Relations with Turkey were improved by the election of François Hollande but, despite modest gains on visa liberalisation, divisions among EU member states continue to limit progress.
The atmosphere in EU–Turkish relations was improved after François Hollande won France’s presidential race in May, defeating Nicolas Sarkozy – the leading opponent of Turkey’s membership of the EU – though France has not yet lifted any of the vetoes it imposed on five negotiating chapters in 2007. However, the European Commission capitalised on the change of mood and in mid-May put forward a Positive Agenda that aims to speed up preparations in key policy dossiers that have been frozen within the negotiations. For its part, Turkey did not move on the implementation of the 2004 Ankara Protocol needed to “unfreeze” chapters blocked over Cyprus (see component 45).
There was also progress on visa liberalisation. In November, the European Council approved a roadmap for visa liberalisation, modelled on the process already implemented in the Western Balkans. In June, Turkey initialled a readmission agreement, an instrument to fight illegal migration from third countries through the common border with the EU. Whether the roadmap is implemented and the readmission agreement is signed depends on large EU member states. In Germany, which holds the balance, the interior ministry remains to be convinced that Turkey is a safe proposition, as do usual sceptics such as Austria and Cyprus.
Fortunately, the Cypriot presidency of the European Council in the second half of the year did not lead to a standstill in bilateral ties with Turkey. But nor did relations improve dramatically in 2012. With Turkey focused on Syria, Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış used his position to launch repeated rhetorical attacks on the EU in order to build up his political profile at home. There was little formal exchange between Turkey and the EU on the future architecture of Europe in the wake of the euro crisis, mainly because Ankara has no interest in this issue. Meanwhile, individual member states, from Bulgaria to Germany, scrambled to deepen bilateral relations with Turkey and reap economic and political benefits.