Pros and cons of EU’s ‘conditional’ statement on Turkey
An official statement after the European Union leaders’ summit on March 25 used an optimistic but conditional language over Turkey, with the Turkish foreign ministry responding to it in a similarly welcoming and still cautious manner. However, the EU statement is also interpreted as a text that actually confirms the continuation of the distance between the bloc and Ankara.
Thus, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said in its assessment that the EU considers Turkey as a “foreign policy issue.”
“Rule of law and fundamental rights remain a key concern. The targeting of political parties and media and other recent decisions represent major setbacks for human rights and run counter to Turkey’s obligations to respect democracy, the rule of law and women’s rights. Dialogue on such issues remains an integral part of the EU-Turkey relationship,” read the March 25 statement of the members of the European Council.
“We call on Turkey to abstain from renewed provocations or unilateral actions in breach of international law” it read.
This was the declaration that the EU’s focus was easing the eastern Mediterranean sanctions and despite criticism on human rights, no sanctions were planned:
“We recall the European Union’s strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey. We welcome the recent de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean through the discontinuation of illegal drilling activities, the resumption of bilateral talks between Greece and Turkey and the forthcoming talks on the Cyprus problem under the auspices of the United Nations.”
The EU said in December 2020 that followed the Eastern Mediterranean tensions that it postponed a decision on Turkey to its March summit after the Joe Biden administration took the helm in the U.S. The Biden administration had reportedly suggested the EU not to consider sanctions on Turkey and such reports were confirmed with the conclusion of the latest EU summit.
Council of Europe President Charles Michel said at a joint online press conference with European Commission chair Ursula von Leyen that “Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean are a very important priority for the European Union and for our Member States. And you know that this is a difficult debate. It’s not the first time that we have this debate. We prepared the agreed conclusions very well.”
“We hope that Turkey will maintain a moderate behavior, positive behavior in the next weeks and in the next months. And it means that we are ready, with the European Council, with the Member States, to put more concrete proposals on the table to have a more stable and more predictable relationship with Turkey. We identified the possible topics to improve the relationship: first the harmonization of the Customs Union, people-to-people activities and mobility” he said.
Michel added that they are in contact with Turkish authorities, possibly to make a visit in April.
Vor der Leyen said Turkey has shown a more constructive attitude, including in its bilateral relations with several EU member states, apparently speaking of the resume of exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece. “These are positive and welcomed steps on which we must try to build on. However, we also know that this process of de-escalation remains fragile,” she added.
She also elaborated on issues that the bloc and Ankara would engage with: Migration financing, high-level dialogues and modernizing the Customs Union.
However, “If Turkey does not move forward constructively, if it returns to unilateral actions or provocations, in particular in the Eastern Mediterranean, of course we would suspend these cooperation measures,” she said.
Both Michel and von der Leyen touched the issues of Turkey’s retreat from the Istanbul Convention that protects women against violence and the shutdown case against the Peoples’ Democratic PAty but it seems that the major concern of the EU about Turkey remains the strategic eastern Mediterranean issue.
Turkey: EU is one-sided on Cyprus issue
The Turkish Foreign Ministry welcomed the EU statement, but still criticizing the bloc for a one-sided look on Turkey under the influence of ” a few members.”
The ministry said the EU “ignores maximalist attitude of the Greek-Greek duo.”
CHP: Turkey in the EU’s internal not external issues
Evaluating the report, the parliamentary foreign affairs commission of the CHP, Ünal Çeviköz, said in a written statement that the fact that the EU discusses the Turkey issue under the Eastern Mediterranean headline is an indicator that the bloc considers its relations with Turkey as an issue of foreign policy.
Referring to the EU’s concern about human rights in Turkey, Çeviköz assessed that the Turkey-EU relations need a transformation, returning to a ground of mutual respect and mutual benefits and including the resume of accession negotiations. “As the CHP, we will take the necessary steps to achieve this transformation and continue to work to maintain our relations with the EU at a modern and civilized level as our citizens deserve,” he said.
‘The EU sees Turkey as Russia’
A key analysis of the EU summit came from the experienced diplomat, retired Ambassador Oğuz Demiralp.
Demiralp asked the following questions in his column on T24:
“Why Turkey’s EU accession negotiations, the membership process are not mentioned? Why is the issue of human rights almost ignored? Sanctions are already imposed on Turkey as the negotiations are halted and the updating of the Customs Union is postponed. These sanctions affect our future negatively. Why are these issues not discussed? “
Demiralp’s response to these questions can be interpreted as follows:
“The EU no more considers Turkey as a candidate country. It leaves the issue of human rights in Turkey to the Council of Europe. The essential against Turkey’s retreat from the Istanbul Convention came from the Council of Europe. The EU now sees us almost like Russia.”
Accordingly, he concluded that the EU says “Let Turkey do what it wants to do unless it hurts me.”