Turkey, EU to kick off bilateral agenda in June’s political dialogue meeting

Turkey, EU to kick off bilateral agenda in June’s political dialogue meeting

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
Turkey, EU to kick off bilateral agenda in June’s political dialogue meeting Turkey and European Union will focus on upgrading Customs Union and the migrant deal, according to an agreed 12-month road map on the bilateral ties, with the first gathering to be held on June 13 for political dialogue meeting at the level of political directors which will study course of relations. 

Ankara and Brussels plan to hold a political dialogue meeting at ministerial level in July. Energy dialogue and economy meetings will be revived in the upcoming months as well, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News on condition of anonymity. 

In a highly-anticipated gathering on May 25, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker before a NATO summit in the Belgian capital, where they agreed to revive strained ties. 

In the meeting, EU officials asked Erdoğan about Ankara’s intention regarding its membership bid with the bloc and whether or not it would step in to restart the process, according to the official. Erdoğan, in his earlier remarks, had vowed that Ankara would reconsider its position on joining the bloc if it kept waiting much longer and if the current “hostile mentality” of some member-states persisted.

In the meeting, the Turkish side stressed that Ankara’s goal was full membership in the bloc. The Turkish delegation, however, said Turkey has been suffering a trauma after the coup attempt of July 15, 2016, but the EU did not help as it underwent the aftermath of the attempted takeover. Yet, eventually, the parties decided the EU-Turkey relations would resume from where they left, the official said.

Flow of funds and increase of migrant intake 

According to the road map, the EU and Turkey will ensure they fulfill the obligations they signed in the March 18 migrant agreement in 2016.

Erdoğan asked the EU to speed up the flow of funds for refugees and to increase migrant intake by EU volunteering countries. Tusk and Junker also promised that they would make the necessary initiatives on behalf of the EU Commission and the EU Council.

The deal of March 2016 on a plan to stop migration through illegal channels in the Aegean Sea by cracking down on human traffickers and improving the conditions of nearly 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey had also become a source of tension between the bloc and Ankara, as the latter criticized Brussels for displaying slow pace in humanitarian funds.  

Under the agreement, Ankara agreed to take back all Syrians who crossed into the Greek islands illegally from Turkey, and the EU promised to take in the same number of Syrian refugees from Turkey. The agreement also called for a visa waiver for Turks visiting the EU.   

Turkey to step up seven benchmarks 

Another topic discussed in Brussels was on visa liberalization in the Schengen zone for Turkish citizens. EU officials have reminded that the ball is in the hands of Ankara for seven benchmarks that are yet to be fulfilled in order to launch the visa liberalization dialogue.

Regulations expected to be fulfilled by Turkey for visa liberalization are as follows: signature of an operational cooperation agreement with Europol, signing of a legal cooperation agreement with EU member countries, preparation of third generation passports, review of the law on the protection of personal data, review of the anti- terrorism legislation and review of anti-terrorism law. 

As for the seventh benchmark, once the visa liberalization dialogue is launched, Ankara will fully implement the readmission agreement, which is partially in force at the moment. Turkey has not been taking any steps for the regulations due to terror attacks in Turkey and partially because of the escalated tension in Ankara-Brussels relations. However, it is expected that the process on meeting the seven remaining benchmarks will accelerate in the coming period.

Promise to accelerate mandate for Customs Union 

Turkey and the EU have also agreed to accelerate a process aiming to upgrade the existing Customs Union agreement on industrial goods by expanding it to agriculture products, services and public procurements. The European Commission notified the European Council that it was ready to negotiate with Turkey and called for a mandate in late 2016. 

“If you are still determined about the EU, we will try to speed that up,” EU officials told the Turkish delegation.

Junker and Tusk have been appreciative of Turkey’s efforts against terrorism, particularly against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while also promising to do their best in contributing to Turkey’s fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), which is accused of orchestrating last year’s coup attempt, according to the official. 

The EU delegation also stressed they have not blocked the opening of new chapters in membership negotiations with Turkey, emphasizing that the process will naturally start if Ankara fulfills the opening benchmarks of the chapter and when they receive positive news from the applicant country on records of human rights, which have long been strongly criticized by the EU in the wake of measures taken under the state of emergency. 

European Parliament warns against death penalty
An important item on the agenda during Erdoğan and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani’s meeting was the debate on the reinstatement of the death penalty. 

In the meeting, Tajani appreciated Turkey’s contributions to the security and stability of Europe since the Cold War, according to the sources.

The EU wants Turkey to be a member of it, but Ankara, for its part, has the responsibilities, Tajani told the Turkish side at the meeting. “Human rights violations, especially death penalty should be dropped from the agenda,” he stressed, sources said.

The Turkish delegation, for their side, told Tajani the calls for the death penalty came after Turks underwent “trauma” in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt. 

Ankara is “aware of the EU and European values, but the Europeans should also empathize with the people’s demands,” the Turkish side replied, adding that the Turkish government would only consider reinstating the death penalty if such legislation was submitted to parliament.