offers an overview of the evolving role of the Commission and of the European Council's approach to EU-Turkey relations. It also outlines the positions adopted by the European Parliament over time. This aim is to aid a general understanding of the developments that have led to the current state of affairs in EU-Turkey relations.