Turkey has applied for membership in the EU several times, but unlike Greece, it has never been admitted. What are the reasons that the EU has given for denying membership to this large and influential country?

  • 4
    Why "unlike Greece" and not "unlike Portugal" for example? Sep 16, 2017 at 16:37

9 Answers 9


Turkey has a population of 75+ million and if the country entered the EU today, they would be the second largest member state behind Germany. This would mean an instant shift of power in almost every EU institution, more notably the European Parliament where seats are distributed to member states according to population. Turkey would instantly become a key player in European politics and would have more influence than the traditionally core countries, France, Italy, and the UK. Even if we don't consider anything else, it's understandable that Europeans would be wary of a membership that would significantly alter the EU's political and demographic map, and Turkey's massive population is often quoted as the key political reason the country's accession process is under such heavy scrutiny.

Furthermore Turkey is not generally considered a part of Europe. It's the spiritual successor to the Ottoman Empire, an empire that was traditionally adversarial towards Europe, and its population is predominantly Muslim, while Europe's population is overwhelmingly Christian. A very small part of the country's territory, East Thrace, is in Europe and it's application may seem unlikely to be denied on geographic grounds, like Morocco's was, but still the question of whether Turkey should be considered a European country or not has been raised multiple times. A recent example is the following statement by Nicolas Sarkozy:

I want to say that Europe must give itself borders, that not all countries have a vocation to become members of Europe, beginning with Turkey which has no place inside the European Union.

Enlarging Europe with no limit risks destroying European political union, and that I do not accept.

The statement is from 2007, two years after the violent Paris riots, a time when feelings for Muslim immigrants in France and in Europe in general were generally unfavourable. While Europe has been traditionally welcoming to immigrants, in recent years there's a strong anti-immigration sentiment across all major member states, a contributing factor to the steady rise of nationalism in Europe. Germany's position in 2010 was less critical but also not particularly enthusiastic in regards to full membership:

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, will insist on "privileged partnership" for Turkey instead of full EU membership when she visits the country next week, according to remarks published yesterday. "There are intertwined relations between Turkey and the EU. There are 35 chapters in the [membership] talks. I am confident that 27-28 of them can be taken up and this will really mean a privileged partnership," she said was quoted as saying by the Milliyet newspaper.

"Some issues, like institutional integration, will be left out of the scope," she told a group of Turkish reporters, before a visit to Turkey on Monday and Tuesday. Mrs Merkel stressed, however, that the European Union placed "great importance" on the need for Turkey to follow a foreign policy consistent with the bloc's stance. Germany's position that the sizeable, mainly Muslim, country is not fit for accession is backed by another EU heavyweight, France, but Ankara categorically rejects any alternatives that fall short of full membership.

Given Turkey's predominantly Muslim population and its geographic location, the EU does not want to risk an influx of Muslim immigrants, simply put Turkey's accession would open a backdoor to Europe for immigrants from Arabic and African countries, at a time when immigration is an extremely hot issue in European countries and several countries have recently implemented anti-immigration laws that would seem extreme and unjustified a decade ago. A recent example is the decision to open detention camps for immigrants in Greece, an extremely controversial decision that in local media has been compared to Nazi Germany's detention camps. While this might seem like a local issue, we can't ignore the fact that most illegal immigrants reach Greece (and thus the EU) through Turkey.

Moving on, there are two issues that can be blocking factors, the historically troublesome Greco-Turkish relations and Turkey's occupation of northen Cyprus. From the EC's 2005 Turkey Progress Report (page 9):

As regards the enhanced political dialogue, relations with Greece developed positively. A series of bilateral agreements were signed and several confidence building measures adopted. A process of exploratory talks has continued. On Cyprus, over the last year Turkey has supported and continues to support the efforts of the UN Secretary General to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem. The European Council of June 2004 invited Turkey to conclude negotiations with the Commission on behalf of the Community and its 25 Member States on the adaptation of the Ankara Agreement to take account of the accession of the new Member States. The Commission expects a positive reply to the draft protocol on the necessary adaptations transmitted to Turkey in July 2004

While Greco-Turkish relations have significantly improved in recent years, especially after the 1999 earthquakes that devastated İzmit and Athens, Greece reserves it's right to veto Turkey's membership at any time, especially since there are unresolved territorial disputes between the two countries. Greece did not intervene in the 1989 Davos proceedings, but it most certainly would have vetoed the negotiations if the EC viewed Turkey's membership favorably at the time.

Graham's answer explain the Cyprus dispute, I'd only like to add that Cyprus can also veto Turkey's membership, and has already exercised the right once in 2006:

Talks between Turkey and the EU over the largely Muslim country's entry to the world's biggest trading bloc headed for collapse at the first hurdle last night after Cyprus torpedoed a deal to kick-start the stalled negotiations.

The Cyprus dispute has been a core issue in Europe - Turkey relations since 1974 but it became a blocking factor since 2004, when Cyprus joined the EU. It seems highly unlikely that Cyprus will accept Turkey's full membership without a satisfying resolution, at least in the near future.

  • 14
    Don't forget about the economy of Turkey, it's very weak in comparison with the rest of the largest countries of the UE, the other problem is that Turkey is Muslim and they don't respect most of the women rights, and they try to others to take their own rules. Dec 27, 2012 at 12:43
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    Interesting side-note is that, geographically speaking, Cyprus has 0% territory in Europe.
    – gerrit
    Jan 7, 2013 at 13:15
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    The comments on the “backdoor” for African immigrants to Europe seem entirely speculative. Do you have anything that suggests either that this is a serious impediment to the negotiations or that politicians raised it as a pretext to stall them?
    – Relaxed
    Oct 3, 2014 at 1:30
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    So, is the EU going to kick Italy out now that it is the front door to immigrants from Africa? Jun 30, 2015 at 14:56
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    I would also add something about the standards of human rights in the EU and the status of human rights in Turkey. This was less of an issue when you wrote the answer in 2012 when Turkey seemed on track to correct these issues, but that trend has reversed with Erdogans power grab.
    – Gramatik
    Mar 22, 2018 at 13:52

Turkey will not become a member of the EU, simply because no one wants it to.

There is no Turkish politician I can imagine who would cede power to Brussels to the extent EU membership would require. Structural changes since the 80s have done a lot erode Turks' inferiority complex when it comes to Europe.

In Europe, you can't find a core country where 51% of the population is comfortable with the idea that Turks might have equal status.

Occasionally, it was convenient in terms of domestic Turkish politics to look as if the government is doing its best to join the EU, but lately they have stopped pretending.

If you want to get bogged down in the details, you can always do a full blown analysis of this or that treaty. For a real understanding, however, you'd be wasting your time.

At the end of the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire came close to swallowing Europe. At the end of the First World War, the Europeans came close to splitting the entire Ottoman Empire among them. Therein lies the rub.

Immigration is a red herring: Various governments are falling over each other, trying to give visas to Turkish tourists. For a lot of people in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, in addition to the former Soviet Union, Turkey itself is the final destination of their illegal immigration journey.

Cyprus is a red herring since reunification was rejected by the Greek Cypriots in 2004.

For the last three decades, I have advocated the position that there is nothing in Europe but a crumbling centrally planned economy. Turkey and the Turks, trying to shed a statist, stagnant, centrally planned past, have no use for that.

  • 6
    "There is no Turkish politician I can imagine who would cede power to Brussels to the extent EU membership would require" ... I would counter with "There is no EU member politician who would cede power to Ankara to the extent full EU membership would grant"
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 22, 2018 at 17:17

The biggest current stumbling block relating to Turkey's accession to the EU is around the dispute over Cyprus.

Turkey refuses to implement a trade pact between Turkey and the EU that requires the Turkish government to allow Greek Cypriot vessels to use its air and sea ports, going against the customs agreement Turkey signed as a precondition to start EU membership negotiations.

The Republic of Cyprus, although an EU member, is not officially recognised by Turkey and Turkey has stated it will refuse to recognise it until such time as the removal of the political and economic blockade on the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus - an area which is not recognised by any state but Turkey itself.

This situation has prompted the EU to freeze negotiations on eight chapters of the acquis communautaire, negotiations which are required to be completed before EU member states can vote on the accession. Even without this freeze, only one chapter is considered to be completely aligned to acquis, with the majority requiring some to a lot of further effort.

  • 5
    Unfortunately the Cyprus issue is more of an excuse really, and it doesn't explain the extremely slow pace of negotiations prior to 2004.
    – yannis
    Dec 27, 2012 at 10:27
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    @YannisRizos I agree, though it's difficult to incorporate that into an answer without resorting to opinion and speculation... Dec 27, 2012 at 10:32
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    @YannisRizos There are many other reasons but Cyprus is more than an excuse. It would be nearly impossible legally and practically to find a way for Turkish membership without a resolution of the situation on the island.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 3, 2014 at 1:33

There are many reasons, most mentioned above.

Another factor is the chaos around the middle east area, with death squads and mercenaries roaming about, smuggling, kidnapping, blackmailing and fighting.

The EU would suddenly be right on the border of destabilized countries - you can already see that this creates unnecessary tension, just look at e. g. the Ukraine and their conflict with Russia. What is the gain there?

The same situation you can see in Turkiye, where they support the ISIS against the Kurds, and as a threat against Syria causing immense damage to the infrastructure, and of course to the people too. It already is a mistake that Turkiye is a part of NATO - in the long run the EU will have to replace the NATO membership with its own military defence, without any outside treaties allowed - hence, no NATO membership anymore. Those who wish to retain this like the UK will have to leave the EU rather than continue to play trojan horse.

The people of the EU do not want to be a part of said conflict, but they would have to assist Turkiye if Turkiye would become a part of the EU.

This, and all the other reasons above, are what will keep Turkiye out of the EU.

They will have to form their own Arab union.

  • 2
    Why would Turkey want (to join) an Arab union?
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 22, 2018 at 17:24

It is more due to the dramatic changes that have taken place under the leadership of the AKP party. When the membership process was entered into, it appeared that Turkey was making progress towards reaching the membership criteria, but then the AKP changed course and became much more authoritarian and illiberal in how it runs it's courts and elections. It has reduced political freedom in general, and weakened civil liberties.

What has greatly concerned countries within the European Union, is not so much that Turkey has adopted this path, but the speed and ruthlessness it was entered into, after the alleged Coup attempt.

Turkey has become highly-aggressive militarily towards EU members Greece and Cyprus, adopted extremist religious and nationalist ideology, abandoned a separation of church and state, imprisoned EU citizens, and threatened EU businesses operating within Turkey with terrorism charges or accused them of having links to terrorism.

This has scared away investment from Turkey, as well as hardened existing attitudes that were against the membership due to the perceived cultural and religious differences between European countries and Turkey. At this point there is a developing position within both the European Union and Turkey, where the membership bid will either be dropped or changed to some form of partnership agreement - not full membership.

  • 4
    Note that the question was asked in 2012, where most of the current developments had not yet taken place and still there was a strong resistance against a membership of Turkey in the EU. Note also that the membership process was started shortly after AKP came to power, and that the conflict between Turkey and Greece is decades old. None of the reasons you mentioned can explain the stance of the EU six years ago. Some may say the current development proves that they were right in their assessment, while others may say that it was some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. We will never know.
    – Thern
    Mar 22, 2018 at 14:38
  • That it is exclusive to 2012 is not in the question, also these developments were still taking place, to the exception of the recent coup that did dramatically change the climate. The AKP has held power since 2002, and even in 2012 the AKP had been eroding the separation of church and state, and establishing a religious and nationalist slant to their policies.*1: theguardian.com/world/2012/oct/24/recep-tayyip-erdogan-turkey Mar 22, 2018 at 15:00
  • But that arguably wasn't the reason why the EU did not want Turkey to join. For example, German chancellor Angela Merkel repeated several times that she would greatly prefer a privileged partnership for Turkey, even at times when many laws in Turkey were changed to be in line with EU laws (for example, abolishment of death penalty). Freedom of press, separation of church, corruption etc. are also issues in many of the Eastern European states that became EU members during the same time. It is difficult to justify why Hungary, Croatia, or Bulgaria became members of the EU but not Turkey.
    – Thern
    Mar 22, 2018 at 15:12
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    If you want reasons why Hungary, Croatia, and Bulgaria were let in, then it is because they were all majority christian countries, and had met sufficient criteria, alongside a lot of determination to expand more into Eastern Europe. Perhaps in hindsight, it was not a good move for the European Union, as there are signs with the rise of authoritarianism in Hungary that European Union expansion may have occurred too quickly, and the criteria should have been applied more closely. Mar 22, 2018 at 15:27
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    @Thern Probably quite a few people were receptive to Turkey in the EU 10 years ago but are not so today.
    – gerrit
    Mar 22, 2018 at 15:53

There are several reasons, but in reality Turkey herself does not make enough efforts.

There are multiple tension points in EU-Turkey relations, for most of which Turkey avoids discussion.

The most difficult being the continued occupation of Cyprus.

Also it is quite doubtful to which extent Turkey is geographically and culturally European. It is the only country applied for EU membership whose capital is not in Europe.

  • 1
    "It is the only country applied for EU membership whose capital is not in Europe" - Cyprus is (technically) in Asia. Also, Morocco applied (but didn't get in).
    – yannis
    Apr 28, 2013 at 18:44
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    So you're suggesting Greece, Bulgaria and Romania done 'enough' to be members? Greece is absolutely rigged their financial reports! Bulgaria and Romania are nowhere near in terms of human rights or economy etc. and yet they are now members
    – Sahbas Has
    May 23, 2016 at 19:19

One point that has often been mentioned, but not here, is the issue of human rights in Turkey.

The issue of human rights is of high importance for the negotiations with the European Union (EU). Acute human rights issues include in particular the status of Kurds in Turkey. The Kurdish–Turkish conflict has caused numerous human rights violations over the years. There is an ongoing debate in the country on the right to life, torture, freedom of expression as well as freedoms of religion, assembly and association. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Turkey)

  • You should mention that the rules about human rights are part of the Community Acquis - specifically point 19 (13 originally).
    – user45891
    Oct 24, 2014 at 14:46

Other answers have provided some good reasons why Turkey will probably never become a member of the European Union. But it's important to realize that the EU is not actively “keeping it out”. Unlike some earlier ones (including the first bids by Spain or the UK), Turkey's application hasn't been vetoed or rejected. There is an accession process, with some slow progress and a lot of issues to work out, including of course the situation in Cyprus. Every once in a while, something happens, the process is frozen, restarts, a chapter gets opened, etc. but it's still officially on-going, possibly even useful independently of the final outcome.

At this point it seems exceedingly unlikely that Turkey would become a full member in the foreseeable future and it's unclear whether it really wants to but the day of reckoning when either side needs to give a definitive answer or to find some pretext to block accession seems very far in the future.

More broadly, the time for bold changes and ambitious projects seems to have passed. Many innovations from the Maastricht treaty can arguably be regarded as failures. The Common Foreign and Security Policy is moribund, the police and judicial cooperation (the former third pillar) does not work too well and the Euro has been in an almost continuous state of crisis for half a decade now (which should be obvious no matter your take on the responsibilities and the way forward).

The last major enlargement happened in 2004/2007 as a sort of delayed result of the fall of the Soviet Union and is still heavily debated in several member states. The convergence that was hoped for is far from complete and there are still many tensions because of that. On a more procedural level, the last major treaty was the Lisbon treaty in 2007, itself a “repackaging” of the “Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe” that was discussed and negotiated before the enlargement (some representatives of the future member and candidate states did however participate in the Convention).

So the last decades have seen several waves of enlargement and several important treaties but with so many things not working well, so many member states pulling in different directions and so many players at the negotiating table, it's difficult to see anything major (including accepting a large new member) happening today.


Actually, Turkey wants to join EU because of several reasons. Now I'll tell you some reasons.

Turkey is normally categorised as a part of Asia, however, some parts of Turkey are in Europe. For example, Istanbul, one of the famous city in Turkey, is in Europe, not in Asia. Also, Othman Empire was in Turkey, but most parts of Othman Empire was in Europe. And most of Turkish people think that they're European, not Turkish.

Thus, Turkey wants to join EU. Especially this dream is led by AKP(current ruling party of Turkey). EU accepted Turkey as a candidate who wants to join EU and this is supported by the United States. This plan has been on-going since long time ago. But why Turkey still can't join EU?

Here's several reasons. One of the reason that Turkey can't join EU is the population. Currently, Germany has the most population in EU with 80 millions of populations. But Turkey has 81~82 millions of populations and this is more than the population of Germany. However, most of EU people are Christian, while most of Turkish are Muslim. Turkey has 98% of Muslim and this means that around 80+ millions of people are Muslim. This is one of the biggest problem. Most of Europeans don't like Muslim, as Islam is misunderstood as terrorists. Thus, lots of anti-Islamic parties have got big powers in EU politics. Especially in Netherlands one of the anti-Islamic party is a part of ruling coalition. EU has it's own executive body and it's multi-raced. Currently, Germany has the most population in EU, thus most of the members of EU parliament are German. However, if Turkey joins EU, most of the parliament members of EU will be Turkish. And most of them are Muslim. If then, they feel discomforts as Christian members are become as minority.

Another reason is the border. Currently, EU only has borders with Europe. However, if Turkey joins EU, EU will have borders with Middle-East countries such as Syria, Iran and etc. This is quite serious matter. You all may know that Middle-East always has war and demonstration. Lots of people are killed in this war. However, when Turkey joins EU, the wars will influence to EU. And another problem is ISIS, who says themselves that they're country but it's actually a kind of terrorist union. When you pass the borders between another country, you have to pay bills and need passport. However, when you pass the borders between EU countries, you don't need this things. You can simply pass the border. Like Baarle between Belgium and Netherlands. This means ISIS can be entered easily to Europe. Although ISIS currently doesn't have their power in Turkey, but if they conquer some parts of Turkey, this is the problem. Like in this case, if ISIS got some parts of Turkey, and Turkey is now in EU, ISIS can easily enter to Europe. This means they can easily enter until Portugal. If then the whole Europe will be fell into the terrorism.

The last problem is Northern Cyprus. This country is in the northern part of Cyprus and was made by Turkey. Cyprus was one, but around 1970s, Turkey conquered the northern part of Cyprus and Cyprus was separated. This action is considered as 'illegal' by the world and EU. But Cyprus is a member of EU. And Turkey says that Northern Cyprus is a country while nobody doesn't agree with this. So this is criticised by EU.

The government of Turkey said if they can't join EU until 2023, they will cancel their plan to join EU. We're not sure whether Turkey will join EU or not. I don't agree with this, because of some problems as I mentioned. If Turkey joins EU, the whole Europe will undergo some serious matters.

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