Turkey’s Accession to the EU: VoteWatch analysis on eleven years of voting on accession negotiations with Turkey

by Michael Kaeding[1] and Felix Schenuit

The political situation between Turkey and the EU is getting increasingly delicate. Recent developments, including Erdogan’s clear-cut reactions towards the resolution of the German Bundestag on the Armenian Genocide or the “Böhmermann affair” illustrate how big the differences are between Turkey and EU’s Member States. Driven by the so-called “migration crisis” and most recent failed coup d´état during these summer days 2016 in particular, the “strategic partners” in Brussels and Ankara face a multitude of challenges.

Progress reports as a barometer of EU-Turkey state of affairs

The latest 2015 Resolution of the European Parliament regarding the Progress Report on Turkey on 14 April 2016 gives the opportunity to take stock of the last eleven years of accession negotiations and of the changing relationship between the EU and Turkey. Our analysis assesses the timely state of affairs in EU-Turkey relations by focusing on European Parliament voting records in light of its yearly adopted Progress Reports on Turkey. Together with the voting results data provided by VoteWatch, they offer an opportunity to analyse the relationship between the EU and Turkey and the state of affairs with regard to Turkey’s accession.

Changes in sentiment in EU-Turkey relations — parliamentary voting results from 2005 to 2016

Looking at the voting behaviour of the European Parliament on the various resolutions since 2005 (Graph 1), it becomes clear that 2016 was the first year since 2005 in which an absolute majority in favour of the resolution was not reached (49,93%). In fact, European Parliament support has fallen ever since the level of parliamentary support reached a peak in 2008 at 70% support.

Graph 1: Voting results in the EP: 2005-2015 Resolutions on Progress Reports on Turkey

Graph 1

*Non-Voter: Absent + Didn’t vote

Furthermore, there appears to be a strong relationship between the number of MEPs who did not vote (non-voters) and those who voted in favour. This leads to the assumption that MEPs who did not vote in favour of the resolutions would rather not take part in the vote than abstain or reject the resolution. It is logical to assume that they do this strategically as, by doing so, they avoid being placed in the category of ´rebels´. This became particularly clear in the latest vote on the 2015 resolution (20.77% non-voters) on 14 April 2016.

Missing internal party group cohesion at the centre-right spectrum

A closer look at the voting results of the latest resolution (Graph 2) also reveals that the conservative groups (EPP, ECR, EFDD, IND/DEM, UEN) are less cohesive than the other groups.

Graph 2: Voting results in the EP: 2015 Resolution on Progress Report on Turkey

Graph 2

Internal party group cohesion at the centre-right spectrum on Turkey matters has always been low. In fact, graph 3 illustrates that the cohesion rates for the conservative groups (2005-2015) have always been considerably lower than for the groups positioned to the left.

The EPP is particularly worth singling out. Since 2005, it in fact has supported every majority in favour of the resolutions on the progress reports on Turkey. However, the cohesion rates for the EPP indicate that this group position has always been highly contested within the party group.

A comparison with the second-largest political group, S&D, reveals that the cohesion rates of the EPP (63.35%) have, been 23% lower over the last few years than those of the S&D group (86.53%). A real challenge in times of ever tighter majorities in the EP.[2]

Graph 3: Average cohesion in the votes on the 2005- 2015 Resolutions on Progress Report on Turkey

Graph 3

German and French delegations within the EPP – haven for ´rebels´

Furthermore, VoteWatch data reveal that since the first Turkey Resolution in 2005 it has always predominantly been the German and French EPP members that form the rebel group.[3] Despite their considerable sizes of the German and French delegations within the EPP group, their proportion among the rebels – those not following party group line – is significantly higher than their proportion in the group as a whole.

In addition, since the 2014 Resolution on the Progress Report on Turkey on 15.06.2015 we see a new development. The share of rebels within the German delegation has decreased, with almost all MEPs voted in line with the group. The French MEPs, in contrast, have remained rebels and voted more or less united against the resolution.

Strategical non-voting: reducing the political costs of disagreement

Overall, however, a lot of MEPs have joined the group of non-voters over the last couple of years. Especially the German delegation consists of a lot of non-voters. About 24% of German MEPs in the EPP did not vote or were absent. Did they vote strategically?

Outlook: a politicized relationship in times of “migration crisis” and failed coup d´état

In the context of the so-called “migration crisis” and the “EU-Turkey-Deal” the new Turkey report by the European Commission will attract even more attention than previous ones. The failed coup d´état in Turkey and its short, medium and long-term consequences will be monitored carefully – also in Brussels.

In the European Parliament, the tensions within the EPP, in particular, the biggest group in the European Parliament will be decisive. It will shape the parliamentary debate on Turkey – also in light of its next resolution on the progress report on Turkey in spring 2017.

Here, the role of internal party group cohesion will be crucial. In a European Parliament with tighter majorities than ever, ´rebelling´ MEPs and disloyal voting behaviour especially among the big German and French delegations might potentially risk the needed absolute majority. Especially the future voting behaviour of German MEPs will be important. As 24% of them stayed away from the last parliamentary vote, their positioning on this matter will be crucial.


[1] Michael Kaeding is Jean Monnet Professor ad personam at the University of Duisburg- Essen. He teaches at the College of Europe and is Chairman of TEPSA. Felix Schenuit is a Master student and Research Assistant at the NRW School of Governance/University of Duisburg-Essen.

[2] Michael Kaeding, Niko Switek (2015) Die Europawahl 2014. Spitzenkandidaten, Protestparteien, Nichtwähler, Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

[3] For the data see Kaeding, Schenuit (2016) – Das Europäische Parlament und der Tür-keibeitritt Eine VoteWatch-Bilanz nach elf Jahren Abstimmungsverhalten zu den Beitrittsverhandlungen mit der Türkei; accessible at: http://regierungsforschung.de/das-europaeische-parlament-und-der-tuerkeibeitritt-eine-votewatch-bilanz-nach-elf-jahren-abstimmungsverhalten-zu-den-beitrittsverhandlungen-mit-der-tuerkei/