Turkey-EU ties to depend on three key processes
The EU Council has avoided new turmoil in its ties with Turkey. Instead, it has opened a new window of opportunity for all the parties concerned, especially Turkey, Greece, Greek Cyprus and France, to start a new process through dialogue.
The next crunch time in ties seems to be March 2021, according to the council’s conclusions. Until that day, there will be some critical processes to follow.
First and foremost is the fact that President-elect Joe Biden will take over the helm as the 46th president of the United States on Jan. 20, marking the beginning of a new era in global affairs. The change at the White House is particularly important to European countries as the incoming administration promises a strong strategic trans-Atlantic partnership.
That’s why the EU leaders discussed the future ties with the new leadership during the summit late Dec. 10, suggesting, “The EU will seek to coordinate on matters relating to Turkey and the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean with the United States.”
This shows that the EU will wait to see how ties between Turkey and the U.S. under the new administration will evolve amid concerns of impending sanctions on Ankara over the latter’s acquisition of Russian S-400 air defense systems.
That would be too much for a country like Turkey – a NATO ally and an EU candidate – to be heavily sanctioned by both the EU and the U.S. at the same time. At the end of the day, Turkey is an important country, with the EU underlining that it “reaffirms the EU’s strategic interest in the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey.”
The second process concerns efforts to resume Turkish-Greek exploratory talks as a direct bilateral mechanism to discuss the existing problems in the Aegean and Mediterranean.
“The European Council notes Turkey’s withdrawal of the vessel Oruç Reis and insists on sustained de-escalation so as to allow for the early resumption and smooth continuation of direct exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey,” stated the council’s conclusions.
The bloc expects Turkey and Greece to return to the table; this time, however, the ball is in the latter’s court. The resumption of direct talks and the continued de-confliction measures under discussion at NATO will surely de-escalate tensions in the region on a more permanent basis – something that will be to the benefit of the two neighbors and the entire region.
Having said that, it is also important that Turkey avoids dispatching Oruç Reis or any other exploration vessel to the contested waters in the coming period. Likewise, Greece should avoid any provocative actions in the said area as well in other parts of the Aegean.
Last but not least is the Cyprus problem. As rightly put by Turkey, it’s of critical importance that the two communities on the island agree on how to share hydrocarbon revenues. The EU should be aware that the prospects for a lasting solution on the island require a concrete step from Greek Cyprus. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to convince the new Turkish Cypriot leadership to launch a new round of talks in line with decades-old U.N. resolutions.
The developments in regards to these three aforementioned processes will determine the ground on which future ties between Turkey and the U.S. and Turkey and the EU will be based. The key for all parties in this very complicated climate is dialogue and engagement. For, as has been seen before, there is no other option.