Varna summit signals a new model for Turkey-EU ties

Varna summit signals a new model for Turkey-EU ties

One of the most interesting statements during the March 26 meeting between senior officials from Turkey and EU came from Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who suggested making his country’s port city of Varna the permanent venue for future talks between Ankara and Brussels.

It is unlikely that this wish will come true. But his proposal still has some meaning: Turkey-EU ties have become so damaged over the last few years that meetings between the leader of a candidate country, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and EU Council President Donald Tusk should take place anywhere but Brussels.

Perhaps Borissov is just one of many European leaders who is of the opinion that Turkey’s accession process is going nowhere and so a new model needs to be built on this reality. Varna symbolizes this.

Indeed, the results of the March 26 Varna meeting support such a conclusion. Tusk was as open as possible when responding to a question on the results of the talks: “In terms of concrete solutions, we did not reach a concrete compromise today but I still hope it will be possible in the future.”

The meeting revealed once again that the EU will be very hesitant in delivering Turkey’s demands on visa liberalization, upgrading the customs union and opening new negotiation chapters. A visa waiver for Turkish nationals and modernized customs union may be part of the new model that the EU will propose to Turkey in the coming period. This model suggests a transactional approach short of full membership.

Erdoğan’s statements on Turkey-EU ties during the post-meeting press conference were softer and milder than his frequent public addresses, reflecting an understanding of “business as usual” with Brussels. He also underlined the need for continued engagement with the EU, saying: “Let’s build together a prosperous Europe. I approach everyone with love and respect.”

However, a more realistic analysis of the results of Varna meeting came from Erdoğan’s new political ally Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP): “In reality, the doors of the EU have been completely closed to Turkey. It is an obligation to give the necessary response to the EU while showing a national stance,” Bahçeli said, adding that Turkey is “not obliged to the EU.”

It would be too much of an exaggeration to suggest that the future shape of Turkey-EU ties will lead to serious friction in the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) alliance with the MHP. No doubt, over the course of triple elections in 2019 President Erdoğan will choose to side with his new political ally.

When all is said and done, Turkey is continuing to rapidly drift away from its objective of joining the EU. Meetings in Varna – or any other venue - are hardly likely to reverse this inclination.

Serkan Demirtaş, hdn,