New steps underway in relations with EU
The European Union is on Turkey’s agenda again. I say “again” because relations with the EU had been put in a fridge for the last three years.
Although I am cautiously optimistic about this, I feel excited. And I believe the political will needs to be encouraged during this process because I care about Turkey’s target of full membership to the EU. We could not find the necessary support from the EU in the face of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. With the rising nationalist tide, the EU, so to speak, pushed Turkey away. And we could not proceed on our way by adopting the Copenhagen criteria.
We had hit rock bottom regarding relations with the EU. Now we have entered a period to improve relations again. The lifting of the state of emergency has positively affected Turkey’s image in the eyes of the EU. And U.S. President Donald Trump’s attack, to which we have been exposed just during this period, has reminded us of how much the EU is important and how irreplaceable Turkey is to the EU.
This is because Trump saddened his European friends with the trade war and their contributions to the NATO. We have seen that it is not possible to be strong enough against Trump’s attack with the help of just Iran, Russia, and China. The support phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron as well as Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak’s statement of appreciation to Germany’s stance have softened the environment. But still the mere utterance of words does not lead to an improvement in Turkey-EU relations. Some steps need to be taken.
I have for a while been seeing Ankara’s effort to take advantage of the new situation with the EU. Turkish authorities want to restart the reform process and revive the harmonization process with the EU. But let us not fool ourselves. During this process, firstly, the image of Turkey needs to change. And for this to happen, the normalization and enhancement of Turkey-EU relations need to kick in.
As this process’ first step, the Reform Action Group will convene for the first time after three years. The Reform Action Group had convened last on Dec. 11, 2015, making it a three-year-long gap. The meeting, which will be conducted at the helm of Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşloğlu, will be attended by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül, and Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission head Volkan Bozkır.
Reform Action Group’s agenda
The priority of the Reform Action Group will be to prepare an environment which will remove Turkey out of the watch list of the Council of Europe.
The priority will be to open the 23rd chapter of the “Judiciary and Fundamental Rights” and the 24th chapter of “Justice, Freedom, and Security.” The steps that will be taken regarding these chapters will provide a positive contribution to Turkey’s democratization process.
Because criticisms toward Turkey come mainly in the field of the judiciary, the revision of the “Judiciary Reform Strategy” will curb such criticisms from mounting.
The criteria for visa-free travel to the EU will be on the agenda.
Ankara sees the upcoming one-and-a-half to two years as the period of reforms and in which steps to improve relations with the EU will be undertaken. During this period, relations with Germany, Holland, and Austria will be sought to be improved. And there are positive signals from these countries as well. But, of course, for this, we need to straighten out the issues at home.
Paving way for the release of jailed activist and businessman Osman Kavala, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Enis Berberoğlu, and some mayors, whose arrests have been an issue in Turkey-EU relations, from jail and their standing trials without arrest will strengthen our hand.