EU-Turkeys: 27 seek ways of reconciliation

The heads of diplomacy of the Twenty-Seven met in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the possibility of strengthening their ties with Turkey, which failed to offer it a credible prospect of EU membership.

Long planned, this debate over an essential partner has gained more relevance after last week’s NATO summit in Vilnius, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan officiated.

The latter gave its green signal to Sweden’s integration into NATO, conditionally resuming negotiations on Turkey’s accession to the European Union, which had been stalled for several years.

After intense diplomatic activity, he eventually overcame his veto on Stockholm joining the alliance. while warning that ratification would not happen before October at the earliest.

In turn, the Europeans have led the way in warming ties with Ankara: following his meeting with the Turkish leader, European Council President Charles Michel spoke in a tweet about their common desire to “revitalize” Turkey-EU relations.

And according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Sweden has agreed to “actively support” Turkey’s efforts to reinvigorate the accession process, while contributing to the modernization of the customs union and visa liberalization.

These last two issues are important in the eyes of Ankara.

The Customs Union Agreement between Turkey and the EU, in force since 1995, could be adapted to encourage more trade, while a possible liberalization of visas would ease conditions for Turkish citizens to enter the EU.

– Dispute over Cyprus –

In general, the time is right to “re-evaluate the EU’s relations with one of its most important neighbours”, a European official says after President Erdogan’s re-election to a third term at the end of May.

At their summit in June, the heads of state and government of twenty-seven nations had already invited the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, to draw up an inventory of relations with Turkey – a report expected by autumn.

If reinforced cooperation is mentioned in terms of customs tariffs or visas, it is difficult to envisage short-term progress in Turkey’s EU accession process.

The talks, which started in 2005, have been stuck for years. Until Twenty-Seven brought them to justice, in 2018, it was “at a standstill” due to decisions deemed by Ankara to be contrary to the interests of the EU and a “sustained and worrying deterioration in the rule of law and fundamental rights”.

Relations between Brussels and Ankara were strained after the failed attempt in July 2016 and the subsequent crackdown on dissidents and journalists.

“Turkey remains a candidate for EU membership, and we have received signals from Ankara that they are willing to have an open and serious discussion with us, at least on difficulties, points of divergence,” the European official underlined.

“The idea is to let the ministers discuss it, see how they perceive the situation, what course of action they envision,” he adds.

However, Turkey’s demand for visa liberalization could be complicated by the ongoing dispute over Cyprus.

Since Turkey’s invasion of its northern third in 1974, the island has been divided between the Republic of Cyprus – an EU member – which exercises authority in the south, and the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in 1983 and recognized only by Ankara.

“This is clearly one of the main points of disagreement (…) It will be one of the topics of discussion” confirmed Thursday, the European official.

Nevertheless, geopolitical crises still make Turkey an essential partner for the European Union.

Following the 2015 migration crisis, EU countries struck a deal with Ankara aimed at curbing migrant arrivals in Europe, in exchange for a hefty financial counterpart – part of the 6 billion euros that were then promised, still to be provided.

In addition, Turkey is accused of circumventing Western sanctions against Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine, notably by transporting Russian oil despite a European embargo, but last year played a mediatory role in blocking Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea.

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