Europeanisation through Package-Deal? EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan on Syrian Refugee Crisis

Europeanisation through Package-Deal?
EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan on Syrian Refugee Crisis


This paper examines the recent deal between Turkey and the EU on Syrian refugee crisis. In return to stemming the flood of migrants to Europe, the EU will provide financial aid and visa facilitation to Turkey and postpone the release of its 2015 Progress report at a time when country is delaying substantial reforms remedying the problematic aspects of its democracy with regard to the role of the military, the state of human rights, the protection of minorities and the judicial system. The incentives provided by the EU may re-energise the Europeanisation process in the country but may not prevent Ankara from diverging further from EU’s democratic principles. This will not only cast a shadow on EU’s enlargement policy but also provide more room for Turkish authorities to follow their own domestic agenda, which is not necessarily in line with the EU’s rules.


Until 2006 Turkey has been shown as a textbook example (Kirişçi, 2011) of external incentives model developed by Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeir (2005: 10-18). Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeir explored to what extent and in which ways the EU exercises its influence on the accession countries and provided a theoretical framework for Europeanisation which is defined simply, “as a process in which states adopt EU rules” (Schimmelfenning and Sedelmeir, 2005: 5). In summary they argued that once a given issue area became subject of the EU’s conditionality, rule adoption increased dramatically and became a consistent feature across issue areas in the Central and Eastern European (CEEs) countries. The EU accession process resulted in adoption of comprehensive reforms in these countries and played a highly critical role in their transition to liberal democracies and market economies.

Similar to the CEECs, EU accession created pressure for the adaptation for substantial reforms in Turkey. Empowered with additional resources over the veto players, the Turkish authorities introduced a massive amount of reforms in order to comply with the EU’s political conditionality. Yet, since 2005, the credibility of the EU accession perspective has dropped dramatically. While domestic reform process stalled in general we still observe policy specific Europeanisation, which is mostly driven by the domestic agenda of the governing party and its political preferences (see Yilmaz and Soyaltin, 2014). It should be mentioned that the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Part) (AKP) government introduced democratic reforms in their first term in the office. Yet, growing authoritarian tendencies in the AKP’s second term casted a shadow on their reformist agenda and paved the way for a highly centralised executive democracy (Öniş, 2015). In this regard, EU’s recent attempts to reward Turkey in return of being a key actor in solving Europe’s migrant crisis force us to think beyond membership conditionality.

On 15th of October EU leaders approved an action plan with Turkey to help stem the flood of migrants mostly fleeing the war in Syria.

[1] The European Council President Donald Tusk said “Our intensified meetings with Turkish leaders were devoted to one goal: stemming the migratory flows that go via Turkey to the EU.”[2] In return the EU agreed to speed up work on easing visa access for Turkey, a candidate for EU membership since 2004. Moreover, the EU will provide €3bn funding package to help Turkey cope with its 2.2 million Syrian refugees. It does not come a surprise for European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) scholars who already identified policy-specific conditionality to explain policy change outside of the EU.  In the European neighbourhood countries various rewards to convergence with EU rules such as greater participation in the internal market (Gawrich et al., 2010; Vachudova, 2007) or visa facilitation (Langbein and Wolczuk, 2011; Ademmer and Börzel, 2012) are likely to trigger domestic reforms even in the absence of EU membership conditionality. Recent developments suggest that policy-specific conditionality also works for Turkey even the country is not part of the ENP but the accession policy of EU.

This may have several important implications. First Brussels’s visa deal with Turkey as a candidate country will blur the lines between the ENP and enlargement policy and damage the legitimacy of the EU outside of its borders at a time when it is in a deep political and economic crisis at home. But more importantly such a deal puts credibility of accession conditionality under question. The decade-old debate on inconsistent application of the Copenhagen criteria in new and aspiring members already casted a shadow on EU’s enlargement policy (Schwellnus, 2006). Rewarding Turkey with financial aid and visa facilitation instead of enforcing sanctions due to divergence from EU’s democratic principles of good governance, rule of law, and human and civil rights will not only provide more room for Ankara to push country into an authoritarian system but also will enlarge loopholes in EU’s monitoring and sanctioning mechanism. As it is seen clearly in Hungary, Brussels has been loose in enforcing those standards even in member states. However, the authoritarian tendencies of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán pushing his country from beacon of post-communist optimism to an illiberal state come as a real reminder that democratisation in post-communist Europe is neither complete nor irreversible.[3]

The story also repeats itself in Turkey and is likely to have crucial consequences for other candidate countries in the Balkans with serious democracy and governance problems. Time will tell whether the deal between Ankara and Brussels will bring a substantial solution to the refugee crisis but if the EU leaders would fail to restart negotiations on Turkey’s application for membership at a time when country is going through a critical phase in its democratisation history they might face another serious crisis in the near future. Started in 2005 the formal membership talks stalled in recent years, partly because of European concerns about Turkey’s democracy record. EU leaders tended to take a critical stance and showed strong anxiety over abysmal state of democracy and fundamental rights in Turkey. The progress report published by the European Commission last year was regarded one of the worst reports since the first regular report was published for Turkey in 1998. The lack of judicial independence, the increased limitation on fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and assembly, the imprisonment of journalists and the erosion of separation of powers in Turkey were among the major topics the report dealt with (Soyaltın, 2014). But when Merkel visited Turkey in the middle of October, she gave the signals of other concessions than visa-free travel in the EU for Turkish citizens in return for greater cooperation on dealing with migrants –namely, full EU membership. During her visit to Turkey Merkel said she would support speeding up the process and opening the chapter on economic and monetary policy this year, and making preparations for the chapter on rights and justice.[4]  Moreover, the release of the progress report for 2015, that was expected to be deeply critical of Ankara’s record on human rights and a government crackdown on the news media and freedom of expression, has been postponed until after elections in November.[5]

These yearly reports are important tools for monitoring the progress in a candidate country in terms of complying with EU rules and standards. In recent years with the worsening of EU-Turkey relations the Progress Reports became thicker and more critical pointing at the problematic aspects of Turkish democracy. The stagnation of democratic reforms clearly showed us that the EU is still a much-needed anchor in the consolidation of democracy in Turkey. It was the strong credibility of accession perspective that paved the way for adoption of substantial reforms remedying the problematic aspects of democracy with regard to the role of the military, the state of human rights, the protection of minorities and the judicial system (Aydın and Keyman, 2012) The problems still remain in these issue areas, they are even deeper now and diverge Turkey from EU’s democratic principles and rules. To keep Turkey on the path to democracy and stability not ‘a shiny reward package’ but a credible conditionality is needed.

Assistant Professor Didem Soyaltın, Editor at Centre for Research and Policy on Turkey (Research Turkey)

Please cite this publication as follows:

Soyaltın, D. (November, 2015), “Europeanisation through Package-deal? EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan on Syrian Refugee Crisis” Vol. IV, Issue 11, pp.42-47, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), London, Research Turkey (


Ademmer, Esther and Börzel, Tanja A. (2012) Migration, Energy and Good Governance in the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood, Europe Asia Studies.

Aydın-Duzgit, Senem and Keyman, Fuat (2012) EU-Turkey Relations and the Stagnation of Turkish Democracy, IPC Working paper no 2, Istanbul.

Gawrich, Andrea/Melnykovska, Inna/Schweickert, Rainer (2010) Neighbourhood Europeanization through ENP. The Case of Ukraine, in: Journal of Common Market Studies 48/5, 1209-1235.

Kirişçi, Kemal (2011) Reforming Turkey’s Asylum Policy: Is it Europeanization, UNHCR-ization or ECHR-ization KFG Conference on “Faraway, So Close? Reaching beyond the Pro/Contra Controversy on Turkey’s EU Accession,” 2-4 June, Istanbul, Turkey.

Langbein, Julia and Wolczuk, Kataryna (2011) Convergence without Membership? The Impact of the European Union in the Neighbourhood. Evidence from Ukraine, Journal of European Public Policy.

Öniş, Ziya (2015) Turkey’s Uncertain Path Monopolising the Centre: The AKP and the Uncertain Path of Turkish Democracy, The International Spectator: Italian Journal of International Affairs, 50(2):20-41.

Schimmelfenning, Frank and Sedelmeier, Ulrich (eds.) (2005) The Europeanisation of Central and Eastern Europe, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London.

Schwelnus, Guido (2006) Double standards? : minority protection as a condition for membership in: Helene Sjursen (ed.) Questioning EU enlargement : Europe in search of identity. London: Routledge, 186-200.

Soyaltın,  Diğdem (2014),  “A Close Look to EU’s 2014 Progress Report for Turkey: Another Winter Coming for EU-Turkey Relations?”, Vol. III, Issue 10, pp.47-50, Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. (

Vachudova, Milada (2007) Trade and the Internal Market in the European Neighborhood Policy, in: Weber, Katja/Smith, Michael E./Baun, Michael (eds): Governing Europe’s neighbourhood: Partners or

periphery? Manchester: Manchester University Press, 97-113.


[1] EU-Turkey Joint Action Plan, Brussels 16.10.2015, [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

[2] Remarks by President Donald Tusk after the European Council meeting of 15 October 2015, European Council. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

[3] Hungary at the Turning Point. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

[4] Merkel Links Turkey’s E.U. Hopes to Stemming Flow of Refugees, NY Times, 18.10.2015. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at:

[5] EU sidelines critical Turkey report as it seeks migration deal, Financial Times, 16.10.2015. [Accessed on 10th November 2015], Available at: – axzz3p60S8myp



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