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Key findings of the 2021 Report on Turkey

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op dinsdag 19 oktober 2021.

The fundamentals of the accession process

There are serious deficiencies in the functioning of Turkey's democratic institutions. Democratic backsliding continued during the reporting period. Structural deficiencies of the presidential system remained in place. Key recommendations of the Council of Europe and its bodies remain to be addressed. The Parliament continued to lack the necessary means to hold the government accountable. The constitutional architecture continued to centralise powers at the level of the Presidency without ensuring a sound and effective separation of powers between the executive, legislative and the judiciary. In the absence of an effective checks and balances mechanism, the democratic accountability of the executive branch remains limited to elections. Targeting of the opposition parties continued, including by the Constitutional Court's acceptance of an indictment by the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation seeking to close down the second largest opposition party, which contributed to weakening political pluralism in Turkey. During the report period, the President dismissed the governor of the Central Bank twice.

Despite ending the state of emergency in July 2018, certain legal provisions granting extraordinary powers to government authorities and retaining several restrictive elements from the emergency rule remained integrated into law, which continued to have a significant impact on democracy and fundamental rights. In July 2021, Turkey's parliament approved a bill that extends the duration of these restrictive elements of the state of emergency for one more year. The Inquiry Commission on the State of Emergency has not yet finalised examining its caseload concerning the public servants who were dismissed by decree during the emergency rule.

Pressure on mayors from opposition parties by the ruling coalition government further weakened local democracy. Mayors from the opposition parties faced administrative and judicial investigations. In the south-east, the forcefully dismissed mayors continued to be replaced by government-appointed trustees, denying citizens their chosen representation. In most cases, the incoming trustees have kept the municipal assemblies suspended. Hundreds of local politicians and elected office holders were arrested on terrorism-related charges.

The situation in the south-east remained very worrying. The government carried out domestic and cross-border security and military operations in Iraq and Syria. The security situation remained precarious in border areas with recurrent terrorist acts by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which remains on the EU list of persons, groups and entities involved in acts of terrorism. The EU unambiguously condemned the PKK's attacks and expressed solidarity with the families of the victims. While the government has a legitimate right to fight terrorism, it is essential that it does so in accordance with the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Anti-terror measures need to be proportionate. There were no developments on the resumption of a credible political process to achieve a peaceful and sustainable solution. Human rights organisations and opposition parties reported serious violations of human rights by security forces.

Around 4 000 members and officials of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) remain in prison, including a number of parliamentarians. In June, the Constitutional Court accepted an indictment demanding the closure of the HDP, seeking a political ban for 451 HDP executives, including the party's co-chairs and all past and present members of Parliament and executives as well as a freeze on the party's bank accounts. There were pending requests by the prosecution in the Parliament to lift the immunity of almost all HDP lawmakers.

On civil society issues, serious backsliding continued. Civil society faced continuous pressure and their space to operate freely has continued to diminish limiting their freedom of expression and freedom of association. The new law on preventing financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction raises concerns with regard to possible restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders and civil society.

The legal and institutional framework governing the security and intelligence sector remained unchanged with reinforced civilian oversight of the security forces under the presidential system. The government took steps to further consolidate the civilian control of the security forces.

Turkey has some level of preparation/is moderately prepared in the field of public administration reform. It made no progress during the reporting period. Turkey lacks a comprehensive public administration reform agenda and a lead institution in charge of the process. Concerns remained over the accountability of the administration and human resources management. The political will to reform is still lacking. Although policy coordination among central government institutions remained strong, policymaking is not evidence-based or participatory. The politicisation of the administration continued. Women's representation remained low in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy.

Turkey's judicial system is at an early stage of preparation. The serious backsliding observed since 2016 continued. Concerns remained, in particular over the systemic lack of independence of the judiciary and undue pressure on judges and prosecutors. The new human rights action plan envisages certain positive measures but it does not address any of the key shortcomings related to the independence of the judiciary. In particular, no measures are envisaged to improve respect for the principle of the separation of powers or to improve the structure and the selection process of members of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, long outstanding recommendations of the Council of Europe Venice Commission and the European Commission. Despite their acquittal, none of the judges or prosecutors dismissed following the coup attempt were reinstated. The lack of objective, merit-based, uniform and pre-established criteria for recruiting and promoting judges and prosecutors remains a source of concern. The institution of criminal law judges of peace continued to raise concerns over their jurisdiction and practice.

Regarding the fight against corruption, Turkey remained at an early stage of preparations and made no progress in the reporting period. The country did not establish anti-corruption bodies in line with Turkey's international obligations. The flaws of the legal framework and institutional architecture allowed undue political influence in the investigation and prosecution phases of corruption cases. The accountability and transparency of public institutions need to be improved. The absence of an anti-corruption strategy and action plan indicated a lack of will to fight decisively against corruption. Most of the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) recommendations have not been implemented. Overall, corruption is widespread and remains an issue of concern.

Turkey has some level of preparation in the fight against organised crime and made limited progress. Cooperation between Europol and Turkey is based on a Strategic Agreement on Cooperation, which entered into force in July 2004. Negotiations concerning an international agreement on the exchange of personal data between Europol and the Turkish authorities competent for fighting serious crime and terrorism are ongoing, requiring Turkey to reform its legislation aligning its data protection law with the European standards. Turkey should improve its track record on dismantling criminal networks and confiscating criminal assets. The legal framework regulating the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing needs to be improved in line with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and those of the Venice Commission on the law on preventing financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Efforts are needed to improve the legislation on cybercrime and witness protection.

The deterioration of human and fundamental rights continued. Many of the measures brought in during the state of emergency remain in force. The legal framework includes general guarantees of respect for human and fundamental rights but the legislation and practice still need to be brought into line with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case-law. Broad-scale restrictions imposed on the activities of journalists, writers, lawyers, academics, human rights defenders and critical voices continued to have a negative effect on the exercise of their freedoms and have led to self-censorship. Turkey's refusal to implement ECtHR rulings, notably in the cases of Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala, further increased concerns regarding the judiciary's adherence to international and European standards. Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention also put into question its commitment to such standards. The new human rights action plan, which promised reforms in a number of areas, does not address critical issues.

Serious backsliding continued on freedom of expression. Legislation and its implementation, especially national security and anti-terrorism provisions, continued to contravene the European Convention on Human Rights and other international standards and to diverge from ECtHR case law. The dissemination of opposition voices and freedom of expression were negatively affected by the increasing pressure and restrictive measures. Criminal cases and convictions of journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, writers, opposition politicians, students and social media users continued.

There was further serious backsliding in the area of freedom of assembly and association in light of recurrent bans, disproportionate interventions and excessive use of force in peaceful demonstrations, investigations, administrative fines and prosecutions against demonstrators on charges of terrorism-related activities. Legislation and its implementation are not in line with the Turkish Constitution, European standards or with international conventions.

The rights of the most disadvantaged groups and of persons belonging to minorities need better protection. Roma remained largely excluded from formal jobs and their living conditions severely deteriorated. Gender-based violence, discrimination, hate speech against minorities, in particular against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) persons are still a matter of serious concern.

On migration and asylum policy, Turkey made some progress. After the incidents of March 2020 when Turkey actively encouraged migrants and refugees to take the land route to Europe through Greece, the situation has eventually de-escalated. Some progress was made on strengthening surveillance and protection capacity of the eastern land border. The EU-Turkey Statement of March 2016 continued to deliver results and Turkey continued to play a key role in ensuring effective management of migratory flows along the eastern Mediterranean route. The return of irregular migrants from the Greek islands under the EU-Turkey Statement remained however suspended by Turkey citing COVID-19 restrictions. However, resettlements from Turkey to the EU resumed in July 2020 despite restrictions. Although the volume of irregular arrivals to Greece fell, smuggling routes to Italy and to the government-controlled areas of Cyprus were increasingly used. Turkey has still not implemented the provisions relating to third-country nationals in the EU-Turkey readmission agreement, despite these entering into force in October 2017. Overall, the number of illegal border crossings between Turkey and Greece still remained significantly lower than it was prior to the adoption of the EU-Turkey Statement.

Turkey continued to make significant efforts to host and meet the needs of the largest refugee community in the world. The full operational budget of EUR 6 billion under the Facility for Refugees was contracted by the end of 2020 and over EUR 4.2 billion was disbursed by August 2021. Efficient integration measures are necessary to address the extended presence of refugees in the country. Access to public health for migrants and refugees should be increased. No outstanding visa liberalisation benchmarks were fulfilled. Turkey still needs to further align its legislation with the EU acquis on visa policy.

Turkey's increasingly assertive foreign policy continued to collide with EU priorities under the CFSP, notably due to its support for military action in the Caucasus, Syria and Iraq. While the institutional framework enabling Turkey's participation in the CFSP and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is in place, Turkey maintained a very low alignment rate of around 14 %. Turkey's military support in Libya, including the deployment of foreign fighters on the ground, and its persistent criticism of, and lack of cooperation with Operation IRINI, are detrimental to the EU's effective contribution to the UN arms embargo implementation, and have led to conflicting approaches on Libya. Turkey wants to see a stable and prosperous Syria, an objective it shares with the EU. However, Turkey pursued its own military action in northern Syria, including through Turkish-backed militias. At the same time, Turkey increased the provision of basic services and extended its infrastructure networks in northern Syria.

In November 2020, the Council extended the duration of the existing framework for restrictive measures in response to Turkey's unauthorised drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. In its conclusions of December 2020, the European Council strongly condemned Turkey's unilateral actions, provocations and escalated rhetoric against the EU, EU Member States and European Leaders. The tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean decreased as from the beginning of 2021. Turkey stopped its illegal hydrocarbon exploration activities in the maritime zones of Greece and Cyprus. However, in early October Turkish warships obstructed the vessel Nautical Geo from conducting a survey in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone, and Turkey issued a NAVTEX for conducting seismic surveys which would encompass parts of Cyprus' EEZ. Furthermore, Turkey continued undertaking actions towards changing the status of the fenced-off city of Varosha with unacceptable unilateral decisions which go against the relevant UN SC Resolutions 550 (1984) and 789 (1992). The EU has strongly condemned Turkey's unilateral steps and the unacceptable announcements made by the Turkish President and the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community on 20 July 2021 on the further reopening of the fenced-off town of Varosha in Cyprus, and called for the immediate reversal of these actions and the reversal of all steps taken on Varosha since October 2020.

The EU has repeatedly stressed the need for Turkey to respect the sovereign rights of EU Member States, which include entering into bilateral agreements and exploring and exploiting their natural resources in accordance with the EU acquis and international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Turkey needs to commit itself unequivocally to good neighbourly relations, international agreements and to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with the United Nations Charter, having recourse, if necessary, to the International Court of Justice.

Turkey failed to ensure full and non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the EU-Turkey Association Agreement and the removal of all the obstacles to the free movement of goods, including restrictions on direct transport links with Cyprus. There was no progress on normalising bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus and the informal talks in April 2021 failed to pave the way for the resumption of formal negotiations.

The March 2021 and the June 2021 European Council recalled the European Union's strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey. In light of the discontinuation of illegal drilling activities, the resumption of bilateral talks between Greece and Turkey and the forthcoming, at that time, talks on the Cyprus problem under the auspices of the United Nations, the leaders offered to nurture a more positive dynamic in EU-Turkey relations. To this end, they expressed readiness to engage with Turkey in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner in a number of areas of common interest, subject to Turkey meeting the established conditionalities set out in previous European Council conclusions, and provided that the de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean is sustained. The leaders called on Turkey to abstain from renewed provocations or unilateral actions in breach of international law. Taking into account the Joint Communication, they reaffirmed the determination of the European Union, in case of such action, to use the instruments and options at its disposal to defend its interests and those of its Member States as well as to uphold regional stability.

Turkey continued to assert the validity of the Turkish-Libyan maritime delimitation and military agreements of 2019. The EU considers this an infringement of the sovereign rights of third States, not complying with the Law of the Sea and having no legal consequences for third States.

Regarding the economic criteria, the Turkish economy is well advanced, but made no progress over the reporting period and serious concerns persist over its functioning. The authorities issued a sizeable and wide-ranging set of measures to boost domestic demand and soften the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the economy rebounded quickly from the crisis, reaching pre-crisis levels already in the third quarter of 2020. Amid a strong policy response to the crisis, institutional and policy coordination weaknesses undermined the credibility and effectiveness of authorities' actions and the imbalances increased. The macroeconomic policy mix relied too heavily on the credit channel, while direct fiscal support measures were rather limited in view of the magnitude of the social and labour market challenges. The strong monetary expansion last year weakened the lira, increased inflation and dollarization, and triggered portfolio outflows. The closing of the current account deficit in 2019 turned out to be short-lived and external imbalances remain a major vulnerability. Monetary policy tightened in autumn 2020 but the abrupt dismissal of the central bank governor in March 2021, only four months after his appointment, stirred financial market instability and called into question the authorities' commitment to reducing inflation.

The institutional and regulatory environment weakened further and there are persistent issues with the predictability, transparency, and implementation of regulations. Market exit remained costly and slow. The informal sector declined during the crisis but still accounts for a large part of the economy. State intervention in price setting mechanisms persists. The provision of State aid lacks proper rules on implementation, enforcement and transparency. Supported by loose monetary policy until the autumn 2020 and favourable regulatory measures, bank lending grew strongly, spurred in particular by state-owned banks. The banking sector remained well capitalised, benefiting from regulatory forbearance and other crisis-mitigation measures. The pandemic had a deeply negative impact on the labour market and on poverty. The number of discouraged workers increased significantly and employment levels fell far below from where they were a few years ago. Female labour market participation and employment remained at particularly low levels. The proportion of young people not in employment, education or training increased.

Turkey made limited progress and has a good level of preparation in achieving the capacity to cope with the competitive pressure and market forces within the EU. Despite some progress made in improving access to education, the mismatch between the education system and labour market needs persists. Expenditure on research and development continued increasing at a slow pace, but remained well below the government's target. Supported by favourable financing conditions and concessional lending, investment activity rebounded in 2020. Progress was made with regard to the diversification of energy supplies and the development of the renewable energy sector. The extension of local content requirement practices continued to raise concerns. The relative share of the EU in Turkey's foreign trade slightly increased, despite extensive deviations by Turkey from its obligations under the EU-Turkey Customs Union.

Regarding its ability to assume the obligations of membership, Turkey's alignment with the EU acquis was very limited and pursued on a rather ad hoc basis.

The internal market cluster is key to the good functioning of the Customs Union and to integrating Turkey in the EU's single market. Turkey has achieved a good level of preparation for the free movement of goods. Although it continued to align with technical EU legislation under the ‘New and Global Approach', technical barriers to trade remain, which hamper the good functioning of the Customs Union. Preparations in the areas of freedom of movement for workers and right of establishment and freedom to provide services are at an early stage as many professions are closed to EU nationals. Turkey is moderately prepared on free movement of capital notably because of the substantial remaining obstacles for acquisitions of assets and real estate. It improved its legal framework regulating the fight against money laundering and terrorism financing. It has reached a good level of preparation in terms of the legislative alignment of consumer and health protection, as exemplified by Turkey's strong vaccination campaign against COVID-19. However, in both areas, there is a need to strengthen administrative capacity, consultations and coordination among stakeholders. Turkey has some level of preparation in the area of competition policy. There is a continued lack of State aid implementation rules, enforcement and transparency, while the institutional set up remains incomplete. In the cluster on competitiveness and inclusive growth, there has been mostly backsliding on the economic-related chapters. This was notably the case on enterprise and industrial policy, mainly due to Turkey bringing in measures incompatible with EU industrial policy principles, and on economic and monetary policy, reflecting intensified political pressure on the central bank. There was also backsliding in the area of social policy and employment, linked to the curtailment of trade union rights, the lack of genuine social dialogue and persistent levels of informal economic activity. On taxation, while Turkey is moderately prepared, there is a need for a clear strategy, avoiding frequent changes in tax rates and enabling tax information exchange with all EU Member States. Turkey maintains a good level of preparation for the customs union but made limited progress, including in its implementation. Turkey's deviations from its obligations under the EU-Turkey Customs Union continue, contributing to a high number of trade irritants. Turkey has some level of preparation in the area of information society and media. It continued backsliding, mostly due to inadequate competition, concentration of media ownership and the lack of independence of regulatory authorities. Turkey's preparations in the area of science and research are well advanced and it continued to implement the action plan to boost the national research and innovation capacity and to align with the European Research Area (ERA). Turkey is moderately prepared on education and culture, and needs to further improve inclusive education, with a particular focus on girls and children from disadvantaged groups.

Regarding the cluster on the Green Agenda and Sustainable Connectivity, Turkey is moderately prepared in transport and energy policies. It has made some progress on energy and transport networks, with the construction of the Halkali-Kapikule railway line connecting the Bulgarian border to Istanbul continuing. Turkey has some level of preparation on environmental and climate change and faces critical environmental and climate challenges, both as regards mitigation and adaptation. It made some progress, including the ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change and increasing capacity in waste management, wastewater treatment and on legislative alignment, but enforcement and implementation remain weak. Turkey needs to follow up with an enhanced nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement, long-term strategic decarbonisation and adaptation plans and appropriate legislation reflecting them domestically. On the cluster covering resources, agriculture and cohesion, Turkey reached some level of preparation in the area of agriculture and rural development. However, there was backsliding over the reporting period, as its agricultural policy diverged from the main principles of the EU common agricultural policy. Turkey is a major exporter of food products to the EU, and made limited progress in the area of food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy. Turkey needs to make further progress on meeting EU standards, particularly on pesticide residues. It made good progress on fisheries in implementing the fisheries law, resources and fleet management, and inspection and control. Turkey is moderately prepared in the area of regional policy and the coordination of structural instruments. Overall, it made some progress in this area, especially in accelerating the absorption of IPA II funds and in addressing some structural weaknesses. Turkey has some level of preparation in the area of financial and budgetary provisions and made limited progress during the reporting period to strengthen administrative capacity or to design implementing rules for the correct application of the own resources system.

Turkey is moderately prepared in the area of external relations, notably due to the continuing deviations from the Common Customs Tariff and the common commercial policy. It made limited progress in the reporting period, when it successfully concluded a trade agreement with the UK after the EU-UK agreement. Turkey has some level of preparation in the area of foreign, security and defence policy. There was backsliding in the framework of political dialogue on foreign and security policy as Turkey's increasingly assertive foreign policy collided with the EU priorities under the common foreign and security policy.

Overall, in many areas further significant efforts are needed on legislative alignment with the EU acquis. In all areas, implementation and enforcement needs substantial improvement. Ensuring the independence of regulatory authorities and developing administrative capacity are key for Turkey to achieve further progress.

Key dates

September 1959: Turkey applies for associate membership of the European Economic Community (EEC).

September 1963: Signature of the Association Agreement, aiming at enhancing economic cooperation and achieving a Customs Union between Turkey and the EEC.

April 1987: Turkey presents its formal application for membership of the European Economic Community.

January 1995: EU-Turkey Agreement creating a customs union.

December 1999: The European Council recognises Turkey as a candidate country.

December 2004: The European Council agrees to start accession negotiations with Turkey.

October 2005: Start of accession negotiations.

December 2006: The Council decides that eight negotiating chapters cannot be opened and no chapter can be closed until Turkey meets its obligation of full, non-discriminatory implementation of the additional protocol to the Association Agreement.

December 2013: The EU-Turkey readmission agreement is signed in parallel with the launching of the visa liberalisation dialogue.

October 2014: The EU-Turkey readmission agreement enters into force.

March 2015: The European Commission and Turkey launch a high-level energy dialogue.

May 2015: The European Commission and Turkey agree to modernise the 20-year-old Customs Union Agreement and to enhance EU-Turkey bilateral trade relations.

November 2015: On the occasion of the EU-Turkey Leaders' Meeting, both sides agree on the activation of a Joint Action Plan aiming at ending the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU, in full compliance with EU and international standards.

January 2016: The EU-Turkey high-level political dialogue and high-level energy dialogue take place.

March 2016: The EU and Turkey agree on a joint Statement on the basis of the Joint Action Plan of November 2015.

April 2016: The first EU-Turkey high-level economic dialogue takes place; the first Report on the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement of 18 March 2016 is published.

May 2016: The third Report on progress by Turkey in fulfilling the requirements of its visa liberalisation roadmap is published.

December 2016: The European Commission adopts a recommendation for opening of negotiations with Turkey on the modernisation of the Customs Union.

May 2017: EU-Turkey Leaders' meeting takes place in Brussels.

November 2017: The first high-level EU-Turkey dialogue on transport takes place.

December 2017: The EU-Turkey high-level economic dialogue takes place.

March 2018: EU-Turkey Leaders' meeting takes place in Varna, Bulgaria.

June 2018: The General Affairs Council decides that Turkey's accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing due to Turkey moving further away from the European Union.

November 2018: The EU-Turkey high-level political dialogue takes place in Ankara.

December 2018: The 78th EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee takes place in Ankara.

January 2019: The EU-Turkey high-level dialogue on transport takes place in Brussels.

February 2019: The EU-Turkey high-level economic dialogue takes place in Istanbul.

March 2019: The 54th EU-Turkey Association Council takes place in Brussels.

November 2019: The EU adopts a framework for targeted measures against Turkey for its illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

March 2020: EU-Turkey Leaders' meeting takes place in Brussels.

July 2020: The EU adopts additional €485 million to continue the EU's two flagship humanitarian programmes supporting refugees in Turkey, on top of the €6 billion of the Facility for Refugees.

April 2021: The Presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission meet the President of Turkey in Ankara.

March 2021: The European Council welcomes the de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean and expresses the EU's readiness to engage with Turkey in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner to enhance cooperation in a number of areas of common interest.

June 2021: The European Commission proposes to allocate EUR 3 billion in additional assistance to Syrian refugees and host communities in Turkey.

September 2021: The EU- Turkey high- level dialogue on climate takes place in Brussels.

For More Information

Turkey Report 2021

Enlargement Package 2021

Turkey Factograph


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