Four tough issues to normalize Turkish-EU ties

Four tough issues to normalize Turkish-EU ties

A much-anticipated EU summit on the recent escalation in the eastern Mediterranean and ties with Turkey has actually opened a new window of opportunity between Ankara and Brussels and between Ankara and Athens.

It’s a positive development that the summit did not impose sanctions and release a list of potential measures against Turkey, although it did warn that it would continue to monitor developments until the bloc’s December summit.

The European Union, as expected, once again reiterated its solidarity with Greece and Greek Cyprus, yet it also stressed its desire to engage with Turkey “with a specific emphasis on the modernization of the Customs Union and trade facilitation, people-to-people contacts, high-level dialogues [and] continued cooperation on migration issues, in line with the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement.”

It also instructed EU Council President Charles Michel, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and High Representative for Security and Foreign Policy Josep Borrell “to develop a proposal for reenergizing the EU-Turkey agenda.”

After nearly three months of tension between Ankara and Athens/Brussels, there are four key issues whose results will determine the fate of Turkey-EU ties.

The first one directly concerns the Ankara-Brussels relationship. The creation of a positive agenda in line with the proposals that the EU Commission submits in the coming weeks will be of vital importance as that will shed light on the quality of the Ankara-Brussels dialogue. As noted in the EU statement, the modernization of the Customs Union, the facilitation of the visa liberalization process for Turkish nationals and revisions to the 2016 statement on migration seem to be the key pillars of this dialogue.

The success of this dialogue will be of crucial significance, as the last few years have shown that the lack of a concrete agenda and mutual projects has further eroded the pair’s relationship.

The second process is between Turkey and Greece following the resumption of exploratory talks that stalled in 2016, as well as the establishment of a new de-confliction mechanism at NATO. Still, there is undoubtedly no quick and easy resolution to the problems in the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean.

Plus, the two parties are yet to agree on a framework about the exploratory talks, as Greece has singled out the delimitation of maritime areas as the sole problem, while Turkey says the mechanism should address multiple problems, including territorial waters, airspace and the sovereignty of the islands and islets that were not given to Greece by international agreements.

The key thing is that both Turkey and Greece should pay the utmost attention to avoid escalating the tension in the region so that they don’t sabotage the talks. That will be the most important and sensitive issue, as nobody expects any immediate reconciliation on the countries’ maritime problems.

The potential success of the third process, which Borrell is overseeing, lies in his ability to convince Greek Cyprus to create a mechanism to share hydrocarbon revenues with Turkish Cyprus, as that would play a very important role in de-escalating tensions. In a statement following the EU summit, Turkey emphasized that it would continue its hydrocarbon activities in the region until such a mechanism is established between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots.

Borrell’s success would foster a constructive climate on the island and could facilitate future U.N.-led peace attempts.  
The fourth process will work on organizing an international conference on the eastern Mediterranean. There are more questions than answers concerning this idea, which was first voiced by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and supported by Michel. A detailed diplomatic study must be conducted to turn this idea into reality. Conference organizers and diplomats should be creative enough to overcome the problem of the representation of the Turkish Cypriots and to introduce a set of functional modalities.

All these issues show that diplomacy is the only way to resolve the differences and stop the destabilization of the Mediterranean basin. All the stakeholders should contribute to these processes in the belief that, if successful, they will foster a new spirit of cooperation and understanding in the region.

Serkan Demirtaş,