The European Union enlargement process took a major step forward on 3 October, 2005 when accession negotiations were opened with Turkey and Croatia. After years of preparation the two candidates formally opened the next stage of the accession process.
The negotiations relate to the adoption and implementation of the EU body of law, know as the acquis. The acquis is approximately 130,000 pages of legal documents grouped into 35 chapters and forms the rules by which Member States of the EU should adhere.
As a candidate country, Turkey needs to adapt a considerable part of its national legislation in line with EU law. This means fundamental changes for society that will affect almost all sectors of the country, from the environment to the judiciary, from transport to agriculture, and across all sections of the population.
However, the candidate country does not 'negotiate' on the acquis communautaire itself as these 'rules' must be fully adopted by the candidate country.
The negotiation aspect is on the conditions for harmonisation and implementation of the acquis, that is, how the rules are going to be applied and when. It is for this reason that accession negotiations are not considered to be negotiations in the classical sense.
In order to become a Member State, the candidate country must bring its institutions, management capacity and administrative and judicial systems up to EU standards, both at national and regional level. This allows them to implement the acquis effectively upon accession and, where necessary, to be able to implement it effectively in good time before accession. This requires a well-functioning and stable public administration built on an efficient and impartial civil service, and an independent and efficient judicial system.
How does it work?
Negotiations are conducted according to a Negotiating Framework (attached below) that sets out the method and the guiding principles of the negotiations in line with the December 2004 European Council conclusions.
The first part of the process is the "screening" of each of the 35 chapters of the negotiations. Screening is a preliminary assessment of the degree of preparedness of the Candidate Country on each of the negotiating chapters. Each chapter contains a specific part of EU policy (known as the "acquis", which in French means something which is agreed), for example "science and research" or "energy" or the "environment".
Two formal meetings are held for each acquis chapter in the screening phase. An initial explanatory meeting is held with the candidate country during which the Commission sets out the main objectives and requirements of EU policy in that field. In the second meeting the candidate country explains its degree of preparedness vis a vis EU policy and outlines its plans for alignment.
Following these meetings, the Commission prepares a screening report for the chapter, which may recommend either that the candidate country, is sufficiently prepared to open negotiations on the chapter or that the candidate country cannot be considered sufficiently prepared. In the latter case, the Commission will propose a set of "opening benchmarks", which are concrete requirements that the candidate needs to achieve in order for the chapter to be opened.
Opening and Closing Chapters
The Member States, meeting in the Council, assess and examine the findings in the screening report of the Commission. Based on unanimity, the Council may decide to accept the recommendation of the Commission. If the Council decides to open the chapter for negotiation, it will invite the candidate country to present its Negotiating Position (NP). Once this has been received, the Commission prepares a Draft Common Position (DCP). The Council assesses and examines the DCP and on the basis of unanimity may adopt the definitive European Union Common Position (EUCP). With the NP and the EUCP completed, the Council and the Candidate Country at the Accession Conference can formally open the chapter for negotiation.
The EUCP may include "closing benchmarks" which are concrete requirements that the Candidate Country needs to fulfil before a chapter can be provisionally closed. There may be outstanding issues that need further discussion and the candidate country and the 27 Member States may exchange several rounds of position papers until all issues are clarified. The acquis is not negotiable and the principle of the accession process is that the Candidate Country is expected to align fully with all of the acquis. Nonetheless, transitional arrangements may be envisaged in particular where considerable adaptations and financial outlays are necessary, taking into account the interests of the Union and of Turkey. In areas such as free movement of persons, structural policies or agriculture the Commission will include, as appropriate, long transition periods, derogations specific arrangements or permanent safeguard clauses.
The chapters are provisionally closed as agreement is reached on each – but nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. As the acquis is constantly evolving chapters can be reopened later should it be necessary.
Throughout this process, the Commission monitors progress of the candidate country's preparations for membership. The results of the monitoring exercise are published in a yearly 'Regular Report'. The speed of the accession negotiations is determined by the progress on implementation of the reforms in the candidate country, in line with the Copenhagen Criteria for membership.
Becoming an EU member
Once agreement has been reached on all chapters of the acquis, a process that takes some years, the results are incorporated into an "Accession Treaty".
Prior to signing the Accession Treaty, the Commission delivers its final opinion on the Candidate Country's membership application. Additionally, the European Parliament needs to give its consent and, finally, the European Council must reach a unanimous decision on acceptance of the application.
To enter into force, the Accession Treaty needs to be ratified by the national parliaments of the EU Member States and the parliament of the acceding country. In some cases, this may require a national referendum to be held. The acceding country becomes a member of the EU once the Accession Treaty has entered into force.
Who is involved ?
Negotiations take place in bilateral Intergovernmental Conferences between the Member States and Turkey, called accession conferences.
27 Member States of the EU…
In order to agree common positions among themselves before presenting them to Turkey, the EU Member States meet in the framework of the EU Council of Ministers. All decisions are taken by unanimity.
The Council of Ministers (one representative from each Member States) is the chief actor and decision-maker on the EU side. The rotating Presidency of the Council chairs the meetings and ensures communication with Turkey.
Turkey is represented in the Accession Conference by its Chief Negotiator. In Brussels, daily contacts and representation are ensured by Turkey's Permanent Mission to the EU headed by its Ambassador.
The European Commission as the "Guardian of the Treaties" provides technical support and acts as a facilitator in the negotiation process. Within the Commission, the work is coordinated by the Directorate General for Enlargement.
The European Parliament is kept informed of progress in the negotiations and must give its assent to the resulting accession treaty.
Public opinion is another important player. In some countries, the final approval of the Accession Treaty may depend on the result of a referendum. Whether it does or not, general public opinion is a major political factor to be considered. In order to enhance the mutual knowledge about each other and to debate real or perceived issues and problems, the Commission has launched a Civil Society Dialogue programme to reinforce the dialogue between civil society in the EU and in candidate countries.
The 130,000 pages, which make up the European Union Acquis is grouped in 35 chapters, and it is constantly evolving as new rules and regulations are incorporated.
In terms of content the acquis includes:
- the content, principles and political objectives of the Treaties on which the Union is founded;
- legislation and decisions adopted pursuant to the Treaties, and the case law of the Court of Justice;
- other acts, legally binding or not, adopted within the Union framework, such as inter-institutional agreements, resolutions, statements, recommendations, guidelines;
- joint actions, common positions, declarations, conclusions and other acts within the framework of the common foreign and security policy;
- joint actions, joint positions, conventions signed, resolutions, statements and other acts agreed within the framework of justice and home affairs;
- international agreements concluded by the Communities, the Communities jointly with their Member States, the Union, and those concluded by the Member States among themselves with regard to Union activities.
The 35 chapters of EU accession negotiations are:
1. Free Movement of Goods
2. Freedom of Movement for Workers
3. Right of Establishment and Freedom to Provide Services
4. Free Movement of Capital
5. Public Procurement
6. Company Law
7. Intellectual Property
8. Competition Policy
9. Financial Services
10. Information Society & Media
11. Agriculture & Rural Development
12. Food Safety
14. Transport Policy
17. Economic and Monetary Policy
19. Social Policy and Employment
20. Enterprise & Industrial Policy
21. Trans-European Networks
22. Regional Policy & Coordination of Structural Instruments
23. Judiciary & Fundamental Rights
24. Justice, Freedom & Security
25. Science and Research
26. Education and Culture
28. Consumer and Health Protection
29. Customs Union
30. External Relations
31. Foreign, Security, Defence Policy
32. Financial Control
33. Financial & Budgetary Provisions
35. Other Issues
Until 2017, 16 chapters have been opened during the negociations as shown on the table below