What will not happen at the Turkey-EU Summit in Varna?
Senior officials from Turkey and the EU will meet at a summit on March 26 at the term president Bulgaria’s resort city of Varna. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will lead a large delegation that will include Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, EU Minister Ömer Çelik, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi and Trade Minister Bülent Tüfenkçi.
The EU side will be represented by European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker along other senior officials from Brussels.
The latest meeting between the two sides in this format had taken place in May 2017, which resulted in launching a new era in bilateral ties so that a sort of normalization could be started through the revival of direct communication mechanisms.
Since then, there has been a visible mobilization between Ankara and Brussels through a number of important meetings in the fields of political dialogue, economy, trade and security.
In the meantime, reconciliation processes between Turkey and a score of prominent European countries, particularly Germany, have also had a positive impact in diffusing tension between the two parties.
Having cited these positive aspects, it is still hard to forecast what kind of results this summit will produce. One of the most important reasons for this is the fact that preoccupations of the two sides with regard to regional and international agenda are far from overlapping. Turkey’s main focus is on Syria and its ongoing fight against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) along its southern border.
Developments in Syria and in Iraq will continue to dominate Turkey’s security and foreign policy agenda in the foreseeable future, which will naturally endure its partnership with Russia and Iran. It is explicit that many European nations and the EU itself have reservations on Turkish actions in the field and particularly on its cooperation with Russia. That also comes as EU, NATO and prominent EU countries are planning to increase their pressure on Moscow in the coming period over a number of different reasons. In general terms, Turkey’s priorities and direction of its foreign policy would not receive backing from its allies.
The second important reason is the fact that the two sides’ expectations from each other can hardly be met by either side. Let’s begin the Turkish demands: Turkey calls on the EU to revive accession negotiations by opening chapters. It seems to be out of the question under current conditions.
Another expectation Turkey has from the EU is to grant a visa waiver for Turkish nationals. Turkey has recently presented a position paper outlining what actions it will take to meet the remaining requirements for this end. The European Commission’s initial assessment suggests the set of Turkish proposals is insufficient and needs to be developed. Its final assessment will follow the Varna Summit. Therefore, visa liberalization will not be at the core of these talks next week.
Upgrading the Customs Union agreement constitutes yet another important demand of Ankara from Brussels. The required mandate to launch technical talks with Turkey has not yet been given to the European Commission. It seems there is not yet a consensus among the EU countries for the launch of technical talks.
As suggested by Erdoğan, Turkey has demanded a more flexible method for the transaction of the second part of the EU’s 3 billion-euro financial assistance for Syrian refugees. This is another area that will be difficult for Brussels to come up with a new idea to please the Turkish leadership.
As for the EU’s expectations from Ankara, this picture is not that clear either. The EU has long been calling Turkey to end the state of emergency that was launched after the July 2016 attempted coup and will likely repeat it in Varna. However, it’s very much unexpected that the Turkish government will end it soon, as its fight against the Gülenist network still continues.
Continued human rights violations, restrictions on freedom of press, crack downs on dissident politicians, academics and civil society representatives will sure be among issues EU leaders will raise during the meeting.
The importance of the upcoming summit is that it will prove communication channels are open at the highest level and they discuss issues concerning both sides in the bluntest way. Making a real difference in the quality of Ankara-Brussels, however, requires more than this kind of diplomatic protocol.
To put it simply: Turkey has to return to its democratic agenda by lifting emergency rule and assuring the implementation of fundamental rights for each and every citizen in this country. The EU, for its part, should base its relations and communications with Turkey without forgetting that it’s a candidate country. Any political attempt to offering a new model of partnership that is short of full membership would be regarded as the EU’s abandonment of its Copenhagen Criteria from Turkey. That should not happen in Varna.