EU–Turkey relations improved as stalled accession talks were restarted with the launch of a new chapter, and visa-free travel became a real prospect.
In 2013, the EU pursued a more cohesive line on Turkey than in previous years. The goal was to resuscitate stalled accession negotiations and regain some lost leverage. France led the way, with President François Hollande taking a more pragmatic approach than his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. In June, the General Affairs Council resolved to open talks on Chapter 22 (Regional Policy). But at the insistence of Germany – which has emerged as the arbiter between member states that want more engagement and those that want to block the process – the negotiations were deferred until after its general elections in September, subject to a positive assessment by the European Commission’s regular report. Europeans, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticised the government’s heavy-handed suppression of protests in Istanbul and other Turkish cities. But they stopped short of freezing negotiations altogether. Rather, they saw keeping talks afloat as a way to help Turkey improve its democratic performance.
As talks on regional policy were officially launched in November, the debate moved on to Chapters 23 (judiciary and fundamental rights) and 24 (justice, freedom, and security), which are considered more political. Belgium, Italy, and Sweden argued that the chapters should be opened and Germany was a cautious supporter. Cyprus, on the other hand, blocked the decision by linking it to a deal on the town of Famagusta. On the question of visa liberalisation, another crucial issue, relations suffered a setback after the European Court of Justice ruled that the Association Agreement did not entitle Turkish citizens to visa-free access to the EU. Effectively, the judgment brought the two parties back to the political track. In December, Turkey signed a long-delayed readmission agreement with the EU in exchange for a visa liberalisation roadmap. It reserved its right to cancel the deal should the EU decline to lift visas after technical conditions were met.