In September 2010, EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle welcomed the positive outcome of Turkey's referendum on the government's constitutional reform package, but stated that the country must speed up change in the area of fundamental rights.
''We share the views of many in Turkey that the 12 September vote needs to be followed by other much needed reforms to address the remaining priorities in the area of fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion. In this respect, we agree with those across the political spectrum in Turkey who believe that a new civilian Constitution would provide a solid base for a sustained development of democracy in Turkey, in line with European standards and the EU accession criteria,'' he said.
''Finally, the Commission emphasises that any future constitutional changes should be prepared through the broadest possible consultation, involving all political parties and civil society in a timely manner and a spirit of dialogue and compromise,'' he added.
Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu, leader of Turkey's main opposition party CHP, detailed its hostility to the constitutional amendments proposed by the ruling AK party in an eight-page letter.
K?l?çdaro?lu says Turkey's judicial authorities will become dominated by the ruling AKP party if the proposed amendments are adopted. He also warns of growing "authoritarianism" under the AKP government, growing arbitrary telephone tapping by the authorities, investigations aimed at silencing opponents and pressure on the media, which are creating "a society of fear" in Turkey.
Turkish President Abdullah Gül has sought to soothe fears of mass migration from the country to EU member states in the event of mobility of persons being granted, saying that ''working in Europe is not in the minds of the Turkish people.''
If integration happens, ''the Turks in the heart of Europe – in Germany, in France – many of them would come back. Maybe you will try to stop them, because you need them,'' he argued.
Describing Turkey's relations with its neighbours as a potential asset to the EU, Gül claimed that Turkey ''knew the rules of the club'' it was trying to join.
''If Britain has privileged relations with the Commonwealth countries, or Spain with the Latin American countries, we can do the same with regard to countries from our region. You don't ask Britain or Spain to put a hold on their relations because of EU policy, do you?'' he asked.
Egemen Ba???, Turkey's chief EU negotiator, developed on 29 September 2010 a rather exotic idea, calling on EU countries to hold referenda on his country's EU membership and adding that Turkey could also decide to consult its citizens.
''I strongly believe that by the time we complete the negotiations, the European Union member states would try to lobby to make sure that Turks vote to become members of the EU," he said.
On whether Turkey would accept a situation whereby member states rejected Turkish accession, he replied: ''Of course, why not? We make decisions based on the consequences. French people would calculate France's interest when they go to the ballot box and our people would calculate our interest, or self-interest."
Commenting on the idea of a 'Norway formula' for membership and on parallel referenda, Dr. Bahadir Kaleagasi, international coordinator at Turkish industry and business association TUSIAD, distanced himself from Ba???' statements by saying that any status other than participation in the EU decision-making process was unacceptable.
He stated: "So many prominent European politicians argue that the EU will be globally stronger in enlarging to Turkey. They are right. Moreover, Turkey is already essentially part of the EU sphere of values, law, policies and global interests. In and around Europe, Turkey is also the only model of a big emerging market, industrial economy, information society and democracy which does not rely on a reserve of natural resources such as oil or natural gas."
"This model implies for Turkey to be a member of the EU exactly like it does for the actual EU members. Most EU legislation is directly or indirectly applied in Turkey. Therefore, any status other than Turkey's full participation in the EU's policymaking system is unacceptable for Turkish business because it would create problems of democratic legitimacy at the national level," he said.
Former EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn stated that "there is a pressing need to reform the legal and constitutional framework governing the closure of political parties. We simply cannot afford yet another unnecessary constitutional crisis stemming from outdated rules not in line with European standards".
In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV (EURACTIV 21/11/08), Commissioner Rehn also envisaged the possibility of creating temporary or permanent derogations on the subject of free movement of workers to appease France.
Rehn summarised the situation thus: "There are three main concerns. First, deepening is important. That's why we need the Lisbon Treaty. Secondly, concerning the labour market, we have policy instruments to avoid problems in this area. Concerning the cultural and religious resistance, although I can somehow understand it, I have less sympathy for it because for me the EU is not a Christian club but a community of values related to liberty and freedom."
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said "the accession talks with Turkey are pursued on the basis of a mandate handed down unanimously by the member states," adding: "If one - or several - member states want to modify this mandate it is up to them to try to get it changed, and accept the consequences."
Barroso makes clear that current talks should go on, but in a 2008 address to the Turkish Assembly he tried to boost the reform impetus in Turkey, which appears to have waned somewhat due to the remaining political and legal hurdles (EURACTIV 11/04/08).
The Independent Commission on Turkey, headed by Peace Nobel Prize Laureate Martti Ahtisaari, found that "negative reactions since 2004 from European political leaders and growing hesitation by the European public about further enlargement have given Turkey the impression that it is not welcome, even if it were to fulfil all membership conditions. Moreover, the process itself has been hindered by the effective blockage of more than half of the negotiating chapters".
This negative political attitude seems to have frustrated the commitment of reformers, the independent commission concluded.
Turkey has described the idea of a 'privileged partnership' as insulting, since this definition does not even have a legal basis.
Turkish chief negotiator on EU accession, Egemen Bagi?, stressed that Turkey is perfectly in line to fulfil the chapters of the acquis, noting that in ten years Turkey had moved from being the 27th largest economy in the world to 16th place.
"We can become one of the top economies and top countries of the world, even without becoming a member of the EU. So EU membership is very important anchor, but it's not our only option," Bagi? said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Irish 'yes' to the Lisbon Treaty creates the legal conditions for future EU enlargements (Euractiv 05/10/09) and pleaded passionately for his country's accession to the Union. He also stated that Turkey can help Europe to become a major player on the international stage if it is admitted to the club.
Germany is critical of Turkish EU-membership. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said "accession is not a one-way street" and Turkey must fulfil the criteria. During the 2009 EU election campaign, she said she would prefer Turkey to receive a privileged partnership from the EU, rather than full membership, echoing recent comments made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy (EURACTIV 08/05/09 and 11/05/09).
Merkel's stance crystallised in Germany after the September 2009 federal elections: the new coalition partner of the CDU, the liberal FDP, is critical of Turkish accession, unlike the former 'grand coalition' partner, the SDP.
Meanwhile, Germany remains Turkey's most important economic and commercial partner within the EU. The volume of bilateral trade, worth 14 billion euros annually, has doubled in the past ten years. Nearly 14% of Turkey's exports go to Germany, while 17% of Germany's total exports go to Turkey. There are nearly 1,100 German companies operating in Turkey today, and over three million German tourists visit Turkey each year. There are an estimated 2.5 million Turks living in Germany today, and 600,000 of them have already become German citizens.
France appears to have become increasingly sceptical on the issue of Turkish EU membership. While former President Jacques Chirac had been a vocal albeit lukewarm supporter of Ankara's ambitions, the referendum on the EU Constitution brought to the fore the French public's reservations.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is firmly opposed to Turkish membership of the EU, claiming that "Europe has been lying about its borders. Turkey is in Asia Minor and not in Europe". Sarkozy believes Europe should suspend accession talks with Turkey and instead work towards a "privileged partnership".
Paris and Ankara signed an action plan in 1998 which introduced a strategic dimension to French-Turkish relations. French companies are listed as the biggest investors in Turkey, although France ranks only fifth in terms of volume of investment. Turkey exported 2.12 billion US dollars' worth of goods to France in 2002, while the value of its imports totalled 1.76 billion US dollars.
France ranks as the fourth-largest source of tourism for Turkey. Meanwhile, the largely anti-Islamic far right has been making significant advances on the French political scene - against a backdrop of growing public reluctance to admit new members to the EU.
The United Kingdom remains a strong supporter of Turkish EU membership. In a major foreign policy speech on 26 October 2009, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband stated that turning Turkey away from EU membership would be "unconscionable" (EURACTIV 27/10/09).
Turkey is a significant trading partner of the UK. In 2002, Britain was Turkey's third-largest export destination and sixth-largest source of imports. Total bilateral trade for 2002 amounted to 3.7 billion pounds.
Italy remains one of the strongest advocates of Turkish EU accession, and this support spans the whole political spectrum. President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano stressed that "Turkey represents an added value for Europe. It is necessary to continue negotiations for entry without unnecessary obstructionism".
Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, is also supportive of Turkish accession and claimed that he would try to win over reluctant states (EURACTIV 13/11/09).
Greece, Turkey's historical foe, keeps its distance from debates on whether Turkey should join the Union or rather become its 'privileged partner'. Officially Athens says that Turkey's EU integration is welcome, given that by getting closer to the club, Ankara needs to respect its rules. Nonetheless, problems remain concerning territorial and airspace quarrels between the two countries and they maintain a clear distance on the Cyrpus issue (EURACTIV 28/08/09).
The Republic of Cyprus stressed that Ankara would negatively affect its EU accession bid if it did not begin complying with its obligations to normalise relations with Nicosia by December 2009 and added that that there must be consequences when there are no improvements on the Cyprus issue for a number of years. Cypriot Foreign Affairs Minister Markos Kyprianou stated: "If eventually Turkey comes to believe that it belongs more to the East than the West, this will have consequences for its EU relations" (EURACTIV 29/10/09).
Poland, which joined the EU as a full member on 1 May 2004, has been wary that Turkey, once accepted into the EU club, would draw massive subsidies and would also be too big a country for the Union to swallow. Nevertheless, Warsaw has also repeatedly expressed full support for Turkey's EU membership bid.
Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said: "It must also be possible for us to introduce different treaty relations for new members."
He added: "Not all EU member states need go along with, and incorporate, EU policies with the same degree of intensity. I believe that if it moves in the direction of 35 to 40 member states, the EU needs to devise a new form of membership intensity."
Turkey counts as a key ally for the United States, and thus Washington believes that the EU should take in the largely Muslim Mediterranean nation as a full member. For the US, Turkey's EU membership would create a stable role model for the whole Islamic world.
In his April 2009 trip to Turkey, US President Barack Obama, speaking to the Turkish assembly, said: "Let me be clear, the United States strongly supports Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union." He also pointed out Turkey's strategic energy role (EURACTIV 07/04/09).