‘Silence’ for Europe Day, May 9
The European Union is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. It declared May 9 as “Europe Day” in a summit held in Milan in 1985, celebrated in member countries and member candidate countries. The day has also been celebrated in EU member candidate country Turkey since 2000 with concerts and activities, though this year it will be a “quiet” day closed to the public.
Turkey is experiencing a very rocky period in its relations with the EU. But among the issues on the agenda are the refugee deal, Ankara’s request for the lifting of visas for Turkish citizens, the expansion of the Customs Union, and the de facto freeze of Turkey’s EU accession talks. The outcome of the recent referendum on shifting to an executive presidential system will also determine the future of relations. The question of whether or not Turkey’s relations with the EU will break off will be a significant debate throughou 2017.
In such an environment, it does not look easy to restore political relations. But there are economic areas where it is possible to reach a positive result. For instance, expanding the Customs Union is an issue that both sides want to work on.
Activities used to be organized
In past years, “Europe Day” would be marked in Turkey with concerts, exhibitions, sports activities and competitions in Ankara, Istanbul and several Anatolian cities. This year, however, enthusiastic celebrations have evaporated. There are no preparations from the Turkey side. On the EU side, meanwhile, low-key meetings are planned in halls that are closed to the public. The only concert will be a Syrian children’s choir.
Will project support continue?
How will the financial support that is carried out through European funds be affected by strained political relations? There are several projects currently ongoing with the financial support prepared to accelerate Turkey’s harmonization process as a candidate member with EU countries. In the period covering 2014 to 2020, the EU has and will support projects in nine main sectors in Turkey with resources worth 4.45 billion euros. The sectors supported are the justice system, transportation, energy, agriculture, democracy, communication, the environment and climate, competitiveness and employment.
The fate of these projects will become clearer once we know whether full membership of the EU will remain an option for Turkey, or whether relations will break off completely.
Turkey’s total exports to European countries amounted to $36 billion in 2002. This figure rose to $111 billion in 2015. Today, 45 percent of Turkey’s exports are sent to European countries. The contribution of Turkey’s EU accession process in the strengthening of economic relations with Europe is an undeniable fact.
The changes that these funds have created is described in the book “Inspiring Stories – Financial Cooperation with Turkey” recently published by the Delegation of the European Union to Turkey. Just two of the many examples from the book show the contribution of this cooperation.
The first example is the rebirth of a dream from the early years of the Republic of Turkey: The Irmak-Karabük-Zonguldak railway route, which was renewed with the EU’s financial support. In this route, renewed with a budget of 380 million euros, travel periods for both passengers and cargo were shortened. Support is continuing for the improvement of the infrastructure of the railway project with 650 million euros. The Halkalı-Kapıkule railway route is also being renewed with these supports.
A second example is how Turkey’s energy system has become integrated within Europe’s energy system: Five projects have been carried out with EU financial support, thanks to which Turkey’s electricity market has become a part of the EU’s domestic electric market. This means that if Turkey experiences any national electricity shortage, it will be able to buy electricity from the EU and sell back electricity once it has a surplus.