EU-TURKEY RELATIONS IN 2014: GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START?

upa-admin 01 Ocak 2014 4.543 Okunma 9
EU-TURKEY RELATIONS IN 2014: GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START?

The most optimistic scenarios foresaw that Turkey could become an EU member around the year 2014 if Turkey’s domestic reforms were ambitious enough and the EU would have had a clear political will to integrate Turkey. Although significant progress has been made since accession negotiations started more than eight years ago, a clear timeline for accession has not been set yet. As EU documents reflect, Turkey’s accession to the EU is a “long-lasting and open-ended process”, meaning that membership is not automatically guaranteed.

Turkey was expecting to be ready for EU membership by the beginning of 2014.[1] However, before leaving his post, EU Minister Egemen Bağış told The Telegraph that Turkey will probably never be an EU member.[2] Mr. Bağış even suggested that Turkey was more likely to follow the example of Norway and to remain closely aligned with EU standards but not as member.

An assessment of EU-Turkey relations in 2013

A bit of good news…

2013 brought some positive developments in terms of Turkey’s relations with the EU. After three and a half years hiatus, Turkey was able to open a new accession negotiation chapter under the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the EU. This was possible thanks to the unblocking of chapter 22 for membership talks by the French government on regional policy. French President François Hollande is expected to pay a two-day visit to Turkey on January 27-28. The talks are expected to focus on bilateral ties, Turkey’s EU bid and the crisis in Syria. Ankara expects France to take positive steps on opening new chapters in Turkey’s accession.[3] In fact, only 14 chapters out of 35 have been opened to date, only one being provisionally closed, and 17 chapters remain blocked, as the issue of Cyprus continues to be a major obstacle to negotiations.

Despite Germany’s opposition to Turkish EU membership, the German government supported the relaunching of accession talks in the first half of 2013. However, that window of opportunity ceased to exist following the outbreak of Gezi protests. Germany adopted a tougher stance toward Turkey and decided to block the opening of the new chapter. A compromise was found and the chapter was opened after the Commission’s annual progress report on Turkey was released in autumn.

The overtures to Turkey of the outgoing Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle have tended to collide with the conservative Christian Social Union’s (CSU) opposition to Turkey’s bid to join the EU. Germany’s new coalition government with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), which has seen the largest number of political representatives of Turkish origin and the appointment of the first ever minister of Turkish origin as state minister for immigration, refugees and integration, can be seen as an opportunity to reshape German preferences on Turkey’s EU accession process. While Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU (Christian Democratic Union) election manifesto rejected full EU membership for Turkey, SPD’s program called for bringing new momentum to Turkey’s EU accession process. Newly appointed SPD’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier can be considered as good news for Turkey. A close friend of Turkey and highly experienced in foreign affairs, Steinmeier is likely to follow the path of Westerwelle, former holder of the post, in an effort to enhance bilateral ties between the German and Turkish government.

A milestone in EU-Turkey relations

On December 16, in what was called an historic day by both sides, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström and the then Turkish Minister of Interior Muammer Güler signed a long-anticipated EU-Turkey readmission agreement, and initiated, jointly with the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu, the EU-Turkey Visa liberalization dialogue, after nearly two years of arduous negotiations.

Illegal immigration is Europe’s biggest problem and Turkey‘s cooperation is key in curbing the flow of illegal migration crossing the Greek-Turkish border. The main objective of the EU-Turkey readmission agreement is to allow both parties to return persons having entered or are residing on the territory of the other side in an irregular manner.

With the signing of the Readmission Agreement, Turkey will implement a comprehensive roadmap for visa liberalization[4] having to make substantial reforms in security, migration, public order management and justice.

Since the Roadmap does not set a specific timetable by when the dialogue must be completed, the pace of movement towards visa liberalization will largely depend on Turkey’s progress in addressing the requirements set out in the Roadmap including full and effective implementation of the readmission agreement and effective cooperation vis-à-vis all EU Member States, including the Republic of Cyprus, on Justice and Home Affairs issues. Considering that Turkey has unilaterally made a declaration that its signature does not mean it recognizes the Republic of Cyprus, the process may encounter some obstacles.

The Turkish side, for its part, has remarked that the processes would go forward in parallel and in the case of EU’s non-compliance with the visa liberalization process, which is foreseen to be completed in maximum three and a half years’ time, Turkey will have the right to suspend the readmission deal.

This deal is likely to add new momentum to Turkey’s EU bid. The European Commission will use the visa-free travel card as a way to speed up Turkish democratic reforms. On the emotional side, visa exemption will change the psychological atmosphere in Turkey’s relations with the EU tearing down important barriers for renewed trust in both sides. Visa-free travel is of outmost importance for enabling major interaction between EU citizens and Turkish people helping to build a common sense of belonging and shared identity.

… and not so good news.

On the other hand, 2013 has also seen some unexpected events. In early November, the AK Party decided to quit its observer status in the Christian Democratic European People’s Party (EPP), EU’s largest political family, in order to join the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR), a centre-right eurosceptic European political party lead by British Prime Minister David Cameron.[5] While the EPP statute was changed in 2009 in order to only grant full membership to parties within the EU, the AECR makes no distinction between EU membership and non-EU membership. With 56 MEPs, ECR represents only one-fifth of the EPP’s size (274), which controls more than one-third of the European Parliament’s votes.

The announcement was made by Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, then AK Party’s deputy chairman for foreign affairs and now Turkey’s new EU Affairs Minister and Chief Negotiator. One of the main arguments is the belief that most of the political parties of the AECR group are supporters of Turkey’s accession to the EU. While the Brits and the Czechs are generally more in favor, the Poles and some of the smaller parties are against. However, Turkey runs the risk of losing the support of traditional allies being ruled by EPP family parties, as is the case of Spain, Italy, Poland or Sweden.

This move has had two different interpretations: the first has been as further distancing from Turkey’s EU bid and the second as favoring a EU that has a looser structure. The idea of having different levels of integration has long been under debate. At a time when the EU seems to have moved its focus away from enlargement towards greater integration, British Liberal MEP Andrew Duff[6] proposes a new type of associate membership, where countries would agree to the EU’s values and principles, without necessarily requiring adherence to all activities and political objectives of the EU. [7] As the nature of the Union is likely to change in the future, candidate countries wishing to join the EU must be aware of this, Duff notes. This could pave the way for a ‘variable-geometry’ architecture introducing more sophisticated multi-tier arrangements allowing for differentiated integration within the EU.[8]

One of AECR’s main principles is its opposition to EU federalism preserving the sovereign integrity of the nation state. By joining the AECR, AKP seems to be sending the message that is not prepared to give up much of Turkey’s sovereignty to form a more federal EU. Having rejected the idea of “privileged partnership” and having lost hope for its long cherished goal of becoming a full member of the EU, Turkey might have decided to seek a new relationship with the EU.

Once the greatest advocate of EU enlargement, including Turkey’s membership, in order to gradually transform the Union into a loose federation of Member States, the UK has shown a change of tone at EU’s December summit. Ahead of the lifting of labor restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians on 1 January 2014, having thus the same rights to work in the UK as other EU citizens, Cameron has called for new control mechanisms before new members can join. Referring to possible future EU accessions, Cameron wrote in an op-ed published in the Financial Times that “new arrangements that will show full access to each other’s labor markets until we can be sure it will not cause vast migrations” must be put in place. [9] Cameron has also promised to hold a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU in 2017 if he is re-elected as prime minister. In light of the above, AKP’s new European friends might not be all that receptive after all.

EU’s growing concerns over developments in Turkey

The EU has sparked harsh criticism for the heavy-handed methods used by the Turkish policy during the Gezi protests[10] and has recalled that freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of press are core values of the European Union.[11]

The unfolding corruption scandal in Turkey, which has led to the resignation of high-ranking government officials and a major cabinet reshuffle, has come under fierce criticism from the EU. In a recent statement, EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle expressed his concern about the removal of a large number of police officers from their duties and highlighted the need to guarantee the independence and impartiality of investigations by the judiciary into allegation of wrongdoing, including corruption. Several members of the European Parliament, from different political groups, have also expressed their concern about the state of the judiciary in Turkey.[12]

Using a similar rhetoric as his predecessor, new EU Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu defied his European counterparts in his first statement by calling them to “avoid preconceived convictions and be more vigilant while commenting on developments about Turkey’s internal developments which have political dimensions”.

Mr. Bağış won’t be remembered for having adopted a constructive attitude towards EU accession. Having served as president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from 2010 to 2012, Çavuşoğlu is well-known in Europe’s inner circle. After a first defensive statement, one wonders if Çavuşoğlu will make use of his diplomatic skills to help advancing Turkey’s alignment with EU standards rather than outsmarting European politicians when talking about Turkey’s shortcomings.

What will 2014 bring?

Greece will hold the Presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2014. EU’s enlargement policy does however not feature in the priority list of the Greek Presidency, despite a commitment made by Athens under the joint programme of the so-called Trio of Presidencies –made up of Ireland, Lithuania and Greece-, which had defined enlargement as an “area of strategic importance”.

Visiting Athens on December 13th, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu held a series of meetings to discuss the details of Turkey’s new initiative for renewed talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. Even though reciprocal visits from special representatives of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) to Athens and the Greek Cypriot administration to Ankara were scheduled for the second half of October 2013, these have not taken place yet.

In the past months, Turkey has accelerated its efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus issue as a way to progress in its EU candidacy, as one of the island’s guarantor powers. However the two sides appear to have reached an impasse over the words “single sovereignty”. The creation of a new republic with shared sovereignty is a conditio sine qua non for Turkish Cypriots. On the other hand, Greek Cypriots believe that what is realistically more feasible is the continuation of the Republic of Cyprus, with a single sovereignty, citizenship and single international representation.

Turkish Cypriots would like to limit the duration of talks setting up timeframe. Their wish is to complete negotiations in the first quarter of 2014 so to call for a referendum in the spring, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of UN’s first resolution on Cyprus.

The work for a joint declaration that could start a new round of peace talks has been going on for three months now. Locked in a political impasse, the UN is the only party believed capable of breaking the deadlock.

After the discovery of oil and gas resources in Eastern Mediterranean, a political settlement to the Cyprus dispute is no longer an isolated problem for Greek and Turkish Cypriots but also for the EU. Search for solutions have become urgent for the exploitation and transport of Eastern Mediterranean gas resources to Europe.

The new year is expected to bring new momentum to find a solution. In this regard, the Greek presidency of the EU could play a role in putting pressure on the process aimed at shaping a new framework for talks. The success of the current round of talks will however largely depend upon strong political will on both sides.

A revival of the Turkey-Armenia normalization process five years later?

Ankara has also been seeking to revive its normalization process with another difficult neighbor, Armenia, ahead of the 100th anniversary of the so-called Armenian genocide.

On December 12, Turkish Foreign Minister visited Yerevan on the occasion of a summit of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). Davutoğlu’s visit was of highly importance since it was his first since the failure of efforts to normalize ties in 2009.

During a recent Foreign Affairs Committee’s session, Davutoğlu asked Armenians “to pull out” of Karabakh as a precondition for opening the borders and the railroad to Armenia. Ankara’s position in this regard is clear: any future normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations can only come about after the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Turkey believes the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains the main obstacle to peace and stability in the South Caucasus. It remains to be seen whether a rapprochement with Armenia is part of Turkey’s New Year’s resolutions.

On December 18, the Turkish Foreign Ministry applauded a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)[13] according to which the denial of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians as genocide is not a criminal offense and constitutes a breach of Article 10 on freedom of expression of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgment has been interpreted as an “important warning against attempts both to politicize history and law and against initiatives aimed at having one-sided view of history registered through the use of law.”[14] At the end of the statement, Turkey claims to be ready for a dialogue with Armenia in order to discuss the issue on a “a scientific basis in fair and open minded way.”

Busy election year in Europe and Turkey

The European Parliament will hold crucial elections between 22 and 25 May amid growing euroscepticism and the effects of the Eurozone crisis still being felt in many European households. EU’s three main bodies –the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council– will appoint new presidents. The new balance of power in the next European Parliament will be crucial for the future of Europe. EU’s new leaders are believed to play a crucial role in the future of EU’s relations with Turkey.

On the other hand, Turkey’s election cycle set to begin in March will be a major test for Erdoğan’s 11-year leadership. AKP’s main political goal has been to dismantle the political system based on Kemalist values, taking advantage of EU’s approval. His greatest achievement in this regard has been the removal of the army from politics, in consistency with EU-inspired reforms.

During its early years, the AKP promoted great reforms in accordance with the EU acquis making Turkey more democratic. While adapting Turkey’s institutions, Erdoğan has however stealthily reshaped Turkish politics to his liking. As Erdoğan’s authoritarianism has intensified, implementation of EU-oriented reforms has slowed down. With no viable opposition force to counter his influence and having removed all institutions limitations on his power, the ballot box appears to be the only method to hold Erdoğan accountable. However, democracy is not limited to elections alone.

Even if gaining full membership still looks a distant goal (and quite uncertain), the Turkish government should continue its commitment to the negotiation process and learn how to deal with Europe’s criticism. Authoritarian tendencies of the current government risk of discrediting the AK Party as a credible democratic force.

The stagnation of reforms have gone hand in hand with the loss of EU leverage on Turkey. Therefore the EU has to look for new ways to influence Turkey’s democratization course. EU accession process should remain the most effective tool in influencing the reform agenda in Turkey.

Making the EU relevant for young Turks is essential. The demands of Gezi Park protestors for more democracy and freedoms for all in Turkey, have resounded in Europe revealing a vibrant civil society and a new generation of urban Turks who embrace European values. The Turkish government should listen to demands for active participation in decision making and a consolidated liberal democracy. The future of Turkey’s direction will largely depend on the results of the upcoming elections acting as a check on Erdoğan’s anti-democratic authoritarian tendencies.

 

Laura BATALLA


[1] Today’s Zaman, “Turkey to be ready for EU membership by beginning of 2014, Bağış says”, 25 January 2011, www.todayszaman.com/news-233454-turkey-to-be-ready-for-eu-membership-by-beginning-of-2014-bagis-says.html.

[2] The Telegraph, “Turkey ‘will probably never be EU member’”, 21 September 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/10325218/Turkey-will-probably-never-be-EU-member.html

[3] The French government continues to block four other chapters.

[4] The European Commission’s “Roadmap towards a free-regime with Turkey” lists the requirements which should be fulfilled by Turkey to allow the Commission to present a proposal to the Council and the European Parliament to amend EC Regulation 539/2001, listing the third countries whose nationals must be exempt from that requirement. The Turkish authorities reacted to this document by expressing comments and questions on some of the requirements included in the roadmap. These comments and questions can be found in the annotated Roadmap in annex: http://www.avrupa.info.tr/fileadmin/Content/Files/DelegationDocuments/Tender_2012/Agreed_minutes_of_the_first_meeting_of_the_EU-Turkey_Visa_Liberalization….pdf The two sides agreed that the Visa Liberalization Dialogue would be conducted on the basis of the annotated Roadmap.

[5] The UK Conservative Party used to seat in the European Democrats (ED), a subgroup of the larger EPP-ED group. During the 2005 Conservative leadership election, Cameron argued for withdrawal of the Conservatives from EPP-ED and the formation of a new group. Cameron won the leadership and took office as Conservative leader in December 2005. The creation of the new group was delayed until after the 2009 European Parliament’s elections. In an editorial entitled “Neutered Tories” published on 22 June 2009, the Financial Times called Cameron’s decision to withdraw from the EPP in favor of a new group a “dismal error”. In the newspaper’s view, “Mr. Cameron may claim that he is acting on the principle of defending UK sovereignty. But he is, in practice, jeopardizing British influence on matters of international importance […] If Britain becomes a marginal player in the EU, London will lose influence not just in Brussels, but also in Washington; the “special relationship” relies on Britain being a cog in its own continent. For the UK, irrelevance in Europe means irrelevance everywhere.”

[6] Andrew Duff is a Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament since 1999, president of the Union of European Federalists and co-chair of the Spinelli Federalist Intergroup of the European Parliament. Mr. Duff is also a member of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee.

[7] A general revision of the Treaties is foreseen for spring 2015, in which, a new clause might be added in order to establish the formal category of an associate state of the Union. In Mr. Duff’s view, both Turkey and the UK could well fit into the category of Associate Membership, since the latter is seeking to renegotiate its relationship with the EU and the prospects of full membership of the former are increasingly remote. A comprehensive definition of what would Associate Membership of the EU mean can be found in Mr. Duff’s article “The case for an Associate Membership of the European Union”: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2013/03/06/associate-eu-membership/

[8] For further reading on this topic, see: Meltem Müftüler-Baç, “The Future of Europe, Differentiated Integration and Turkey’s Role”, Global Turkey Commentary 9, IAI, IPC and Stiftung Mercator, October 2013, available at: http://www.iai.it/pdf/GTE/GTE_C_09.pdf

[9] David Cameron, “Free movement within Europe needs to be less free”, Financial Times, 26 November 2013, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/add36222-56be-11e3-ab12-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=intl#axzz2omzYIGmM

[10] European Parliament, Joint Motion for a Resolution on the situation of Turkey, 12 June 2013, available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+MOTION+P7-RC-2013-0305+0+DOC+PDF+V0//EN

[11] For a detailed evaluation of Turkey’s judicial system and freedom of expression and media freedom see European Commission’s Turkey 2013 Progress Report (p.44-68), available at: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2013/package/tr_rapport_2013.pdf

[12] “War of words escalates between Turkey, EP over corruption probe”, Today’s Zaman, 29 December 2013, http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=335254

[13] Press release, European Court of Human Rights, “Criminal conviction for denial that the atrocities perpetrated against the Armenian people in 1915 and years after constituted genocide was unjustified”, ECHR 370(2013), available at: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng-press/Pages/search.aspx#{“itemid”:[“003-4613818-5581434”]}

[14] Press release, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Turkey, “Press Release Regarding the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) Judgment of 17 December against Switzerland on “Freedom of Expression””, No: 336, 18 December 2013, available at: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/no_-336_-18-december-2013_-press-release-regarding-the-european-court-of-human-rights-_ecthr_-judgement-of-17-december-2013-ag.en.mfa

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