Turkey, EU to launch talks to renew 2016 migrant deal

Turkey, EU to launch talks to renew 2016 migrant deal

Turkish-EU history will certainly not mark 2020 as one of the best years in relations. Although the first half of the year witnessed high-level talks between Ankara and Brussels that paved the way for talks to return to normalcy, developments in the eastern Mediterranean in the second half of the year have created an unprecedented escalation in ties.

Still, thanks to the joint efforts of all the countries involved in the conflict, particularly EU-term president Germany, common sense has prevailed and the EU Council issued a balanced declaration earlier this month, creating room to mend ties between Turkey and the European Union.

The recent de-escalation has fostered hopes that 2021 could introduce new opportunities to further normalize the two sides’ ties, while other news signals a new dynamism in bilateral dialogue.

Recent phone conversations between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as between Erdoğan and EU Council President Charles Michel, resulted in an agreement to relaunch talks to update the 2016 migrant statement between Ankara and Brussels.

In line with this agreement, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and the bloc’s high representative for foreign and security policies, Josep Borrell, discussed the details of how to proceed to that end. There are plans for more high-level dialogue in the coming period, particularly after the new year.

Turkey and the European Union agreed on ways to tackle the growing refugee problem through a statement on March 18, 2016. However, the statement was not just about the migrant problem: It also drew a general framework on how to move ties forward by reenergizing the accession process, upgrading the customs union, lifting visas for Turkish nationals, reinstating high-level dialogue mechanisms and cooperating in combatting terrorism.

As for the refugee problem, the deal obliged the European Union to share the burden with Turkey with a pledge of 3+3 billion euros. With the deal, Turkey agreed to receive irregular migrants from Greek islands and in return, the bloc agreed to take one Syrian refugee for every returned person.

Turkey has long asked the union to revamp the deal as the parameters have drastically changed in the past five years. Turkey was hosting 2.5 million refugees in 2016. Today, however, it hosts 4.5 million refugees, not all of whom are Syrian: Around half-a-million Afghans are in Turkey, and they are also trying to reach Europe. That’s why Turkey is planning to work with the European Union in Afghanistan, one of the most important refugee source countries.

In light of all this, Turkey, as a country that has already spent $40 billion on refugees, will seek more financial assistance from the European Union in the coming years. The bloc’s 6 billion euros is slated to run out by 2022, and any renewed migrant deal would need to offer a long-term financial prospect to address the needs of refugees.

On the other aspect of the deal, Turkey has substantial expectations too. First of all, it should update and underline Turkey’s full membership perspective by signaling that political obstacles in the way of opening negotiation chapters will be removed. Upgrading the customs union would certainly be to both sides’ benefit, especially at a time when the global economy is suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On visa liberalization, there are six remaining benchmarks, although the most important one concerns Turkey’s harmonization of its anti-terror legislation with that of the European Union. Ankara is expecting encouragement from the union to this end as well.

The March 2016 deal positively affected Turkey-EU relations at that time. Given both sides’ determination to put things back on track, renewing it in line with the new realities will boost the feeling of partnership between the two sides.

But actually turning 2021 into an opportunity requires the engagement of all parties: the resumption of Turkish-Greek talks in the coming weeks, a road map for the normalization of the Turkish-French relationship, the organization of a conference on the eastern Mediterranean and the realization of the 5+U.N. meeting on Cyprus are the most essential components to this end.

Serkan Demirtaş,