Bilateral relations between Turkey and the EU are still at a low point. In addition to the deadlocked accession talks, tensions over visas and Cyprus strained ties with Ankara.
The EU continues to be divided on whether Turkey should become a member or remain a “privileged partner”, which undermines its leverage. As a result, bilateral relations made little, if any, progress in 2011. No new chapters were opened in the accession negotiations despite the pro-enlargement attitude of both the Hungarian and Polish EU presidencies. The preparatory work on the last three dossiers that have not been “frozen” (social policy, competition and public procurement) was not completed. Even worse, there were tensions between Ankara and Brussels about Turkey’s bid to have Schengen visas lifted. Although the two sides endorsed a draft of a readmission agreement in January, Turkey refused to sign it unless the EU started dialogue leading to removal of visas, on the model of the candidate countries in the Western Balkans. Turkey dismissed concerns over the security of its borders as raised, most recently, by a report by the UK House of Commons Home Affairs Committee.
Relations between the EU and Turkey also soured over Cyprus and gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean (see component 45). In September, Turkey threatened that it would freeze relations with the EU during the Cypriot EU presidency in July–December 2012 (later on it modified its stance, saying it would sever relations with the European Council but not with the European Commission or the European Parliament). Relations with France also hit a low point over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s demand that Turkey recognise the Armenian genocide of 1915. In December, Ankara temporarily withdrew its ambassador from Paris and froze political and military relations after the French National Assembly voted to criminalise denial of the genocide. Turkey’s leaders continued to make obligatory references to the EU but their most pressing foreign-policy priorities are in the Arab world. In early December, the foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK jointly praised Turkey’s political and economic achievements and called for reinforced engagement leading to a “safer path” in bilateral relations.