No room for blame game, Turkey tells EU

No room for blame game, Turkey tells EU

A dinner at the residence of the Turkish Embassy in Paris on Feb. 3 was a good opportunity for Turkish European Union Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkır since French EU Affairs Minister Harlem Desir as well as key French business people were also there.

Bozkır addressed the French parliament and Senate committees during the day about Turkey’s relations with the EU, which have been reactivated following the Syrian refugee crisis and the joint fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Now, it was time to talk about the future of economic ties between the two parties.

The Turkish minister made a similar visit to Italy the week before during which “migration issues were dominant.” In Paris, most of the questions by politicians were “about terrorism issues.” That is not a surprise, since both Turkey and France have suffered a lot because of terrorist attacks at the hands of ISIL as a by-product of the Syrian civil war. In his red file, the Turkish minister had facts and figures about not only ISIL terrorism but the recent rise of terrorist attacks by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The photos showed the tons of explosives, rifles, rocket launchers and ammunition seized, as well as photos of booby traps in houses and under the roads from streets cleared of PKK control, especially in six districts in Turkey’s southeast, near the Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian borders, since July 2015 when Turkey’s cooperation with the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL was upgraded.

“It took some time to explain to our European friends that most of the ISIL [he uses the acronym DAESH] foreign fighters were from the EU countries,” Bozkır said. “When intelligence cooperation starts to work better, we have better measures together. So far, 36,000 EU citizens have been banned from entering Turkey because of suspicions, and some 2,800 of them have been sent back from the Turkish border.” The number of ISIL suspects arrested by the Syrian border has increased by 90 percent in the last five months, according to the Turkish military. 

The same picture applies in the cooperation against illegal immigration. Turkey and the EU have been working on a conceptual package both to control the migration flux to EU countries and reactivate Turkish integration with the union. Since German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey where she met President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu late last year, the level of cooperation over migration has visibly increased. Syrian entries to Turkey have drastically decreased after Turkey started to ask for visa for Syrians from third countries.

It was interesting to observe that it was Bozkır who told Desir during the dinner that Greece needed better support from the EU to have better control over the migrant flow. Turkey and Greece are to meet in İzmir on March 8 for joint efforts that are likely to be followed by a tri-party meeting between Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria.

“There is no room for a blame game,” Bozkır said, noting that this was valid for both cooperation against illegal migration and terrorism. “Every country should take its own responsibility if a joint solution is to be found.”

Up until a few months ago, the EU’s ears were almost deaf to Turkish stories, which is not the case now that it seems migration and terrorism with roots in Syria have started to hit EU countries, making cooperation with Ankara a necessity.

Bozkır enjoys the fact that in European capitals, there are politicians and businesspeople eager to listen, ask questions about Turkey and its environment, from Syria to Russia and Iran. 

“As more questions are asked,” Bozkır says, some of which can be about issues like free press and free courts, “We are able to explain Turkey’s position more and better.”