BY NUR ÖZKAN ERBAY
ANKARA NEWS ANALYSIS JAN 28, 2021
The flags of Turkey (L) and the EU are seen in Brussels during Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s meeting with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Belgium, Jan. 21, 2021. (AA Photo)
The devoted diplomacy Ankara has carried out in the past few weeks with the European Union has started to bear fruit. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu during his three-day visit to Brussels explained to his interlocutors Turkey’s road map in its relations with the EU in the new period as well as his country’s expectations. Meanwhile, exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece on the Eastern Mediterranean dispute started earlier this week in Istanbul.
The will to turn a new page in relations can be openly seen both in Ankara and Brussels. An important sign regarding this issue came on Tuesday with a statement that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas made following an EU foreign ministers’ meeting. Speaking after the meeting, Mass, who was in Turkey last week, said: “We did not decide to sanction Turkey today because we see that there are positive developments.” Maas, who said that the EU has long been waiting for the problems between Turkey and Greece to be resolved and talks to start, stated that this positive process should now not be strained by sanctions.
In fact, this stance is a political stance that Turkey has been expecting from the EU since the beginning. Turkey, especially in terms of the Eastern Mediterranean issue, had been underlining that problems can be resolved through multilateralism and that the rights of regional countries cannot fall victim to the fait accompli of just one country. Turkey was expecting the EU, which adopted a political stance that supports Greece unconditionally, to make positive and constructive statements just as Maas recently did.
Now it seems that Brussels reacts positively in the face of Ankara’s “diplomacy first” initiative. Time will tell if the EU is decisive on this matter because Turkey-EU relations have been long focusing on political conflicts of regional problems rather than on bilateral issues as well as mutual economic and political gains. The security conditions that the Syrian civil war created, the migration crisis and the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean have all caused Brussels from time to time to adopt an irrational and unfair attitude toward Turkey. An EU leadership that listens to all sides instead of remaining blindly loyal to Greece and France in these complicated issues and adopts a constructive stance would be much more advantageous for everyone.
Turkey, despite everything, has been the side that continued dialogue with the bloc, presented alternative policies and was open to negotiations. Çavuşoğlu, who has engaged in busy diplomatic traffic in Brussels last week, stated that a consensus was reached on the renewal of the migration deal. Çavuşoğlu, who said that the new period started with positive rhetoric, added that this has to be supported now by concrete acts and steps to be permanent.
In March 2016, Ankara and Brussels signed an agreement to reduce the number of migrants taking the dangerous Aegean Sea route to Europe and to find a solution for the influx of migrants heading to EU countries.
Under the deal, Turkey was promised 6 billion euros ($6.77 billion) in financial aid to be used by the Turkish government to finance projects for Syrian migrants. Yet, Turkey did not undertake the difficult task of shouldering increasing migration from Syria only for the sake of financial assistance but has also demanded visa liberalization for Turkish citizens; likewise, the customs union was to be updated.
Now that, in a process in which significant topics including Turkey’s accession negotiations, the renewal of the customs union, the Eastern Mediterranean as well as the issue of refugees are on the agenda, Ankara awaits continued concrete steps from Brussels.
These topics focus especially on the fight against terrorism, including the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which carried out a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, alleviating the burden of Syrian refugees on the Turkish economy and the fulfillment of promises in the visa-free travel agreement.
On the other hand, no unilateral EU policy created without considering Turkey’s national interests and rights could bring positive momentum to this process.
Despite all of these issues, Turkey has continued and will continue to provide security for the EU’s southern border within the scope of NATO, its global fight against terrorism, its protection of around 4 million refugees, economic and trade relations as well as solidarity in social and health fields without problems.
It would be beneficial to quote the views of a high-level EU diplomat with whom we met recently. The official stated that the cooperation between Turkey and the EU that has continued throughout the centuries has significant gains but that this cannot be seen sufficiently due to current political disputes. Saying that Turkey and the EU are not natural allies only because of geography but also due to socio-cultural ties, the official added that a strong foundation exists for both sides to build relations. Giving the gains of the customs union as an example, he said that Turkey-EU relations must not fall victim to daily political conflicts.
It seems that whether the softened rhetoric of Ankara and Brussels will transform into a permanent amelioration depends on the extent of a constructive stance that both sides will adopt.
While all this happens, Brussels’ criticism based on “political justifications” of Ankara’s fight against terrorism and defense of its rights under international law will be the last thing that Turkey wants to hear in a process of permanent enhanced relations.