EU calls on high-level dialogue with Turkey
Unlike the previous communiqués of the European Council in October 2020, December 2020, and March 2021, the June 2021 conclusion addressed all issues related to Turkey under the title “Turkey” instead of “Eastern Mediterranean.” This alone is a minor indication of the sustained normalization process in ties between Turkey and the EU as the conclusion welcomed the de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean.
With the tension between Turkey and Greece as well as some prominent EU member states has now diffused - at least for this summer - Ankara and Brussels can now engage in a more concrete way on the items of the positive agenda.
The modernization of the Customs Union is the most significant item on the two sides’ agenda. Turkey expected to formally start talks regarding the modernization of the 25-year-old Customs Union, but that could not happen due to unaccomplished technical talks.
One reason is that Turkey replaced Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan with Mehmet Muş in late April, and this reshuffle has delayed the planned meetings for resolving the problems over the existing Customs Union. Muş paid a visit to Brussels to meet his counterparts on June 14, only 10 days before the EU Council meeting.
“[The EU Council] recalls the need to address current difficulties in the implementation of the Customs Union, ensuring its effective application to all member states. Such a mandate may be adopted by the Council subject to additional guidance by the European Council,” read the communiqué, referring to Ankara’s opposition to extending the current Customs Union to Greek Cyprus. It will be seen whether EU Council will agree on launching talks with Turkey, although the latter does not change its position.
The most concrete step taken by the EU Council was the decision to renew the financial assistance for the Syrian refugees being hosted in Turkey. Around 3 billion euros will be allocated to Turkey until 2024.
It also touched on the concerns over human rights and the rule of law in Turkey, repeating that dialogue on these issues will be an integral part of the Turkey-EU dialogue. The resolution has reserved a large paragraph to Cyprus, reiterating the EU’s position that a solution on the island should be based on existing U.N. parameters. It also recalled that the status of Varosha must be respected, indirectly urging Turkey not to change it.
The paragraph on Cyprus reflects the concerns of many member states, particularly Greek Cyprus and Greece, ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Turkish Cyprus on July 20 for marking the Turkish military intervention into the island in 1974. Erdoğan, in a statement in the past months, said he would announce some very important issues during his visit to Cyprus in July.
In another paragraph, the EU Council has expressed its willingness to engage with Turkey through high-level dialogues on issues of mutual interests, such as migration, public health, climate, counterterrorism and regional issues. Intensified dialogue between Ankara and Brussels over these issues will surely help both sides to understand each other better and to accelerate the normalization process.
Turkey’s reaction to the EU Council’s decisions was as expected. They are far from fulfilling the expected and necessary steps, the Foreign Ministry said, particularly criticizing the postponement of the modernization of the Customs Union. It generally accused the EU of imposing “delaying tactics” when it comes to delivering the concrete moves for Turkey.
Despite the different positions and expectations of both sides, the positive atmosphere in Turkey-EU relations will likely continue from now on. Engaging through high-level dialogue on issues, such as fighting the pandemic and energy cooperation, will endorse the existing climate and cement the road map ahead.