Visa liberalization with Turkey possible after ‘dust settles’
Barçın Yinanç - firstname.lastname@example.org SAN SEBASTIANThere is no chance of Turkey being granted visa-free access to the EU before the end of the month, but liberalization could come when the present storm in the country calms down, according to an adviser to the EU’s foreign policy chief. Turks might be able to travel by early 2017, Nathalie Tocci says.
The current political climate in Turkey precludes any visa liberalization for citizens wishing to travel to the Schengen Zone, but it could occur by January 2017 when the “dust settles” in the wake of the July 15 coup attempt, according to special EU foreign adviser Nathalie Tocci.
“There is nothing that doesn’t make me think that if the storm calms down and if Turkey does not continue excesses in terms of the way it is carrying out the purge, nothing makes me think that visa liberalization will not be given in January or early next year,” she recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Where are we currently in terms of the European Union’s approach to the coup and the aftermath of the coup?
The very first reaction that night and a few days afterwards was a lot of skepticism. I don’t think the depth of the crisis was appreciated in Europe. There were assumptions that this was a scam and immediately, the focus was on the reaction of the government, the suspension of academics and the journalists in jail.
The mood started to change when there was a mass demonstration in Istanbul with over 1 million, including members of the opposition parties.
At that point, many in Europe started to think, maybe there is something here. From the end of July through to mid-September, there was the general sense of “we have to do something to patch up the relationship and maybe we messed up a bit by not going immediately.”
Now what you are seeing is a gradual switch back into saying “Obviously there was a real problem to be dealt with. But isn’t the government overreaching now? Isn’t the government using it basically to fight all political opponents?”
So there were three phases; we are at a stage in which there is appreciation of the depth of the problem that needs to be resolved but growing skepticism on the way it is being handled.
How do you think Europe should approach Turkey?
The EU’s line has to be, on the one hand, deep empathy for Turkey for what it went through and support in trying to help Turkey get out of it. Basically [it needs to] appreciate that there is an existential threat to Turkish democracy which has to be eradicated somehow.
But on the other hand, [it has to] remain firm on the fact that this has to take place within the compliance of the law. The question is how you make sure that this position has an effect.
The only way to do it is by opening Chapters 23 and 24 [of the EU accession process], and my personal view is that probably no other chapters can be opened apart from 23 and 24.
It is clear Turkey is not going in the direction we want to see. It would make sense to say we open 23 and 24, and this is the way in which we can have the credibility to say things on human rights and the rule of law and by avoiding opening other chapters, we are signaling that Turkey is not going in the right direction.
I don’t think there should be a message of business as usual by opening negotiations on chapters like monetary policy, but I think opening talks on Chapters 23 and 24 provides the avenue to voice the EU’s remarks and criticism.
But Cyprus is blocking them; once you say that, we are at a dead end.
I know, but let’s see what happens at the end of the year. If there is indeed an agreement, I think the only real potential game changer on the relationship, which is purely on a transactional track, is a solution on Cyrus. That is the only way to redirect current transactional relations toward a transformational approach. And I am fairly optimistic on Cyprus.
There has been one important positive change, and that was as a consequence of the migration issue: there is definitely a much greater realization in Europe that Turkey is of strategic importance to the EU. I don’t think that it was ever really appreciated as much as it is now.
The point is how to make the appreciation of Turkey’s strategic value not end up in a relationship that is purely transactional. That also depends on Turkey. EU capitals are at a loss on how to handle Turkey.
Where are we on the refugee deal; will it survive?
Obviously, it is not working the way it was intended to work. The [idea that] for every refugee returned back to Turkey there will be a refugee accepted to the EU, for instance, is not working at all. The bit that is working is the distinct collapse of numbers of refugees crossing from Greece to Turkey. The bit partially working is the aid. The commission is doing its bit on the 3 million euros promised. The money supposed to come from the commission is coming, too, but the part supposed to come from member states is not flowing in. But I am confident that the money will fall into place.
Visa liberalization… I remember speaking to those in the commission before summer, and they were 100 percent confident that Turkey would receive visa liberalization by September or October.
They were so decided that they even decided to delay granting visa liberalization to countries like Georgia.
Then the coup came and the political climate in Europe changed. Visa liberalization will not be granted this month or next. But given that it was a real possibility before summer, there is nothing that doesn’t make me think that if the storm calms down and if Turkey does not continue excesses in terms of the way it is carrying out the purge, nothing makes me think that visa liberalization will not be given in January or early next year, basically when the attention on the issue diminishes. Unless things get completely out of hand… The overreach on the purge could jeopardize visa liberalization.
It is so important that things not get politicized. Things get politicized when you start having dailies across Europe starting to write about massive purges in Turkey and that ignites the narrative that waves of Turks will come to Europe.
How do you think Brexit will affect Turkey’s accession process?
Had there not been a Brexit and had the United Kingdom remained within the EU but developed a special relationship, that could have created one type of model for Turkey. But now rather than having an EU that develops more through hubs, meaning there is a core and then non-core members develop their relationship with the EU, we are moving into a reality in which there is a core and there is a second level. Countries in the second level would not be in the eurozone, Schengen and in the structures of foreign and security policy.
What would have made it easier had there not been Brexit is that there would have been an important country like the U.K. in the second level. Now in the second level, you will still have some pretty important countries like Poland, but I don’t know whether that is as appealing a model for Turkey as one in which it is in a circle with the U.K.
I think Turkey should be watching Brexit very carefully, because the kind of relationship the U.K. eventually develops with the EU is, in any case, going to be a point of reference for Turkey’s relationship with the EU, where it remains out or comes in.
It is inevitable it will set a precedent for a country like Turkey and Ukraine.
Tell us about the principled pragmatism.
We had this pendulum, from the 1990s until the mid-2000, in which there was this sense of an EU as a transformational power – we will help Europeanize everyone. Now because of the insecurity both inside and outside, there is a tendency to make the pendulum switch all the way in the opposite direction, to pure realpolitik. You can look at the Turkey refugee deal in this light too as a pure example of crude realpolitik.
What principled pragmatism tries to say is “Let’s admit the reality and that it does not look so nice; let’s stop assuming everyone magically become like the EU.” But that does not mean we have to accept anything; we still have to be principled in the way we pragmatically approach that reality.
In a way, it is a bit of an oxymoron, but it tries to find a middle way between rosy idealism and crude realpolitik.
That approach would also apply to Turkey then.
Absolutely; we have to pragmatically act on the fact that we have certain interests for which our cooperation with Turkey is essential: migration, energy, security or counter terrorism. Let’s pragmatically look at those but that does not mean to say that in pursuing cooperation on these issue we can forget about principles. And we should not forget them because if we forget about the principles, we are not going to help Turkey move in the direction which is also in our interest.
Right now, is principled pragmatism being applied to Turkey or not?
A: When it comes to EU institutions, we are applying it. EU leaders are certainly not turning a blind eye to issues like violations of human rights or rule of law while we are pragmatically pursing cooperation. Where are the capitals? Probably the capitals are titling a bit too much on the pragmatic and a bit too little on the principled.
Who is Nathalie Tocci?
Nathalie Tocci is deputy director of the Rome-based Istituto Affari Internazionali, as well as the head of the EU and the Neighborhood Department at the institute.
She is currently a special advisor to Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the EU’s foreign affairs and security policy. She wrote EU's new global strategy on foreign and security policy.
Tocci received a PhD in international relations at the London School of Economics in 2003. She was a research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels from 1999 to 2003, the Jean Monnet and Marie Curie Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence from 2003 to 2007, an associate fellow at CEPS from 2007 to 2009 and senior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington from 2009 to 2010. Her research interests include European foreign policy, with a particular focus on Turkey and Cyprus.
She was also the winner of the 2008 Anna Lindh award for the study of European foreign policy.