European Law Monitor

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The misrepresentations and misleading statements made by Vote Leave on Turkey being fast tracked for full EU membership

The claim that Turkey was going to joining the EU was made in the Vote Leave referendum leaflet sent out to every household. This leaflet stated that

“The EU is expanding to include: Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey.

When we joined, there were just 9 member states. Now there are 28, the most recent being Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia. Five more countries are in the queue to join, including Turkey, totalling 89 million people.

When they join, they will have the same rights as other member states”

Vote Leave also published a poster on the issue of Turkey joining:  It is worth noting that this poster says “Turkey is joining” rather than “Turkey may be joining”.

In Vote Leaves campaign leaflet “Voting to stay is the risky option” Vote Leave said:

•    The EU recently announced an ‘acceleration’ of the accession process for Turkey.

In order for a country to join the EU it has to go through a process of aligning its national law in line with EU law. EU law subdivides into 35 Chapters, and all of these Chapters need to be completed before a country can join the EU as a full member. They also have to abolish the death penalty in order to join the EU.

The process of Turkey trying to join the EU has moved at glacial slowness. Therefore, whenever anything happens then it counts as “acceleration”

According to the table of Chapters completed by Turkey  as of 8th January 2016 , one chapter has been completed out of 35. Therefore Turkey will not be joining anytime soon. Accession negotiations started in 2005, but until Turkey agrees to apply the Additional Protocol of the Ankara Association Agreement to Cyprus, eight negotiation chapters will not be opened and no chapter will be provisionally closed. To date Turkey has not accepted the Additional Protocol, despite signing it in 1970, and until it does and all Chapters are closed Turkey will not join as a full member of the EU.

The  European  Union  (the  EU)  launched  the Visa Liberalisation Dialogue ("VLD")  with Turkey  on  16  December  2013. Turkey joining (accession) is a separate process to the Visa Liberalisation Dialogue. Therefore, completion of the Visa Liberalisation Dialogue benchmarks does not mean that Turkey has joined as a full member of the EU. They are parallel processes, not the same process.

The VLD is based on the Roadmap towards a visa free regime with Turkey (the Roadmap), a  document  setting  out  the  requirements that Turkey needs  to meet  in  order  to enable the Commission to propose to the European Parliament and the Council an amendment to  the Regulation  (EC)  No  539/2001  which  would  allow  Turkish citizens  to  travel  for  short stays (i.e. of 90 days within any 180-day period) in the Schengen area without a visa. It is worth noting that this roadmap permits short-stay visa free travel in the Schengen area only. The UK is not part of Schengen.

The 72 requirements  listed  in  the  Roadmap  are  organised  in  five  thematic  groups  ("blocks"): document security; migration management; public order and security; fundamental rights and readmission of irregular migrants. On  20  October  2014,  the  Commission  adopted  its First  report  on  progress  by  Turkey  in fulfilling  the  requirements  of  its  visa  liberalisation  roadmap (the  First Report).

By May 2016, Turkey had five outstanding blocks remaining before all 72 blocks were complete, and visa free travel would be considered for Turkey within the Schengen area. As there were five outstanding, the European Parliament said they would not consider voting on the completion of the Visa Roadmap until every section was complete. Therefore, Turkey will not be eligible for visa free travel until all those blocks are complete. Even if Turkey does complete those blocks, Turkish citizens won’t be able to travel to the UK under visa free travel as this proposal doesn’t apply to the UK or Ireland.

•    According to the Vote Leave campaign literature “David Cameron says he is ‘angry’ at the delays to Turkey joining and that he wants to ‘pave the road’ from Ankara. It is official UK Government policy for Turkey to join as soon as possible. It is also official UK Government policy not to have a referendum on accession”.

David Cameron’s speech on Turkey was given in 2010. A copy of the speech can be found at the following link.

In one sense it is irrelevant if David Cameron supports Turkish membership. In order for any country to join the EU it has to be unanimously agreed by all 28 Member States. Each country has a veto, and a number of EU countries have already said that they would veto Turkey joining.  Cyprus is top of the list, and until Turkey withdraws from Northern Cyprus, Cyprus will almost certainly veto Turkish membership.

It is also worth noting that there is an organisation called Conservative Friends of Turkey, whose founder members include Dan Hannan MEP, Boris Johnson and Douglas Carswell, who all raised fears in the electorates mind about Turkey joining, despite their personal support for the policy.

•    According to Vote Leave, “when these countries join, we can expect over 5 million extra people to settle in the UK”.

There is no evidence to support this statement.

•    According to Vote Leave “The Bank of England has calculated that a 10% increase in migration results in a 2% decline in wages for the lowest paid”.

The fifth conclusion of this report by the Bank of England (p3)  was that “The  empirical  literature  from  around  the  world  suggests  little  or  no  evidence  that  immigrants  have  had  a  major  impact  on  native  labour  market  outcomes  such  as  wages  and  unemployment.    Recent  work  by  a  number  of  other  authors  for  the  UK  is  also  consistent with this view”, which is the opposite to what Vote Leave are saying the Bank of England have said.

Despite the fact that significant numbers of people are convinced that EU migrants come here and take peoples' jobs, and reduce their wages, detailed academic studies have found no evidence of this. This statement is misleading as it feeds into people’s perceptions of EU immigration rather than the reality.

According to an Ipsos Mori poll issued on the 23rd June 2016, another interesting fact that a number of people got wrong was the number of EU immigrants as a percentage of the UK population. People believed that figure was approximately 15% whereas Ipsos Mori said in reality it was 6%.

According to Vote Leave “Nothing in David Cameron’s deal protects us from these dangers. He promised that EU migrants would need to have a job offer but he did not ask for this change to the Treaties. The living wage policy combined with free movement will make these problems even worse”.

Under established case law principles, job seekers can come to another EU country and try and find work for up to six months, provided they have enough money to support themselves whilst they are looking for work. If they haven’t found work by then, they can be sent back so they do not become a drain on the State.

According to Vote Leave “This is just the latest example of Turkey’s accession being fast-tracked”.

•    On 29 November 2015, ‘the EU welcomed a re-energizing of the accession process’ as part of its attempt to contain its migrant crisis (European Council, link).

Whilst the European Commission did say that, the full quote reads as follows:

“the EU welcomed a re-energizing of the accession process and confirmed its willingness to support Turkey in its reform efforts.  In this regard, the EU underlined the need for swift reform efforts, particularly in the areas of rule of law and fundamental rights. In addition, the EU recalled that Turkey can accelerate the pace of negotiations by advancing in the fulfilment of benchmarks, by meeting the requirements of the Negotiating Framework and by respecting its contractual obligations towards the EU.  Since the start of the accession negotiations on 3 October 2005, fifteen chapters have been opened, of which one has been provisionally closed.”

This quote makes clear that Turkey is a long way off full EU membership, not that it will happen anytime soon. There are another 34 Chapters to complete before Turkey can join as a full member of the EU, and on the basis that it has taken Turkey 11 years to complete one Chapter, it should finish the other 34 in about 350 years time….

•    According to Vote Leave “A new Chapter of the accession negotiations, on Economic and Monetary Policy, was opened on 14 December 2015. This represented a quickening of Turkish accession talks (European Commission, January 2016, link)”.

 The link just takes you through to a list of the Chapters that have been opened and closed. There is no comment by the European Commission that this “represented a quickening of Turkish accession talks”; very misleading.

•    According to Vote Leave “In May 2016, the Commission announced that progress towards accession would ‘accelerate’ (European Commission, 4 May 2016, link).”

 No it didn’t. It said progress on Turkeys visa liberalisation roadmap would accelerate, which is a separate process to Turkish accession.

In the same article the European Commission also made it clear that “Visa-free travel will apply to all EU Member States except for Ireland and the UK, and to the four Schengen associated countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). The exemption concerns only short stays of up to 90 days (in any 180-day period) for business, tourist or family purposes, among others. The visa exemption does not provide for the right to work in the EU. Other entry conditions for accessing the Schengen area will continue to apply, including the need to be able to prove their purpose of travel and sufficient subsidence means."

According to Vote Leave “Turkey is set to join the EU in the near future: we are paying them to join.

•    Turkey is due to join the EU in the next few years, having already signed a deal with the EU to prepare for accession (European Commission, March 2016, link).”

This is not what the link says. What it actually says is that “As part of the agreement, the EU has agreed to accelerate implementation of Turkey's roadmap for visa liberalisation with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens by the end of June 2016. Turkey must now fulfil all remaining conditions so that the Commission can adopt its proposal by the end of April. At the same time, EU leaders agreed, under the Dutch Presidency of the Council, to open a new chapter – number 33 on financial and budgetary provisions – in Turkey's accession negotiations.

So, the above quote is not talking about Turkey joining (accession) but the Visa Liberalisation roadmap, which is a separate process. The Visa Liberalisation process was not completed, and the European Parliament has said that it will not discuss and vote on this issue until the process is complete. It is highly unlikely that the Visa Liberalisation process will now take place, following the attempted coup in Turkey.

Turkey has completed only one of 35 Chapters of legislation that it needs to bring in line with EU law before it can join, including eight Chapters concerning Cyprus, so there is no way Turkey will be joining by 2020. This is both inflammatory and misleading.

Vote Leave appear to have consistently and deliberately muddled the Visa Liberalisation Dialogue process with Turkish accession, so that people would confuse the two and believe that Turkey will be joining as full members of the EU soon. They aren’t.

Michael Gove stated that Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey were all set to join the EU by 2020. This is untrue and misleading, and a false representation of fact by Vote Leave, made dishonestly without any grounds for belief in its truth.

This is the status of Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia in terms of the likelihood of them joining as full members of the EU: none of these countries are going to be joining as full members anytime soon. The European Commission publishes updated reports on how a country is progressing towards EU membership. The progress reports of Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are detailed below. Turkish membership is dealt with separately.

1.    When a country is ready it becomes an official candidate for membership – but this does not necessarily mean that formal negotiations have been opened.

2.    The candidate moves on to formal membership negotiations, a process that involves the adoption of established EU law, preparations to be in a position to properly apply and enforce it and implementation of judicial, administrative, economic and other reforms necessary for the country to meet the conditions for joining, known as accession criteria.

3.    When the negotiations and accompanying reforms have been completed to the satisfaction of both sides, the country can join the EU.

Albania 2.8 million

In June 2014, which is only two years ago, Albania was awarded candidate status by the EU. Membership negotiations have not started yet. It has therefore years of work ahead of it in order to meet the accession criteria. The current state of play of Albania’s progress towards full membership is available here

Macedonia 2.1 million

The EU accession process for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is at an impasse.

Failure to act on the Commission’s recommendation to the Council means that accession negotiations have still not been opened. At the same time, the government’s failure to deliver sufficiently on a number of key issues damaged the sustainability of reforms, with backsliding evident in some areas.

Macedonia has not progressed with the process of joining, and accession negotiations have still not been opened. Therefore, there is no way that Macedonia will be joining as a full member by 2020.  Macedonia’s current status is that of a candidate country.

Montenegro 0.6 million

The accession negotiations with Montenegro started on 29 June 2012

In 2015, the European Commission published an update on Montenegro’s progress. It said “Montenegro is at an early stage of preparation on, environment and climate change.

Aligning with the acquis and strengthening the administrative capacity remains a substantial challenge for Montenegro”.  Montenegro is therefore a long way off full membership and it is misleading and untrue to suggest that Montenegro will be at the point of full membership by 2020.

A copy of Montenegro’s progress report is available at

 Serbia 7.2 million

Serbia – along with 5 other Western Balkans countries – was identified as a potential candidate for EU membership during the Thessaloniki European Council summit in 2003. In 2008, a European partnership for Serbia was adopted, setting out priorities for the country's membership application, and in 2009 Serbia formally applied. In March 2012 Serbia was granted EU candidate status. In September 2013 a Stabilisation and Association Agreement  between the EU and Serbia entered into force.

In line with the decision of the European Council in June 2013 to open accession negotiations with Serbia, the Council adopted in December 2013 the negotiating framework and agreed to hold the 1st Intergovernmental Conference with Serbia in January 2014.

On 21 January 2014, the 1st Intergovernmental Conference took place, signalling the formal start of Serbia's accession negotiations

14-12-2015: The second Intergovernmental Conference on Serbia’s EU accession sees the opening of two out of 35 negotiating chapters. The negotiations were opened on Chapter 32, dealing with financial control and Chapter 35 (other issues). There is therefore a number of years to go before Serbia is ready to join as a full member of the EU, and it is misleading and untrue for Vote Leave to imply otherwise.

David Cameron identified the statement that Turkey would join the EU by 2020 as a lie. The sole purpose of these lies was to scare the electorate into believing that huge numbers of people from Turkey, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia were going to be headed to the UK in four years’ time, and that voting leave was the only way to stop this happening.

Proof that these misrepresentations and misleading statements misled the electorate.

An Ipsos Mori poll issued on the 23rd June 2016  found that 45% of people believed that if we remain in the EU Turkey will be fast tracked into becoming a full EU Member and their population (80m) will be given the right of free movement to the UK.