Promises of Accession: Reassessing the Trade Relationship between Turkey and the European Union

Fernanda Nicola, American University, Washington College of Law


This Article reassesses the Turkey-European Union trade relationship in light of the doctrine of promissory estoppel. It argues that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Yedaş Tarim should have used more explicitly the doctrine of promissory estoppel as an equitable device to create liability for the potential detriment suffered by Turkey in relying on the promises made by Brussels. Through an overview of Turkey-European Union (E.U.) relations from the early 1950s until today, with particular attention to accession negotiations and the trade relationship between Turkey and the European Economic Community, this Article highlights the anomalous trade context that characterizes the unbalanced Turkey-E.U. relationship. The Author suggests understanding the Yedaş Tarim litigation as a response to the disappointment of the Turkish elites, especially the ones who were most committed to Turkish membership in the European Union. While the Luxembourg courts might not be the most appropriate fora to clarify the costs and benefits of the E.U.-Turkey trade relationship, in Yedaş Tarim, the Courts lost the opportunity to assess the existence of major imbalances created by the obligations in the overall trade regime between Turkey and the E.U. By focusing on the reasons of the Turkish distrust towards Brussels, Yedaş Tarim marks an important shift of perspective towards the current debate on the Turkish membership to the E.U. In this respect, the Author suggests reassessing the macro-economic implications created by the Ankara Agreement, the Customs Union between the E.U. and Turkey and the promises of accession by Brussels vis à vis Turkish legal and political elites, local businesses at home and immigrant workers in Europe