A difficult week for EU-Turkey ties

A difficult week for EU-Turkey ties

This week will feature important meetings and developments in regards to already problematic Turkey-European Union relations.

On March 13, the European Parliament is expected to vote on a report that calls on the European Commission and member states to formally suspend accession negotiations with Turkey, citing a serious deterioration in the state of human rights, freedoms, and rule of law in the country. It will not be a surprise to see that an overwhelming majority of European parliamentarians will endorse the call.

Although non-binding, the European Parliament’s vote will display a very important symbolism with regard to Turkey’s troubled journey to the EU. It was the same European Parliament which had voted in favor of the launch of full membership talks with Turkey in late 2004. For that reason alone, this vote should be analyzed from different perspectives that include Turkey’s distancing from the Copenhagen criteria and the effect of the use of double standards by prominent European countries when it’s about Turkey.

It’s pretty certain that the vote will draw a strongly-worded reaction from the Turkish government which would also use it as part of ongoing election campaign. 

On March 13 and 14, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu will attend a Syria summit by the EU where he will be able to discuss all the aspects of the conflict on its eighth year. Just a day after the European Parliament’s call for the suspension of full membership talks, the Syria meeting shows that there are still very important areas of cooperation between Ankara and Brussels. Turkey will continue to play an important partner for the EU on key foreign and security policy issues although some leading member states are planning to isolate it.

On March 15, after a four-year hiatus, the Turkey-EU Association Council will be convened in Brussels with the participation of Çavuşoğlu and Federica Mogherini, EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. Both sides are hoping to use this meeting as an opportunity to look over all aspects of bilateral relations after more than a two-year row.

A position paper drafted by the EU for the upcoming meetings suggests that the EU remains committed to maintaining an open and frank dialogue with Turkey while taking note of the Turkish government’s stated commitment to EU accession.

Recalling that the EU had concluded that Turkey’s accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing because of the fact that it has been moving further away from the EU, the position paper read: “The continuing and deeply worrying backsliding on the rule of law and on fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression is of particular concern. The deterioration of the independence and functioning of the judiciary cannot be condoned, nor can the on-going restrictions, detentions, imprisonments, and other measures targeting journalists, academics, members of political parties including parliamentarians, human rights defenders, social media users, doctors, LGBTI persons and others exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms of expression and association. Any alleged crime should be subject to due process. Turkey needs to urgently and effectively address these and the many other serious shortcomings and outstanding issues identified in the Commission’s report.”

The EU is also concerned about the challenges faced by the Turkish economy since 2018. Concrete and consistent steps remain needed to address the economic vulnerabilities and to create economic and monetary conditions the EU states, expressing concerns over “the good functioning of the market economy in Turkey, in particular with regard to price setting.”

It calls on the Turkish government to continue to work for the fulfillment of remaining criteria for visa liberalization but recalls an EU decision that no further work towards the modernization of the EU-Turkey Customs Union is foreseen.

In brief, the EU is expected to once again voice its reform expectations from the Turkish government in both the economy and democracy. All these tell that a return to normalcy in dialogue with Brussels, as stated by some senior Turkish leaders, will not be that easy even after local elections unless a genuine reform process is launched.

Turkey, European Union, Serkan Demirtaş