Turkey wants high-level summit to broker visa deal with EU

Turkey wants high-level summit to broker visa deal with EU

Serkan Demirtaş - BRUSSELS
Turkey wants high-level summit to broker visa deal with EU

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Despite ongoing sound and fury in ties between Turkey and the EU, efforts to accomplish a long-standing deal on granting visa-free travel to Turkish nationals in return for implementing the refugee Readmission Agreement have reached a critical point, with officials from Ankara and Brussels developing a formula to overcome the stalemate on the definition of terror.

“[Vice President of European Commission Frans] Timmermans made some proposals to us in October. As the justice, interior, foreign and EU ministers, we made our assessments on these proposals. We will introduce them to our prime minister next week and then to our president,” EU Minister Ömer Çelik told reporters on Nov. 29 in Brussels.

Çelik made this comment before his scheduled meeting with Timmermans on Nov. 30, in which the two officials will further discuss the content of the proposals. “There are surely some things that I will tell him and he will tell me,” he added.

The comprehensive migrant deal between Turkey and the EU stipulated the implementation of visa liberalization for Turkish nationals by the end of June in the event that Turkey fulfilled 72 criteria cited by the European Commission. Turkey delivered 65 of them but failed to change its anti-terror law amid the campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Visa liberalization was first postponed to Nov. 1 but developments after the failed July 15 military coup attempt made it impossible. Ankara urged Brussels that the end of the year was the deadline of the deal, saying that if negotiations fail so will the Readmission Agreement.

“I am not sure whether there could be a new process in the new year. But this process is about to expire at the end of this year. This has been dragged out too long,” Çelik said.

Ankara demands Turkey-EU Summit
He suggested that one of the initiatives that could contribute to the accomplishment the visa liberalization, and resolve recent tension between Ankara and Brussels, would be holding a high-level summit where Turkish and European leaders could discuss everything and draw a road map for the future phases of their ties.

“I have spoken with my European counterparts. The point we have arrived at is no longer sustainable. We should hold a Turkey-EU Summit. Things cannot go on like this,” Çelik said. 

This call is still being evaluated in Brussels, and Çelik referred to the difficulty of such an initiative amid election campaigns in prominent European countries, including France.

Turkey and the EU had held a number of high-level meetings in late 2015 and early 2016 to overcome differences over the refugee crisis. But Europe witnesses five important elections in 2017, as well as ongoing Brexit negotiations, which will make any Ankara-Brussels processes even more complicated.

“Turkey has not lost its determination to join the European Union as a full member, as our President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has put it. We are always willing to continue fair and objective negotiations with the EU,” Çelik said.

“It’s true that we are in a serious crisis with the EU. We have to bring about a positive agenda to continue our relations,” he added.

Shanghai Five no alternative to EU-NATO
The EU Minister also responded to questions on Turkey’s appeal for membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), known as the Shanghai Five and sometimes suggested as an alternative bloc to the EU or NATO.   

“The EU is one thing, the SCO another. Our relationship with the EU has not been cut. If this is ever cut one day, then we would begin our searches. We have always said we are in favor of continuing negotiations on the condition that they are fair and objective,” Çelik said.

He also stressed that the SCO cannot be described as an alternative to Turkey’s NATO membership: “Turkey is not opening its membership to NATO to a discussion. And there is no such discussion on Turkish membership of NATO either. Turkey’s place in NATO will even be more important in the coming period, both for Turkey and NATO.”

EU’s future will be debated in Istanbul
Çelik also touched on the rising populist nationalist tide in Europe, along with Islamophobia, xenophobia and discrimination. “As a European country, it’s our duty to urge our European friends and politicians about the future of Europe,” he said.

“As we are against attempts to strengthen sectarian, ethnic approaches in the Middle East, we are also against the rise of extreme right in Europe. Because this is to our disadvantage as well. We need to talk about these issues,” he stressed.

“I have a project in mind to address this:  Let’s hold a meeting in Istanbul on the future of the EU, not just on relations between Turkey and the EU. We are working on it. Those in Europe and Turkey who are mulling over this issue will be the participants,” Çelik said.