Association Agreements

EU Association Agreements

What does it mean when countries are associated with the EU?

An Association Agreement is an international treaty between the European Union or the European Economic Community (EEC) and a third country. In entering into this agreement, both parties establish a special kind of relationship and basis for cooperation. However, the content and objectives differ from agreement to agreement. Particularly close economic cooperation with the aim of establishing largely unrestricted trade between the participating countries and eliminating limitations on the movement of goods is a common key aspect of the mutual special status established through the agreement. However, agreements may also include cooperation on the issues of work and social affairs and regulations on political dialog.

EU Association Agreements and objectives

The objectives of EU and EEC Association Agreements vary widely and have varied widely in the past: For Greece, the Association Agreement of 1961 was a precursor to EU accession in 1981. The agreement aimed at the country's economic rapprochement with the EU. The agreements with Malta and Cyprus were concluded in the early 1970s and initially aimed at allowing for a customs union. Looking back, it is clear that they facilitated the later accession of both countries.

Europe Agreements: After the upheavals in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989, the EU concluded what are known as Europe Agreements with Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Objective: the creation of a free trade zone, EU membership is sought for the partner states → accession association; the countries finally acceded in 2004 and 2007 respectively.

Agreements with ACP countries (countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific);
Objective: introduction of a common external tariff and action preferences with the EU, promotion of the economic development of the partner states → development-based association.

European-Mediterranean partnership with Tunisia, Israel, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, and Algeria
Objective: as with the Europe Agreements, the objective here was the establishment of a free trade zone, but without the prospect of accession.

European Free Trade Association (EFTA) with Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland
Objective: promotion of free trade while at the same time adapting the legal system to reflect Community law → free trade association.

Eastern Partnership with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus Objective: intensification of the political dialog, establishment of free-trade agreements.

The Association Agreement between the EU and Turkey

The EEC had already signed an Association Agreement with Turkey in 1963 (the second agreement after the one concluded with Greece in 1961); this agreement was subsequently supplemented by various additional protocols and resolutions.
The primary aim of the Association was and is the strengthening of trade and economic relations. The resolutions were aimed at ensuring the free movement of workers and were also intended to prepare the way for Turkey's accession to the EU. By entering into the agreement, Turkey initially committed itself to gradually establishing freedom of movement and to aligning itself with a common customs tariff. The text of the agreement can be found here.

Since 1998, the European Commission has been publishing a regular 'Report on Turkey's progress towards accession'. In 1999, it was acknowledged that Turkey should be granted the status of an accession country. It was emphasized that accession negotiations could only be started once certain political criteria had been met. The opening of the accession negotiations was finally approved by the European Council in 2005.
The initiation of accession negotiations with Turkey was a controversial development. Reasons for this include, among others, the ongoing Cyprus conflict and human rights violations. Since the attempted coup in Turkey in 2016 and the constitutional referendum in 2017, there have been increasing calls within the EU for the suspension of the accession negotiations - but so far, these have had no serious consequences for Turkey.
This Wikipedia article (German language) offers a fairly comprehensive overview of Turkey's accession negotiations with the EU.

Good to know

Freedom of movement: right to employment for workers - no special rules on residency
The Association Agreement regulates the right to employment for workers, but not the right of residence. With regard to the initial entry to Germany, the conditions of the right of residence (in accordance with the Residence Act (AufenthG)) apply, just as they would for other third-country nationals. The privileges of the Association, which include a right to extend one's stay, can be availed of only after a lawful initial entry and subject to the acquisition of a residence permit.

The legal situation of Turkish workers was regulated in 1980 in Decision 1/80 regarding the Association Agreement. The following applies to Turkish workers in Germany:

  • after one year of dependent employment subject to social insurance, the work permit may be renewed to allow the worker to work for the same employer;
  • after three years of employment with the same employer, workers from Turkey may apply to any vacancies in Germany in the occupation/area of employment in which they have worked to date;
  • after four years of employment in the same occupation/area of employment, they may pursue any salaried employment and apply to any vacancy in Germany.

These requirements apply to dependent employment only. Other regulations are in place for self-employed persons, such as the "standstill clauses" (for further information, please see Entry, residence, and work permit).

The EU-Turkey customs union was established in 1996 through what is known as the Ankara Agreement (Ankara Agreement, ABl L 217 of December 29, 1964). This agreement established a common customs territory: Since then, goods produced in or imported into the customs territory and cleared by customs may be transferred to other parts of the customs union without being subject to customs duties. Furthermore, a common external tariff was introduced (for more information on this topic, please see Transport and Customs).

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