The Role of Member States in EU Enlargement Policy: The Eastern Enlargement & Turkey’s Accession Process

Assist. Prof. Selcen Öner, Bahcesehir University – – October 28, 2013Foreign Policy

The Role of Member States in EU Enlargement Policy: The Eastern Enlargement and Turkey’s Accession Process  Introduction The European Union’s (EU) Eastern enlargement [1] was the most challenging enlargement for […]


The European Union’s (EU) Eastern enlargement [1] was the most challenging enlargement for the EU, both in terms of the number of countries involved and the political, social and economic differences between EU member states and the new members. For the first time in the EU’s history it accepted ten candidate countries at the same time in May 2004 with the accession of eight Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs), Cyprus and Malta. On 1 January 2007, Bulgaria and Romania became EU members, followed on 1 July 2013 by Croatia, which had started its accession negotiations with the EU on the same day as Turkey, on 3 October 2005. Turkey, meanwhile, had only been able to provisionally close one chapter of the EU acquis.

Although fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria has been a precondition for membership since 1993, it is not the principal driving force for enlargement, as utilitarian factors and identity politics have had more influence on the EU’s enlargement policies (Sjursen, 2002: 508).

When Turkey was differentiated from the CEECs at the Luxembourg Summit in 1997, the Turkish government reacted strongly by freezing political relations with the EU. In contrast, when the EU granted Turkey official candidate status after the Helsinki Summit in 1999, it stimulated a Europeanization process in Turkey in several policy fields, with crucial reforms being implemented in human rights and minority rights. However, Turkey’s “Europeanness” is still being questioned by several EU political figures (Müftüler Baç and McLaren, 2003: 18). Debates, especially in Germany and France, about offering merely a “privileged partnership” with Turkey, short of full membership, have raised doubts about the EU’s openness and fairness towards Turkey, which has increased the level of Euroscepticism in Turkey.

As Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier (2002: 504) argue, EU enlargement can be analysed from various perspectives, such as the policies of candidate countries regarding the EU, the EU’s own enlargement policies, and the policies of member states regarding enlargement. The EU’s policies for the Eastern enlargement differed from those applied to Turkey’s accession process. Drawing on both rationalist and constructivist approaches, this article therefore tries to compare the EU’s policies, particularly those of Germany and France as the main actors in European integration, towards the accession processes of the CEECs and Turkey.

Theoretical Framework for the EU’s Enlargement Policy

A major scholarly debate has taken place between rationalist and constructivist theorists on how to analyse international institutions in international relations. These different theoretical frameworks assume different logics of action: a rationalist “logic of consequentiality” versus a constructivist “logic of appropriateness”. The rationalist explanation of enlargement has two aspects: firstly, the role of applicant and member state enlargement preferences; secondly, organizational enlargement decisions at the macro level (Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier, 2002: 508-512). The CEEC’s desire to join the EU can be explained through both rationalist and constructivist approaches. In constructivist terms, they wished to join the EU to “return to Europe” be considered as part of the “European family”. In rationalist terms, they wished to join the EU to benefit from market access, attract more foreign direct investment and become part of the EU’s decision-making mechanisms (Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier, 2002: 519-520).

From a rationalist perspective, the interests of member states are crucial for EU enlargement policies. As Müftüler Baç and McLaren put it, “member states with clients would like to see these clients come in”. For example, Germany appeared to take Poland as its client (Müftüler Baç and McLaren, 2003: 20-21), whereas, Turkey has not established a “patron-client relationship” with any member state (Mühlenhoff, 2009: 16). The enlargement preferences of member states and applicant states are influenced by the expected costs and benefits of enlargement. Those member states which expect net losses from enlargement may not prevent enlargement if their bargaining power is strong enough to obtain compensation from the winners (Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier, 2002: 508-512). Thus, enlargement is possible if losers are compensated through side payments, and if various concessions are given by the winners, so long as their cost is less than the winners’ benefits from enlargement. Losers may also not oppose enlargement if the winners can threaten them with exclusion, so long as the cost of exclusion to the loser is more than the cost of enlargement (Schimmelfennig, 2001: 54).

However, although rationalist approaches can explain the EU’s enlargement process up to the point where Europe agreements were signed with CEECs, they cannot explain why the process was able to continue and result in the membership of CEECs (Sedelmeier, 2001: 20). The association with CEECs enabled the potential winners to intensify their economic relations with those countries; meanwhile, it protected the potential losers from the costs of budget competition. In addition, association allowed the EU to protect the sectors, particularly those vulnerable to competition. This means EU enlargement policy towards CEECs cannot be explained only on a rationalist basis. Rather, it requires explanation with the help of a constructivist approach. This takes the EU to be the organization representing a liberal community of European states, and analyses its decision to start negotiations with CEECs as motivated by the wish to include those countries sharing its liberal values and norms (Schimmelfennig, 2001: 47-56). That is, according to a constructivist approach, EU enlargement policy has been influenced by ideational and cultural factors, with one of the most influential being whether the member and candidate states share a common identity and values or not. While, the EU’s supranational institutions like the European Commission may have preferences influenced by organizational norms, member state governments may be influenced by a combination of national and European identities (Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier, 2002: 513-515).

Actors may justify their interests on the basis of legitimacy and shame those who do not act similarly. Schimmelfennig (2001: 48-73) uses the concept of “rhetorical action”, which refers to the “strategic use of norm-based arguments”. EU member states could not openly oppose or threaten enlargement towards CEECs. In other words, although the “rhetorical action” of the enlargement’s supporters, or “drivers”, could not change the opposition of the “brakemen”, it was able to prevent them from openly opposing the enlargement, leaving them “rhetorically entrapped”. That is, from a constructivist perspective, those actors with an interest in enlargement were able to use normative arguments to push other more sceptical member states towards accepting CEEC accession.

Policies of Member States towards the Eastern Enlargement

Although the Commission and the European Parliament (EP) are involved, the enlargement process is mainly intergovernmental, with all member states trying to protect their national interests. Each member state can veto the opening of negotiations with a candidate country, the opening and closing of each chapter, and the closure of negotiations (İçener, et al., 2010: 211).

The preferences of member states can be explained on the basis of primarily rationalist and secondly constructivist approaches. The main goals of the Eastern enlargement were stabilising Central and Eastern Europe and expand the zone of peace and prosperity in the post-Cold war era. In addition to these utilitarian concerns, similarities in culture and identity influenced the preferences of member states. Geographical proximity created economic opportunities through trade and investment, and reductions in the costs of communication and transport. Those countries highly involved in CEEC economies stood to gain most from their membership; thus, they supported membership more. As Schimmelfennig (2001: 50-52) argues, the enlargement preferences of the member states were influenced by their geographical position, with those bordering the CEECs becoming “drivers” of the enlargement. As Sjursen (2002: 497) notes, the economic costs of Eastern enlargement were more than the gains in both the short and medium term. Member states that would gain the most from the Eastern enlargement were those that were net contributors to the EU budget, while current beneficiaries from the budget would gain little.

The membership prospects of a candidate country become much stronger if it has a strong alliance with member states, and even more so if this alliance includes some of the stronger member states, such as Germany and France, or if there are no opponents to that country’s accession (İçener, et al, 2010: 213). As Öniş (2004: 508-509) argues, the support for the membership by a strong member state or a set of countries has a crucial influence in the accession of a candidate country. In addition, Germany and France have been the “motor of European integration”, which means that they are the driving force for integration. They have the largest populations in the EU, while Germany is the biggest contributor to the EU budget (Mühlenhoff, 2009: 1). Germany played a crucial role in the Eastern enlargement. In contrast, although the UK and Spain have supported Turkey’s membership, they do not have the same political and economic influence in the EU that France and Germany have.

Schimmelfennig (2001: 54) argues that the “drivers” of Eastern Enlargement were Germany, the UK and Denmark, who committed the EU early and firmly to Eastern enlargement; they were the primary actors in the EU’s preparation for this process. Germany favoured early enlargement towards its closest neighbours, Poland, Hungary and the CzechRepublic, both for economic and security reasons. The main security reason was that, after the reunification of Germany, instability in its neighbours was undesirable. The main economic reason was traditional economic links between Germany and its neighbours in Central Europe. On the other hand, France has no land frontier with the Central European states and fewer economic links with those countries. Consequently, France and the other Mediterranean member states were sceptical about the Eastern enlargement as it might reduce their influence within the EU and shift the EU’s centre of gravity towards Germany (Bache, et al., 2011: 543). Several member states may also have appeared less supportive of enlargement in order to gain side payments from those member states that are in favour of enlargement (I. Barnes and P. Barnes, 2010: 422). Italy was sceptical that the Eastern enlargement might shift the EU’s attention to the East and away from the Mediterranean, particularly in terms of funding. The Benelux countries were more neutral because they did not have much to lose or gain from the process. Greece, meanwhile, focused on gaining accession for Cyprus (Schimmelfennig, 2001: 53); threatening other member states by saying it would veto the enlargement unless Cyprus was included. Cyprus was duly included in the Eastern enlargement in 2004, even though the Annan Plan, prepared at the initiative of the United Nations (UN) to solve the Cyprus issue, had been rejected by Greek Cypriots, meaning that the Cyprus issue could not be resolved before it joined the EU.

The UK’s support for Eastern enlargement was influenced by its desire for more intergovernmental structure in the EU (Sjursen, 2002: 498). Southern EU member states, particularly France, Greece and Italy, supported Bulgaria and Romania’s accession (Schimmelfennig, 2001: 51), which was also supported as a reward them for their support for NATO’s operation in Kosovo (Bache, et al, 2011: 546). France was the main supporter of Romania because it needed an ally to balance the growing influence of Central Europe within the EU and maintain control over Germany’s increasing political power. Therefore, despite its economic underdevelopment and democratic deficiencies, Romania was included among the candidates at the Luxembourg Summit in 1997 (Müftüler Baç and McLaren, 2003: 22). The Nordic countries supported the inclusion of the Baltic States, mainly because of geographical and historical ties (Bache, et al., 2011: 545), though also for economic reasons.

The EU’s Eastern enlargement carried high costs for less developed members specialized in the same economic fields as CEECs, such as agriculture and textiles. Economically, CEECs would become structural net recipients from EU membership. In particular, the Eastern enlargement affected the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the structural policies, which are the main items in the EU budget. Thus, the enlargement carried very significant costs that would negatively affect the main beneficiaries of the EU budget, namely Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal (Schimmelfennig, 2001: 52-56). Nevertheless, these countries did not veto the enlargement. This suggests that, so long as the most influential countries, like France and Germany, are in favour of a country’s accession, they can usually convince the other member states to follow their lead.

Policies of EU Member States towards Turkey’s Membership

The EU has perceived Turkey as eligible for membership since its application in 1987. However, as Diez (2010) points out, the EU’s commitment to reunification with CEECs implied a commitment to membership, while there is only a commitment to negotiate membership with Turkey, rather than a promise of membership. [2]

Turkey’s main integration challenges are that it is “too big, too poor, too populous and too different” (Tsoukalis, 2006; cited in İçener, et al, 2010: 215). The EU-Turkey Negotiating Framework, adopted by the European Council in October 2005, states that, in accordance with the conclusions of the Copenhagen European Council, “the Union’s capacity to absorb Turkey, while maintaining the momentum of European integration is an important consideration in the general interest of both the Union and Turkey” (Clause 3, 2005). It also emphasized that accession negotiations with Turkey are an “open-ended process, the outcome of which can not be guaranteed” (Clause 2, 2005). It warned that “long transition periods, specific arrangements or permanent safeguard clauses, clauses which are permanently available as a basis for safeguard measures, may be considered. The Commission will include these, as appropriate, in its proposals in areas such as freedom of movement of persons, structural policies or agriculture” (Clause 12, 2005).

According to the European Stability Initiative report (2010: 1) on Turkey-EU relations, they have a “special relationship” based on an open-ended accession process. Although it is not part of the accession criteria, the Cyprus issue has been one of the main challenges hindering Turkey’s membership. In July 2005, Turkey signed the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement, which would extend the Customs Union between Turkey and the EU to the new member states, including Cyprus. However, Turkey did not open its ports to Greek Cypriots as required, because the EU had not fulfilled its promises towards the Turkish Cypriot side after they accepted the Annan Plan referendum in 2004, which aimed to reunify the island. In June 2006, the former Commissioner for EU Enlargement even warned of a possible “train crash” with Turkey because of the Cyprus issue. Only one chapter  (Science and Research) has been provisionally closed in the negotiations between Turkey and the EU. In addition, because Turkey did not ratify the Additional Protocol, the EU Council froze the opening of eight chapters in December 2006, and it was decided that no chapter would be provisionally closed until Turkey fully applied the Additional Protocol. Later, the French government blocked an additional four chapters because former French President Sarkozy was against Turkey’s full membership. In December 2009, Cyprus blocked six more chapters (European Stability Initiative, 2010: 5-9). Diez (2010: 168-171) argues that alternative models of relations between Turkey and the EU can be discussed if both sides agree that “membership is not achievable”. He emphasizes that the stalling of membership negotiations because of the Cyprus issue is unfair to Turkey because the Greek Cypriot part of the island was accepted as an EU member state without waiting to solve the Cyprus issue.

Supporters of Turkey’s membership usually emphasize its necessity and importance in strategic and utilitarian terms. They argue that Turkey’s membership will have a positive influence on Europe’s energy security, its fight against terrorism, its defence capabilities and its cooperation with NATO. Especially after September 11, they have also promoted Turkey’s accession in terms of its potential influence in the Middle East and its position as a “bridge” between the West and the Islamic world. On the other hand, some opponents of Turkey’s membership to the EU also use security considerations, but as a negative factor, emphasizing the risks that may emerge from the new neighbours, particularly Iran, Iraq and Syria, that the EU would gain if Turkey became a member state (İçener, et al, 2010: 212).

Changes in governments and other domestic political developments in several member states, particularly the stronger ones, have had a crucial influence on policies towards Turkey’s membership. For example, Greece, which had resisted Turkey’s candidacy at the Luxembourg Summit in 1997, was no longer against it at the Helsinki Summit in 1999. There were several reasons behind this change, such as Greece’s own need for budgetary cuts, especially in defence spending, in order to participate in the Eurozone. Since Turkey is a priority for Greek defence expenditure, a rapprochement with Turkey would allow defence spending in Greece to be reduced (Müftüler Baç and McLaren, 2003: 23). Rapprochement was also accelerated by the mutual support offered after major earthquakes in both countries.

Another factor influencing member state policies towards candidate countries is the different visions about “Europe’s finality”. For example, the British sees the EU primarily as a single market, while also favouring cooperation in several policy fields, such as foreign and security policy. Thus, Turkey’s membership is not perceived as a challenge to the British vision of the EU. In contrast, in Germany and France, visions of Europe’s finality differ across political orientations. Conservatives are usually more sceptical about Turkey’s membership, compared to the Socialists, the Greens and the Liberals, because they perceive it as a challenge to European identity and deepening of the EU (Bache, et al., 2011: 547-548).

The first Chancellor of Germany, Konrad Adenauer, from the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), supported Turkey’s EC membership. CDU member Walter Hallstein, President of the Commission, stated that Turkey was an integral part of Europe, while former German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel supported signing the Customs Union in 1995 (Mühlenhoff, 2009: 16). Under the CDU’s Helmut Kohl, Germany turned against Turkey’s candidacy, although this changed again at the Helsinki Summit as a Social Democrat/Green coalition was in power with Gerhard Schröder as Chancellor. In 1999, Germany played a crucial role in gaining official candidate status for Turkey (Müftüler Baç and McLaren, 2003: 20-23).

More recently, since October 2009, the CDU has been in power under Chancellor Merkel, in coalition with the FDP (Liberal Party) and CSU (Christian Social Party). The CDU party program stated that Turkey has to fulfil the Copenhagen criteria to gain membership, although the EU’s “absorption capacity” [3] will also have to be taken into consideration. The program also stated that the CDU is in favour of “privileged partnership” (2007:101 cited in Mühlenhoff, 2009: 4). However, Germany acted on the principle of “pacta sunt servanda”, so Merkel has not blocked negotiations between Turkey and the EU, unlike France. The FDP’s position, which emphasises potential economic benefits from Turkey’s accession,  is more positive than that of the CDU and CSU, although it is less supportive than the SPD. Nevertheless, the coalition agreement stated that “the negotiations between Turkey and the EU should be an ‘open-ended’ process” (cited in Mühlenhoff, 2009: 1-5). Although all negotiations are open-ended, emphasizing this in the coalition agreement reflects scepticism about Turkey’s membership prospects (Mühlenhoff, 2009: 3).  In the recent elections in September 2013 in Germany, Merkel won the elections again and currently going on negotiations with the SPD or the Greens to form a coalition government. Thus, there will be no crucial changes in the policies of Germany towards Turkey’s accession to the EU.

In France, perceptions about Turkey’s membership have varied. The presidential elections in 2007 brought Nicolas Sarkozy to power, who is the leader of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). He had previously expressed his opposition to Turkey’s membership in his book “Testimony” [4]: “I oppose the views regarding the entry of Turkey to the EU. I fully understand the strategic expectations. However, these expectations can be fulfilled through a strategic partnership agreement … accession of a country, 98% of whose  land is outside the European continent, who will be the most populous country of the Union in the coming 20 years and, moreover, whose culture carries several main aspects of Islam into the EU, will create an overall transformation within the EU, thus will weaken the original idea of the founding fathers of the EU … eventually leading to a chaos” (cited in Lagro, 2008: 72). In the 2012 elections, François Hollande from the Socialists came to power, being seen as relatively more favourable towards Turkey. Although this may help Turkey’s accession process, France has not yet lifted its block on the chapters.

Opposition to Turkey’s membership is also seen in Netherlands, Luxembourg and Denmark (Lagro, 2008: 77), while supporters of membership include the UK, Spain, Italy and Portugal, who believe that it would strengthen the Mediterranean’s position relative to other regions in the EU. Sweden, Finland and Ireland support Turkey too for political and strategic reasons, believing that the EU has to fulfil its previously stated commitments if it is to maintain its international credibility, a view that is shared by Belgium, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia. The three Baltic republics and Poland favour Turkey’s membership because they support further enlargement generally, since they have an interest in the accession of other countries in their neighbourhood to shelter them against Russia (Kramer, 2006: 4-5; cited in Öner, 2011: 393).

According to the Copenhagen School’s constructivist explanation, for securitisation of a “speech act” by a security actor, which constructs an issue as a threat to the survival of certain things is not enough; in addition, there a certain audience is required that accepts the construction of that issue as a threat (Buzan, et. al., 1998: 23). On the basis of the CopenhagenSchool’s constructivist explanation, Macmillan argues that Turkey membership bid has been securitised by the French and German right-wing through speech acts. Specifically, the discourses of recent leaders in France and Germany have constructed it as a threat to societal security, meaning European society as a whole. Public opinion in EU member states is also highly sceptical about Turkey’s membership, which means there is an audience for its securitisation by political actors. This has led to the suggestion of a “privileged partnership” for Turkey by leaders in France and Germany. Such a suggestion exemplifies the “extraordinary measures” considered necessary for the securitisation of an issue. That is, there has been an attempt to move Turkey’s membership bid out of normal politics so that it becomes securitised (Macmillan, 2010: 447-458) by politicians in several member states. One example of securitisation through a “speech act” is a statement by Valery Giscard d’Estaing, former French president and head of the European Convention, which prepared the Constitutional Treaty. In an interview with Le Monde he stated that “Turkey’s capital is not in Europe, 95 percent of its population lives outside Europe, it is not a European country”. For him, Turkish accession would mean “the end of the Europe” (Le Monde, 2002). The securitisation of Turkey’s accession has negatively influenced the perceptions of the public opinion in these member states.


The analysis presented here demonstrates that rationalist explanations are not enough to understand differences in EU policies towards its Eastern enlargement and Turkey’s accession. First, the EU felt a responsibility to support CEECs’ democratization and economic development in the post-Cold War era (Sedelmeier, 2001: 16-17). As Sjursen (2002: 506-508) argues, Eastern Europe was considered as the “kidnapped West”, based on artificial  borders between Eastern and Western Europe. Thus, “kinship-based duty” was one of the factors contributing to EU support for Eastern enlargement. Second, EU policy towards CEECs was not only related to the interests of EU actors. It also relates to the EU’s identity (Sedelmeier, 2001: 18-19). That is, the EU emphasized its common cultural heritage with CEECs in the post-Cold War era and their belonging to a common “European family” (Sjursen, 2002: 491-513), while Turkey’s place within this family has been questioned.

Turkey has received less material support from the EU compared to the CEECs, while ambiguous signals from EU elites about its membership prospects have also strengthened the position of Euro-sceptics in Turkey, which has hindered the efforts of reforming elements in the country (Öniş, 2004: 485-495).

A clear indicator of EU discrimination for many Turkish people is the lack of visa-free travel in Europe for Turkish passport holders, in contrast to Eastern Europeans, who first gained visa-free travel in the early 1990s (Bulgarians in April 2001 and Romanians in January 2002) even before their countries’ accession to the EU (Çakır, 2010: 38). Citizens from most Western Balkan countries have also enjoyed visa-free travel since 2009. Given these developments, visa liberalisation for Turkey would provide evidence for Turkish citizens that the EU remains committed to Turkey’s full membership (European Stability Initiative, 2010: 1).

In conclusion, both rationalist and constructivist factors have influenced EU enlargement policy (Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier, 2002: 524). As Schimmelfennig (2001: 76) argues, while rationalism can explain most preferences of actors, it cannot explain their enlargement decisions. Therefore, whereas association with CEECs can be explained in rationalist terms, their accession in a relatively short period, despite having only recently moved to a democratic and free market economic system can best be explained in constructivist terms. Regarding Turkey, supporters of its membership usually emphasize rationalist arguments, such as its geostrategic importance. On the other hand, those against its membership emphasize differences in culture and identity that require explanation in constructivist terms. The enlargement policies of individual member states have influenced the EU’s enlargement policies. In particular, the policies of France and Germany have played a crucial role, although this may change to a certain extent depending on changes in governments in Germany and the President in France. The role of public opinion has also affected the enlargement process too by influencing member state policies towards different candidate countries.

In rationalist terms, the on-going negotiations with Turkey have continued because neither side wants to lose the other due to mutual interests in terms of the economy, geopolitical factors and security. It is also in accordance with the commitments of the EU and the principle of “pacta sunt servanda”. However, a constructivist perspective is needed to explain the slow momentum of the negotiation process because of doubts about the compatibility of Turkey’s culture and identity with the EU’s. The final result of this process depends on the interests and political will of member states, especially Germany and France, but also on political and economic stability in Turkey, the momentum of the reform process in Turkey. Finally, it also depends on the EU solving its internal problems, particularly its economic crisis, and on changing international circumstances.

Selcen Öner, Assistant Professor, Department of EU Relations, Bahçeşehir University

Please cite this publication as follows:

Öner, Selcen  (October, 2013), The Role of Member States in EU Enlargement Policy: The Eastern Enlargement and Turkey’s Accession Process”, Vol. II, Issue 8, pp.63-71, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (


[1] The enlargements in 2004 and 2007 are usually referred to as the “Eastern enlargement”.

[2] Article 28 of the Ankara Agreement states that “as soon as the operation of this Agreement has advanced far enough to justify envisaging full acceptance by Turkey of the obligations arising out of the Treaty establishing the Community, the Contracting parties shall examine the possibility of the accession of Turkey to the Community” (1963).

[3] At the Copenhagen Summit in 1993, the concept of “absorption capacity” was introduced for the first time, when it was stated that “the EU’s capacity to absorb new members, while maintaining the momentum of European integration, is also an important consideration in general interest of both the Union and the candidate countries” (Council of the EU, 1993, point 7 A, iii).

[4] For further detail, see Nicolas, Sarkozy, Testimony: France, Europe and the World in the 21st Century, Hampshire: Harriman House Publishing, 2007.



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