The EU is carrying the enlargement process along like a heavy burden. The main enlargement happened between 2004 and 2007 when the EU was hoping that institutional integration would bring stability to eastern and central European countries together with some new blood to the single consumer market. It is obvious that without EU membership the political situation would have turned very sour in those incoming member states. Even with the membership obligations, countries like Romania and Bulgaria remain far away from even the most basic EU standards. An old member like Greece has gone bankrupt amid biased and poor governance with maneuvers from all the different political parties. In its wake, Greek Cyprus has been going bankrupt due to mismanagement - it also became evident that its whole banking system was based on the financial transactions of Russian oligarchs. Hungary can hardly be seen as a democratic regime abiding by the essential principles of the EU.
However, what really broke the dynamics of the enlargement was the 2008 economic crisis and the long and tedious period of stagnation that followed. The average European can hardly be convinced that the fifth enlargement was a success, so long as what changed in his or her daily life cannot be defined as "positive."
The pressure of public opinion has also heavily influenced the EU. Some member states never wanted Turkey's full membership in the first place - this is not a secret for anyone. Still, it was very difficult to keep Turkey at bay while all the other candidate countries were lining up to join the EU, so accession negotiations, after very difficult transactions, were officially started in 2005. Just afterward in 2006, the EU let Greek Cypriot authorities sabotage accession negotiations by suspending eight chapters and postponing the closure of all chapters until ports and airports in Turkey were opened to Greek Cypriot vessels and planes.
Since then, the dynamics of enlargement have never recovered. Attempts have been made and new bypassing systems have been forged like the "positive agenda" system, launched in 2012 that would allow technical cooperation to continue while the chapters remain officially suspended. However, the accession negotiations period is a long and very peculiar process whereby the EU remains the judge, jury and prosecutor at once while the candidate country tries to overcome all technical difficulties to fulfill the conditions of membership. This extremely asymmetrical system delivers good results in general, due to the fact that there is normally a political will on both sides to come up with a probing result, which is membership. In the absence of political will on the part of the EU, there are not enough dynamics to encourage Turkey to continue and carry out all of the necessary and deep-rooted reforms.
Ankara has repeatedly declared that EU reforms are necessary for the Turkish economic, social and political structure and that they would be continued even in the absence of the EU membership incentive. However, the structure of the EU does not allow a candidate country to stay out of the decision-making process and the EU budgetary system while still integrating fully. Institutionally and legally speaking it is not possible. The EU, despite having discussed for a long time a more "flexible" integration, nothing has been done to officially amend the founding treaties to allow a "multi-speed" or an "á la carte" Europe. The choice is merely to become a full member or to stay out of the EU, associated with looser free trade agreements.
Turkey, in direct line with the system foreseen in the Ankara agreement, was completing a fully-fledged customs union almost 20 years ago. Together with Norway and Switzerland, this is a very peculiar non-member country so deeply integrated in the regulatory framework of the Single Market. Still, political relations remain at a sorry level. The last Regular Report prepared by the Commission (and likely to be accepted by the Council) has been defining Turkey in the following terms:
"Implementation of certain reform commitments by Turkey has continued, such as the 2013 democratization package, and steps have been taken towards a settlement of the Kurdish issue. However, there have also been grounds for serious concerns regarding the independence of the judiciary and the protection of fundamental freedoms. Active and credible accession negotiations provide the most suitable framework for exploiting the full potential of EU-Turkey relations. Opening negotiations on the relevant chapters on rule of law and fundamental rights would provide a roadmap for reforms in these key areas."
The European Commission says openly that without real impetus given to accession negotiations, the results will not be obtained. This is a very serious warning sent to member states. The Turkish government reacted to the reports by declaring that they were "balanced and objective." The Chief Negotiator and Minister of EU affairs Volkan Bozkır, in a comprehensive statement he made about the developments in the Regular Report and Strategy Paper, cautiously underlined the positive sides of the commission's evaluations and gave a strong signal that Turkey was ready to be more interactive.
The trouble remains with the Greek Cypriot administration. The report stipulates very clearly that "As long as these restrictions remain in place on vessels and aircraft that are registered in Cyprus, vessels of any nationality related to the Republic of Cyprus in terms of ownership or ship management, or whose last port of call was in Cyprus, Turkey will not be in position to fully implement the acquis relating to these eight chapters." The Greek Cypriot government has just taken dangerous steps to sabotage the inter-communal negotiations that were coming to a final stage by sending an exploration ship for prospecting natural gas reserves in the Cypriot economic zone in the Mediterranean, contrary to the gentlemen's agreement between the two communities. In retaliation Turkey sent two navy vessels into the zone to oversee the exploration, which stirred a harsh reaction on the part of the Greek Cypriot authorities who quit the negotiating table.
This is the kind of political crisis nobody can afford at the present situation of the international juncture. Still, since 1974, Greek Cypriot authorities have kept the same political azimuth, rejecting all possible arrangement for a two zone, two community Cyprus based on political equality between the two groups. They never had to regret their decisions so far, as even divided, their government representing the whole island sits at a membership chair in the EU. They probably do not see any incentive to change their attitude.
In the absence of a major political step on both sides, membership negotiations are not likely to resume satisfactorily. This is an alternative that neither the EU nor Turkey can afford. It is likely that we will witness heavy diplomatic traffic over Cypriot negotiations in the coming days because the key to establishing stability and cooperation in this region bizarrely lies in the success of negotiations on Cyprus.