Three hard tests for Davutoğlu
There are three important thresholds or tests ahead of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in the next two months which can be decisive for Turkey in closing the gap with the West.
The first one is the visa-free travel scheme for Turkish citizens as a part of the immigration control deal between Turkey and the European Union (EU). The EU Commission said that if Turkey fulfilled the benchmarks by May 4, it would suggest the council convene in June to remove Turkey from the visa list. If that happens, despite all objections from within the EU, it would be a major success for Davutoğlu; he will be able to tell people that the gates of the EU were opened for Turks who want to travel after decades by his diplomacy. That would be a test at two stages. One would be regarding Turkish-EU relations. The other would be vis-a-vis President Tayyip Erdoğan. During his visit to Croatia on April 27 Erdoğan told reporters that he could not understand why it was a success to have a visa-free deal four months earlier; it would happen in October according to the readmission accord anyway - a message forwarded to Davutoğlu. He also pointed out that the EU has only paid a fraction of what it had promised - 3 billion euros – in the first half of the deal.
“We’ll see whether they will pay it by the end of the year,” Erdoğan said. If Davutoğlu will have the visa-free deal, the opening of another negotiation chapter and some more burden sharing, it will be good both for Turkey’s rapprochement with the EU and for Davutoğlu’s performance. If not, there is the possibility of Turkey cancelling the deal, with Erdoğan’s words in mind that Turkish authorities might wave goodbye to Syrian and other refugees heading to the EU.
The second one is the normalization of relations with Israel. According to both Turkish and Israeli sources, talks might be concluded in the next few meetings. Erdoğan said in Croatia that the Gaza embargo condition might be solved with a Turkish-German floating power plant docking at Israel’s Ashdod port to supply electricity to Gaza. Diplomatic relations between the two countries had been at a reduced level since 2010, when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens on board the Mavi Marmara, a boat which was part of a flotilla heading to Gaza to break the embargo. Turkey’s apology condition was already met by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the intermediation of the U.S. President Barack Obama, and Erdoğan said there was improvement on the condition of paying compensation to the families of the victims. Davutoğlu and his diplomacy team have been trying hard for the last few months to shake hands with Israel, which would be good for relations with not only the U.S., but with the EU as well.
The third and perhaps most difficult one would be Cyprus. All parties express optimism for a reunification agreement between Turkish and Greek Cypriots to come out of the ongoing talks under the auspices of the United Nations (UN). The pace is a bit slow now due to the elections on the Greek part of the island. So far the talks have failed numerous times, the last being in 2004 following a referendum in which the Greek side voted negative but was taken into the EU as a member. If an agreement takes place, it would not only be a major breakthrough in peace, stability and trade in the Eastern Mediterranean (considering gas fields off of Cyprus and Israel) but also might bring a boost in Turkish-EU relations. Greek Cypriot government vetoes the opening up of five negotiation chapters with Turkey, two of them being about judicial reforms and rights and freedoms, as two areas of criticism in Turkey.
If Davutoğlu manages to pass all three tests, he is likely to empower his hand inside and outside Turkey.