Turkey - EU relations May - June 2018


25 June 2018 - EU Commission hopes Turkey will remain ‘committed partner’ on key issues

The European Commission said on Monday it hoped Turkey would “remain a committed partner” after an election that gave President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sweeping new executive powers, the Hürriyet Daily News reported.

With virtually all votes counted, Erdoğan garnered 53 percent of the vote in the presidential race, while in the parliamentary polls his Justice and Development Party (AKP) took 42.5 percent and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) secured 11 percent, exceeding expectations.

“We hope that under President Erdoğan’s leadership Turkey will remain a committed partner for the European Union on major issues of common interest such as migration, security, regional stability and the fight against terrorism,” a spokesman for the European Commission told a press briefing.

Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987, and accession talks began in 2005. Negotiations stalled in 2007 due to the objections of the Greek Cypriot administration as well as opposition from Germany and France. Turkey’s backsliding from its democratization and reform agenda has also frustrated the accession process.

To gain membership, Turkey has to successfully conclude negotiations on 35 policy chapters that involve reforms and the adoption of European standards.

As of May 2016 a total of 16 chapters had been opened and one concluded. However, in December 2016 member states said no new chapters would be opened. Source


14 June 2018 - Turkey stands to lose EU financial assistance

The European Commission has proposed a new system for allocating financial assistance to countries seeking accession that is likely to leave Turkey feeling shortchanged, Germany’s public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported on Thursday.

The commission proposed a 30 percent hike in the EU’s 2021-2027 external action budget, which includes money allocated to applicant countries to raise standards in line with the EU in order to gain accession.

However, under this system for the first time accession candidate countries will not be allocated a set amount for the period, but will be granted amounts according to need and their performance in areas deemed important by the EU.

This could create a “kind of competition” among the candidate countries in order to fulfil the EU’s requirements, said Johannes Hahn, the EU Commissioner in charge of enlargement.

Turkey would be competing with four other candidate countries – Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia – for its share of the 14.5 billion euros on offer during the 2021-2027 period.

The new system also grants the EU flexibility to “adapt to the evolving situation in Turkey and reflect developments in our relations with the country,” the budget proposal states.

The proposal does not appear to be good news for Turkey, particularly given telling comments last April from Hahn, who criticised the country for taking “huge strides away from the EU, in particular in the areas of rule of law and fundamental rights.”

In the current period, Turkey has so far only received 315 million euros of the 4.45 billion agreed upon.

The EU commission cited failings in Turkey’s democratic standards and rule of law for the decrease in funding. Source


30 May 2018 - EU team to visit Turkey to discuss visa-waiver demand

A delegation of the European Union will visit Turkey on Thursday to discuss the visa-free deal and the issue of refugees, according to EU sources.

The EU delegation will be in capital Ankara on Thursday and Friday, and hold meetings with Ministry of EU Affairs, Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Interior after their evaluation of the criteria list that Turkey had to fulfill to gain visa-free travel across Europe for its citizens.

A working plan for Turkish citizens to travel to Schengen countries visa-free, which was submitted by Turkey to Brussels in February, is currently being examined.

The technical delegation of the EU Commission will convey its views on the seven outstanding criteria out of a total of 72 that Ankara is expected to fulfill.

On April 4, EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik told lawmakers in the parliament's foreign affairs committee that they had already discussed the proposal on visa-free travel with European Commission’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans.

In 2016, Turkey and the EU signed a deal aiming to stem the irregular migration flow through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving conditions for nearly three million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

The deal also allows for the acceleration of Turkey’s EU membership bid and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the Schengen area, on the condition that Ankara meets all 72 requirements set by the EU.

Turkey has long complained of the EU being slow to deliver the promised funds for refugees and failing to uphold its end of the deal concerning visa-free travel. Source

25 May 2018 - -Turkey plans to close down EU Ministry as part of new administrative system

With the new administration system to be formed after June 24 polls, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is planning to close down seven current ministries in a bid to introduce a small but efficient government, which includes transferring all the duties and operations of the EU Ministry to the Foreign Ministry. 

The AKP’s plans can only be realized if President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can be re-elected as the head of the nation and therefore, be assigned to form the government as the sole executive power.

The new administrative system grants the elected president with excessive executive powers that includes the right to issue decree laws over matters that concern the functions of the state apparatus.

In a recent statement, Erdoğan hinted that the number of ministries will be reduced to 14 or 15 from the current 25 in a bid to increase the efficiency of the government and therefore to lessen bureaucratic bulk.

According to the information gathered by the daily Hürriyet, seven ministries will be closed down as their duties and responsibilities will be handed over to other government bodies. The EU Ministry, Economy Ministry, Youth and Sports Ministry, Customs and Trade Ministry, Development Ministry, Culture and Tourism Ministry, as well as the Forestry and Water Affairs Ministry will be closed down.

With the change, the tasks of the EU Ministry will be fully transferred to the Foreign Ministry and the former will preserve its organizational chart but without a minister. The EU Ministry was founded in 2011 in a bid to give an impetus to Turkey’s accession process with the EU by introducing a more coordinated structure within the Turkish administrative system.

Sources also indicated that the elected president can assign one vice president to follow EU-Turkey relations and the accession process if needed.

Economy under single roof 

The change within the system will bring about the most important consequences for the management of the economy. The AKP’s plan suggests to merge the finance, economy, and development ministries under a single roof, which will also include the duties of the customs and trade ministries as well as the tourism ministries. However, the final decision on this has not been given yet, sources said.

Four vice presidents planned 

According to this new system, Erdoğan is planning to have four vice presidents whose areas of responsibility will be decided in accordance with the shaping of the new government.

The new system will preserve the structures of the Interior Ministry, Defense Ministry, Transportation Ministry, Justice Ministry and Health Ministry. The name of the Education Ministry will be changed to the Education and Culture Ministry, while the Family Ministry will become the Family and Society Ministry. Source


6 May 2018 - EU plans to cut financial assistance to Turkey

The European Commission’s long-term budget proposal for the 2021-2027 period released on May 2 includes a Western Balkan Strategy for further enlargement, but omits Turkey, Deutsche Welle Turkish reported  on Saturday. 

“The Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance will support candidate countries and potential candidates on their path to fulfilling the accession criteria. It will moreover contribute to the achievement of broader European objectives of ensuring stability, security and prosperity in the immediate neighbourhood of the Union. It will also be positioned in the context of the Western Balkans Strategy and will reflect the developments in relations with Turkey,” the Commission said about financial assistance to candidate countries in its 31-page Communication.

In EU Commission's 7-yearly budget proposal for 2021-27 Turkey, as expected, doesn't appear under Pre-Accession Assistance (pp 90-91). The Commission mentions directly the Western Balkan accession countries and omits indirectly Turkey. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/annex-communication-modern-budget-may2018_en.pdf …

According to experts, the new perspective treating Turkey as a neighbouring country rather than a candidate country decreases hopes for Turkey’s full membership to the EU in the next decade and may even signal possible cuts in financial assistance provided to the country. 

“EU pre-accesion funds are crucial for Turkey’s compliance to EU legislation and strengthening its capacity. Many projects the citizens of Turkey benefit from are supported through those funds,” told Ayhan Zeytinoğlu, the head of Economic Development Foundation, to DW. According to Zeytinoğlu, there is a possibility for the continuation of financial assistance after 2019, if Turkey launches a new reform process. 

Laura Batalla, the Secretary General of the European Parliament's Turkey Forum told DW that the EU Commission made symbolic cuts in financial assistance recently as a warning to the Turkish government. According to Batalla, the Commission considers a reorganisation of funds and plans directing financial assistance to support the projects of civil society. 

“Cutting financial assistance means further isolation of Turkish people, the EU Commission is aware of that, Batalla said. Source

EU, Turkey should both honour agreements – lawyer

The European Union should fulfil its promise to provide Turkey with €6 billion for Syrian refugees, and Turkey must begin honouring the human rights conditions of the EU membership accession process, lawyer Özgür Çınar wrote for OpenDemocracy.

The EU-Turkey refugee deal agreed two years ago aimed to cut the influx of Syrian refugees arriving in Greece. According to the deal, the EU promised to allocate €3 billion in aid to Turkey to help migrants, while Turkey pledged to increase security along its borders. On March 14, the European Commission unblocked a new tranche of 3 billion euros to be transferred to Turkey to help Syrian refugees. Meanwhile, the EU Commission is reviewinga plan sent by Turkish government in February for visa-free travel of Turkish citizens in Schengen countries.

However, the Commission’s 2018 Country Report for Turkey released in mid-April have pointed out serious human rights violations in the country.

“At this juncture, according to the agreement made in March 2016, the EU must fulfil its promise (to provide Turkey with 6 billion Euros for Syrian refugees and to grant visa-free travel to EU countries for Turkish citizens),” Çınar said.

“In return it is high time Turkey fulfilled the conditions listed below as part of the EU accession process. If this does not happen it is apparent that there will be economic, political and cultural losses on both sides.”

Despite having been an EU candidate member since 2005, Turkey’s human rights record has only declined in that time, Çınar said.

Judges and prosecutors were under enormous pressures, and there were human rights violations against those the government claims are sympathetic to the Gülen movement, a religious group that the government says masterminded the failed coup of July 2016, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a Kurdish nationalist group that has been fighting in Turkey’s southeast since 1984.

However, Çınar did not believe that Turkey’s EU membership process should be ended.

“The question that needs to be asked here is what Turkey and the EU will do. Will the European adventure, that has continued for years with both sides escalating the tension and turning their backs on each other, finally end?” Çınar asked.

“For the EU to close all doors to Turkey will ensure Turkey’s further isolation from the EU. Such a situation will not be in the interests of either party, when the joint security, energy and economic interests of the EU and Turkey in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Europe are taken into consideration.” Source