Turkey expects a fair, balanced approach from new EU leadership

Turkey expects a fair, balanced approach from new EU leadership

Following weeks-long internal and tough negotiations, the leaders of European Union member states have reached an agreement on the five key positions to lead the Brussels-centered bloc in the next period.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyden has been nominated as the president of the European Commission as compromise after both current First Vice President of the Commission Frans Timmermans and German politician and head of the European People’s Party Manfred Weber were vetoed.

Turkey’s obvious preference was obviously Timmermans, as the Dutch politician has established an efficient and professional dialogue with Turkish officials during the very troubled times between Ankara and Brussels in recent years.

But the nomination of the German defense minister to take the helm of the European Commission has not created uneasiness in the Turkish capital. As the defense minister and a close associate of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, von der Leyen has worked closely with the Turkish governments in the fields of defense and NATO-related issues.

Her tenure as defense minister has been marked with her dedication to a strong Europe poised to defend itself through what she calls “an army of Europeans.”

As important as who will lead the Commission will be the commissioners, in the eyes of Turkey, especially the one to be responsible for enlargement. For Ankara, the enlargement commissioner should be a figure who may positively contribute and guide the candidate countries in their difficult journey to join the EU. That is to say, this person should not be another “Johannes Hahn.”

Turkey has no specific concerns on the nomination of Charles Michel as the president of the European Council, Josep Borrell as the high representative of foreign and security policy and Christian Lagarde as the president of the European Central Bank. Another Italian, David Sassoli from the Socialist group will lead the European Parliament.

No need to re-emphasize on how strained and damaged the relations were between Turkey and the EU in the previous period. That period resulted in halting Turkey’s accession process while pushing Turkey-skeptics to issue calls for a formal termination of this country’s full membership perspective. Leaders, like French President Emmanuel Macron, have suggested a new model on ties with Turkey that no longer envisages accession to the EU.

The results of the local elections in Turkey, particularly the rerun in Istanbul, should be considered as a positive instrument for the friends of Turkey in the EU to use against those who urge the collapse of the accession process. Plus, a very recent public opinion survey conducted by Kadir Has University did prove that the people’s support to Turkey’s EU accession has increased to 61 percent, six points more than in 2018.  

As of today, however, a new period is beginning. Both Turkey and the EU have left elections behind and are ready to engage in a considerably long election-free period. For sure, this alone is not sufficient to be hopeful for the future. Both sides need to show willingness and readiness to work together.

Turkey’s expectation from the new leadership is clear. It hopes to receive a fair and balanced approach from the new EU leadership. A nomination of an enlargement commissioner devoted to accelerating the accession process of candidate countries, the appointment of a rapporteur that will follow a fair track on Turkey and composition of a new Joint Parliamentary Committee from European parliamentarians who will genuinely contribute to Turkey-EU dialogue are among the expectations of the Turkish government.

Turkey-EU ties are not made of a one-way avenue. As the elections are now over and the messages conveyed by the Turkish people have been received, Turkish officials make clear that the government is aiming at lending impetus on the democratic and economic reforms in the coming period.

The Reform Action Group is planned to be convened in the following weeks for a review on the continued works in regards to fulfilling the remaining six criteria for the visa liberalization. It will be very soon that a draft judicial reform strategy will be discussed in parliament in line with promises made to both the EU and Council of Europe.

For Turkey, it’s time to act if it wants to improve relations with the EU and Council of Europe. Reforms that will be realized should be genuinely and strictly implemented. Consistent and constant dialogue should prevail against politically-driven megaphone diplomacy.

The EU, on the other hand, should avoid double standards and unfair treatment when it comes to Turkey. In addition, it should not allow Greek Cyprus and Greece to abuse the ongoing tension in the eastern Mediterranean for their regional interest and to turn it into an Ankara-Brussels dispute.

The period ahead introduces both opportunities and challenges to Turkey-EU ties. It’s our sincere hope that opportunities will prevail.

Serkan Demirtaş, EU, Turkey