Turkey, EU intensify political, economic dialogue

Turkey, EU intensify political, economic dialogue

There is no doubt that 2016 will be marked as the year of the EU for Turkey. This is particularly the case following the joint statement issued on Nov. 29 last year aiming to re-energize accession talks in return for an agreement on the refugee crisis. 

A quick glance at the immediate Turkey-EU calendar proves the intensification of dialogue:

On Jan. 22, Turkey and Germany will hold their first high-level cooperation council meeting in Berlin, in a bid to deepen all sorts of ties between the two countries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership in finding an agreement on the refugee problem with Turkey helped lead to a better understanding between Ankara and Berlin, which could also have an impact on Turkey-skeptics in Germany and the rest of the continent.

On Jan. 25, a comprehensive meeting between Turkey and the EU will be held with the purpose of deepening political dialogue between the two parties. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and EU Minister Volkan Bozkır will represent the Turkish side, while EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mongherini and the EU Commission’s official responsible for enlargement, Johannes Hann, will be on the other. This four-way meeting will continue to be held in the future, discussing foreign policy issues, Turkey’s ability to meet EU requirements, and opening of more chapters.  

Only three days after that first meeting, Turkey will host an EU-Turkey Strategic Energy Cooperation meeting in Istanbul on Jan. 28-29. In it, senior Turkish and EU officials will come together to discuss what the two parties can do to increase cooperation for energy security. The Trans-Anatolian Pipeline Project (TANAP) and other potential pipeline projects to transport reserves from source countries like Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq and Qatar will be on the table.

Feb. 18 will mark another important date, as Turkey and eight likeminded EU countries will come together in Brussels as a follow-up to their Dec. 17 meeting. This will be an important venue to observe the implementation of an action plan between the two sides, which obliges Turkey to substantially reduce the number of illegal migrants travelling to Europe, which would in return lead to a lifting of Schengen visa requirements for Turkish citizens.

EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said on Jan. 7 that the EU is “far from satisfied” with Ankara’s cooperation in stemming the flow of migrants to Europe so far, although there has been “some progress.” Timmermans is due to come to Ankara on Jan. 10 to further discuss implementation of the action plan.

March is also very important for three main reasons: First, the EU Commission will report the progress that Turkey has made in stemming the flow and fulfillment of its obligations for visa-free travel. Second, Turkey and the EU Commission will hold a Davos-style economy and business summit in mid-March with the participation of six EU commissioners and their Turkish counterparts. Third, March is expected to be the key month for ongoing Cyprus talks. By the month’s end, we’ll have a better idea of the extent to which we should be hopeful that the decades-old problem will be resolved or will continue to linger.

“We are hopeful that 2016 will bring about important results for Turkey, for the EU and for our people. We hope this year will mark the lifting of the Schengen visa for Turkish citizens and the acceleration of accession talks by opening more chapters,” Turkish EU Minister Bozkır told me on Jan. 7 during a visit to Eskişehir.    

Re-energizing talks between the two sides would also increase the EU’s leverage on Turkey, especially on issues of concern to international organizations like freedom of expression, the Kurdish question, and other violations of human rights. The process we’re going through is therefore very important and worth supporting with all means possible.