Turkey - EU relations March 2018


Turkey-EU relations dormant in the hope of a future breakthrough

30 March 2018

The European Union preferred to call a summit meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker and European Council President Donald Tusk in Bulgaria this week an “encounter of the leaders”. Even so, the meeting still produced the minimum of what both Turkey and the EU were expecting.

Erdoğan, in the run-up to the meeting, tried relentlessly to inform Turkish public opinion and the EU that in Varna he would explain the inconsistencies in the EU attitude towards Turkey by giving concrete examples. Apparently he in fact did just that. And according to the Europeans observers, he did it successfully. Despite this, the EU remained unmoved, because Junker and Tusk cannot go beyond what was agreed beforehand by EU institutions.

Turkey mainly focused its efforts on three issues:

First, the updating of the customs’ union that Turkey signed with the EU in 1996. In the following years the EU signed similar agreements with third countries, but these agreements did not cater for the commitments that the EU had already undertaken towards Turkey. As a result, industrial goods manufactured in these third countries enter the Turkish market without paying customs duties, while goods manufactured in Turkey cannot enter their markets without paying customs’ duties.

The loss caused by this trade diversion on Turkey’s Gross Domestic Product is estimated around $16 billion. The EU acknowledged that this practice was unfair to Turkey and steps were initiated to eliminate it, but the EU is not in a position to redress it in the run-up to European parliament elections and prefers to keep the present ambiguous situation.   

Second is the issue of visa facilitation for Turkish citizens. No progress is achieved in this subject because the EU insists that five out of 72 criteria remain unfulfilled. Among them is the definition of an act of terror in Turkish legislation. Turkey says that in the present circumstances, it cannot go any further.

Thirdly, out of the EU’s commitment to pay 3 billion euros to Turkey for Syrian refugees, only 1.85 billion euros has been paid so far. A group of members of the European Parliament sent a joint letter to EU leaders saying they should refrain from promising Turkey the visa facilitation and updating the Turkey-EU customs’ union agreement.

The points that the EU side raised include the independence of Turkey’s judiciary, the decline in democracy, its human rights records, jailed journalists, its problems with Greece in the Aegean Sea and the unease between Turkey and the Greek Cypriot Administration because of oil and gas exploration.

Turkey is not expected to change its attitude on the Greek Cypriot oil and gas exploration or the Aegean issues. However, on the subjects of democracy, human rights and independence of the judiciary, it has to make efforts if not now, perhaps sometime in the future. Even if it loses hope for the re-activation of the EU accession process, Turkey will have to do it for the sake of raising the standards of its own citizens.

This meeting took place immediately after Turkey completed its military operation in Afrin. Therefore, it was able to project the image of a country that can deliver what it promises in a military operation. Few actors in the Syrian crisis were able to deliver such a clear message. This position gave Turkey an upper hand in Turkey-EU relations in the sense that the EU may play a positive role in the Middle East by cooperating with Turkey.

On the other hand, in an international environment where signs of cold war are weighing heavily, Turkey started to become more aware of the importance of having good relations with as many countries as possible. It is also understood that the EU will not move without making sure that Turkey fulfils all criteria to its full satisfaction.

There was no concrete progress achieved in the summit, but further deterioration seems to have been avoided. In other words, neither side dared to pull the plug on the life support unit, therefore relations may continue with hope for a breakthrough in the future. Source


EU appeasement of Erdoğan failing – analysis

26 March 2018

The European Union’s appeasement policy toward Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is bound to failure as the Turkish leader continues to dismantle democracy, making a mockery of Turkey’s EU membership process, writes Selcuk Gültaşlı, former Brussels bureau chief for the banned Zaman newspaper.

By doing so, the EU is encouraging Ankara to speed up the forced demise of democracy in the country, Gültaşlı wrote for the EU Observer.

The latest attack on Turkish democracy has arrived with the sale of the Doğan Group of newspapers to an Erdoğan cronie last week at a knock down price, after owner Aydin Doğan, 82, was threatened with jail, he said. The same day, the Turkish parliament passed a law to tighten regulation of the internet, requiring all content providers to apply for a license to broadcast there from the state-run radio and television regulator.

More than 100,000 websites are already banned in Turkey, including Ahval. The regulator, RTUK, will be used to silence all remaining opposition, Gültaşlı said.

On Thursday, the German Bertelsmann Foundation published its yearly democracy report, in which it analysed the democratic transformation of some 129 countries.

The report found that Turkey, Brazil and Poland were the countries that have fallen most in the democratisation index and where "political situation has become significantly worse". It followed a damning report by the Unted Nations, which found Turkey guilty of serious human rights abuses.

These events all happened within just a week before the EU’s political leadership was due to meet with Erdoğan in Varna, Bulgaria on Monday.

As EU leaders refrain from using their weakening leverage on Turkey, its dismantling of democracy only speeds up.

“It is now high time for EU leaders to realise that appeasement only helps Erdoğan maintain a veneer of democracy while eviscerating its institutions,” Gültaşlı said.

The government seized control of Zaman newspaper, the widest circulated broadsheet in Turkey, in March 2016 saying it was a mouthpiece of the Fethullah Gulen movement, which Turkey blames for orchestrating the July 2016 failed military coup. Many of Zaman's journalists were jailed awaiting trial for supporting terrorism, while others are abroad and unable to return to Turkey for fear of arrest. Source

No point in EU trying with Erdoğan – opinion

26 March 2018

There is no point in the European Union’s political leadership trying to mend fences with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a summit in Varna, Bulgaria on Monday as the two sides strategic aims differ too much, Simon Waldman, a fellow at the Istanbul Policy Centre said in an opinion piece in Haaretz newspaper.

Europe sees threats from Islamic State (ISIS) and refugee inflows from Syria, while Turkey is focused on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliates in Syria and Iraq, as well as the Gulenist movement in Europe and the United States, which it blames for an attempted coup in 2016 and of being a terrorist organisation, said Waldman, who is also author of the New Turkey and its Discontents (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Europe also can’t compete with Russian President Vladimir Putin for Turkey’s favours as Putin supplies the country with nuclear technology and air defence missiles that aren’t compatible with NATO systems, he said.

EU leaders heaviliy criticised the Erdoğan government last week for its human rights record, aggressive postures towards Greece and Cyprus, including blocking exploration of natural gas off the Mediterranean island, and its invasion of Syria in January to battle an affiliate of the PKK. Source

Erdoğan is bringing some footage to Varna Summit

25 March 2018

Turkey’s president Erdoğan told on Sunday that he’s prepared for the EU-Turkey summit to be held on Monday in Varna, Bulgaria and will show some footage to EU leaders during the meeting.

“Our problem is terrorism, we are not invaders,” Erdoğan said and added that the examples of invaders are in the West, when talking today in Trabzon, Blacksea Turkey, before attending the ruling Justice and Development Party’s provincial congress.

Erdoğan also cited Mosul, Aleppo, and Gazza as examples of devastation caused by other countries, before telling the audience, “The ones in the West are trying to give us advise. Keep your advises to yourself”. 

“There is video footage of all of them. We will meet tomorrow in Varna, I have been prepared, I will show them,” said Erdoğan, without explaining the exact contents of the footage.


The European Council President Donald Tusk and the EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will also attend the EU-Turkey summit tomorrow. The refugee deal between Turkey and the EU, visa liberalization for Turkish citizens and the Customs Union agreement are expected to be discussed during the meeting. 

On March 23, during the European Council meeting, president Juncker stated that he had mixed feelings for the Summit, because of EU and Turkey’s different views on various issues, but stressed that the EU was still willing to strengthen cooperation. 

At the same meeting, the European Council focused on the escalating tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea due to Turkey’s aggressive reactions to the EU-member Republic of Cyprus’s efforts for gas exploration around the island. The European Council strongly condemned Turkey’s continued illegal actions in the region and called Turkey to respect international law and to normalise relations with all EU member states. Moreover, the European Council also mentioned the two Greek soldiers detained by Turkey earlier this month as they passed the Turkish-Greek border in bad weather and called for a swift and positive resolution of these issues. 

Seventy-five members of the European Parliament have signed an open letter also on March 23 calling for human rights in Turkey to be put on the agenda of the upcoming summit meeting. “So is this the mandate of EU Council for Varna Summit,” asked Kati Piri, the European Parliament's Turkey Rapporteur, the same day after the European Council’s conclusions were made public.  Source


EP members ask EU leaders to press Erdoğan on
rights issues in Turkey during summit

Turkey’s EU minister lashes out at EU foreign policy chief

Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs said on Monday the bloc did not have a plan to fight what he called terrorism and defended his country’s right to send its troops into neighbouring Syria to fight groups that he said were threatening Turkish security.

Turkish troops and their Syrian Islamist allies captured the centre of the Syrian town of Afrin on Sunday after a two-month offensive, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, to eject Syrian Kurdish forces from the northwestern district. 

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Monday called on Turkey to ensure that fighting eases in Syria. 

"I am worried about this," she told reporters in Brussels. International efforts in Syria are supposed to be "aiming at de-escalating the military activities and not escalating them," she said. 

Turkish EU Minister Ömer Çelik said the union had got it all wrong. “The European Union has taken a wrong stance regarding Turkey’s fight against terrorism in Afrin since the very beginning. The EU takes a critical rather than a supportive approach,” he said in a thread of Twitter messages.

Avrupa Birliği, Türkiye’nin Afrin’deki terörle mücadelesi hakkında baştan beri yanlış bir tutum içinde. Destek vermek yerine, sadece eleştirmekle uğraşıyorlar.

“EU says don’t add conflict to conflicts, military activity shouldn’t be increased. Op.OliveBranch is not carried out to add conflict to conflicts but to end the atrocities of terrorism. Those who have no concrete recommendation to fight terror are criticising fight against terror,” he said.

“If Turkey were not to carry out an effective fight against terrorism with Operation Olive Branch, would the EU have a plan to fight against terrorist organisations which want to permanently establish areas of authority near our borders? We see that there is no such plan.”

Turkey says the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), which controlled Afrin, and are still in control of much of northeastern Syria, as terrorist organisations and part and parcel of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has been fighting inside Turkey for more than 30 years. 

The EU and the United State recognise the PKK as a terrorist organisation, but not the PYD and YPG. The Syrian Kurdish groups deny any direct link to the PKK, but all three share a common ideology and the same symbolic leader, Abdullah Öcalan, jailed in Turkey since 1999.

“Those who do not consider PKK to be a terrorist organisation because it has changed its name in Syria, think that the fight against terrorism is simply a fight against nameplates,” Çelik said. Source

Turkish PM blasts EU parliament motion on Afrin op

17 March 2018

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on March 17 described a European Parliament motion against Turkey’s ongoing operation in Syria’s Afrin as an “eclipse of reason”. 

The Turkish premier’s remarks came at the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) 6th provincial congress in the Küçükcekmece district of Istanbul. 

“It is understood that the European Parliament is in a state of eclipse of reason. They can’t explain why they are uncomfortable with Turkey’s fight against terrorism, neither to us nor to the world,” Yıldırım said. 

On March 15, the European Parliament drafted a joint motion calling on Turkey to withdraw its troops from Syria's Afrin region. Source

Spending on Turkey has failed to address key democratic, media problems: EU watchdog

14 March 2018

European Union funding to help Turkey’s stalled membership bid has “barely addressed” key problems with democracy and the media, the bloc’s spending watchdog has said.

EU financial assistance planned for Turkey from 2007 until 2020 through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance amounts to over 9 billion euros ($11 billion), the European Court of Auditors said in a March 13 statement.

It focused on the priority sectors of the rule of law, governance and human resources (education, employment and social policies), to which 3.8 billion euros ($4.7 billion) had been allocated.

But the watchdog slammed the European Commission for failing to attach conditions to the funds.

“EU financial assistance for Turkey had only limited effect,” the report stated. “The funds spent have barely addressed a number of fundamental needs.”

The watchdog said the results of the spending “may not be sustainable because of difficulties in spending the funds and backsliding on reforms.”

Turkish ambitions to join the EU date back over half a century but accession talks started in October 2005, after which Brussels started channeling so-called pre-accession funds to Ankara.

Brussels has allocated 4.5 billion euros ($55.7 billion) for Ankara to prepare the country for membership in its current multi-year budget for 2014-2020. From 2007-2013 it allocated 4.6 billion euros ($56.9 billion).

The court report author Bettina Jakobsen said that while the overall program was “well designed,” funding had been particularly ineffective when it came to the independence of the judicial system, fighting corruption and media freedom.

These are “areas where critical reforms in Turkey are overdue,” she said, adding that EU funding should target them in future.

Jakobsen said the European Commission “rarely used the possibility of taking over” their management from Turkey when the money did not achieve the right results.

“From 2018 onwards, the Commission should better target funding for Turkey in areas where reforms are overdue and necessary for credible progress towards EU accession,” she said.

At the Turkish end, the ECA blamed delays on a lack of the right staff in key ministries and excessive turnover at the contracts unit which manages most EU funds.

She complained about “a lack of political will” by Turkish authorities.

The ECA report will be sent to the European Parliament’s budget control committee.

Ties between Turkey and the EU ties have been strained of late, with Brussels criticizing Turkey over rights and media freedom in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt. More than 140,000 people have been suspended or sacked in Turkey over alleged links to coup plotters.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker ruled out last year Turkey’s EU membership “for the foreseeable future.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says the measures are necessary to counter the multiple security threats Turkey faces, while calling on the EU to open chapters of negotiations in the accession process.

The country’s EU Minister Ömer Çelik said in January that Turkey would reject any offer of “partnership” with the European Union that falls short of membership, warning that the current impasse gave Turkey no reason to maintain its migrant deal with the bloc. Source

Turkish Tensions With Cyprus Cause EU to Rethink Erdogan Summit

The European Union threatened to cancel a summit with Turkey next month because of Turkish tensions with Cyprus over energy exploration, the latest sign of deteriorating relations between Ankara and EU capitals.

EU President Donald Tusk lashed out at Turkey after its navy prevented drilling by Italy-based Eni SpA in waters that are part of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, forcing the company to relocate its vessel. Earlier this month, a Turkish navy ship rammed a Greek coast-guard vessel off Aegean islets over which Ankara claims sovereignty.

“These actions contradict Turkey’s commitment to good neighborly relations,” Tusk told reporters in Brussels on Friday after an EU summit. Scheduled to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 26 in Varna, Bulgaria, Tusk said EU national government heads would decide at a gathering several days beforehand whether “the conditions are there to hold a leaders’ meeting with Turkey.”

Relations between the EU and Turkey have been deteriorating since a mid-2016 failed coup attempt against Erdogan that prompted him to unleash a widespread crackdown on political opponents. The acrimony has all but halted negotiations on a bid for EU membership by Turkey, which has been seeking to join the bloc since the 1980s and began accession talks in 2005.

At the same time, Turkey’s central roles in preventing a renewed flood of Middle Eastern refugees into the EU via Greece and in fighting terrorism have left European leaders seeking ways to bring about a detente. The scheduled Varna meeting, which is also due to include European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, represents an attempt to improve ties.

“The time has come to send a very clear message to Turkey,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told reporters in Brussels. “EU-Turkey relations cannot progress with constant violations of sovereign rights of EU member states.” Source

EU: Release Altans and Ilıcak without delay.

An EU spokesperson spoke to Ahval about the life sentences handed by a Turkish court to six journalists this month, including the Altan brothers and Nazli Ilıcak.

"While we recognise Turkey’s need to address swift and proportionate action after the attempted coup in 2016, the measures now go well beyond those initially foreseen, including on media freedom," said the spokesperson.

The EU comments on the life sentences came 10 days after the verdicts were announced by the court.

A Turkish court gave life sentences to the six, including former newspaper editor Ahmet Altan, his brother, columnist and economist Mehmet Altan, and the well-known journalist Nazli Ilıcak, after convicting them for being "the media wing" of the Gülenists, an Islamist sect the government says carried out the failed July 2016 coup attempt. 

"The court decision to imprison journalists for life and the lack of implementation of the Constitutional Court’s ruling further increases the EU’s serious concerns relating to the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and freedom of expression in Turkey," said the EU spokesperson.

"The European Union expects the Turkish authorities to ensure that the Constitutional Court decision of 11 January 2018 is implemented and that the journalists are released without delay."

In early January the Turkish Constitutional Court ordered the release on human rights grounds of two journalists, Sahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, who have been imprisoned since last July awaiting trial for membership of the Gülenists' alleged terrorist organisation.

However, local courts in Istanbul defied the ruling, claiming that allowing their release would be “illegal”.

Local courts also claimed that the Constitutional Court had shown bias and exceeded its authority in making its ruling.

This defiance  by the local courts marked a first in Turkish legal history.

The EU Spokesperson also told Ahval that "concrete and lasting improvements in the area of rule of law and fundamental freedoms remain essential to the prospects of EU-Turkey relations."

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists   (CPJ) statistics, despite releasing some journalists in 2017, Turkey remains the world’s worst jailer for the second consecutive year, with 73 journalists behind bars, compared with 81 in 2016. 


No EU visa-free travel for Turkey until terror laws relaxed - Belgium

Belgium’s foreign minister has said that Turkey will not be given a visa-free deal by the European Union until it reforms its terror legislation, British conservative newspaper the Daily Express said .

"If it is possible to align the legislation with the values of the European Union, it will be possible to make some progress,” it quoted Didier Reynders as saying.

"The link is this - a real evolution in Turkey in the legislation on terrorism and the possibility to move on the visas."

Earlier this month, Turkey sent documents it said proved that it had met the criteria for visa-free travel in the Schengen zone to Brussels. However, the criteria includes human rights criteria that EU members may not agree that Turkey has met.

"Turkey understands that in principle Europe is the most reliable and predictable neighbour they have, and they are well advised to have a good relationship,” Johannes Hahn, the EU's top enlargement official, said.

"There are some signals but when it comes to issues of rule of law, the situation is still not satisfactory." Source