The EU-Turkey relationship has gone through many ups and downs during the last 50 years. While Turkey has become a strategic partner for the EU who is still formally engaged in its accession talks, the developments in the last four years have caused numerous cracks and frictions in the relationship. Since further degradation would, however, be undesirable, both sides should contemplate four ways to improve their relationship both in a short and medium run: revamp the EU-Turkey Customs Union; deepen the partnership on asylum and refugees; materialize key EU programs to support Turkey’s modernization; and pursue dialogues in areas of mutual interest.
The EU-Turkey Customs Union is one of those areas that might be improved to further boost its obvious advantages for the Turkish economy. When the union came into effect on the last day of 1995, the Turkish manufacturing sector was forced to go through a major overhaul in preparation for the eventual EU membership talks. The painful adjustment was, however, extremely beneficial – it brought a lot of foreign direct investment and helped establish a production base. However, by virtue of the customs union, Ankara must accept the terms of free-trade agreements negotiated by the EU with third parties, even though it does not have a say in the talks. The EU could address this legitimate issue and take into account the interests of the Turkish economy when negotiating further deals.
Another area for possible improvements is the EU membership process launched in 2004. After 13 years of negotiations, the accession talks with Turkey have been protracted for two reasons – the EU Council of Ministers and the Cyprus issue. Moreover, in 2007, the French president argued that Turkey did not belong to Europe, which resulted in several negotiation chapters being frozen. Despite these problems, Turkey has been always eager to absorb EU standards and the EU has always been ready to support Ankara in this endeavor through generous funding. The modernization process in the country is supported by the instrument for pre-accession assistance that has provided €4.45 billion in grants for the period 2014–2020 coupled with additional funding from the European Investment Bank (€2.3 billion) in 2015 alone.
The migrant deal between Ankara and Brussels currently worth €3 billion ($3.4 billion) has become the most successful humanitarian aid program in EU history. The package had benefited both refugees and host communities in many ways – from humanitarian assistance, through education, healthcare to job training and socioeconomic support. In return for the generous support, Ankara has been working harder to police the Aegean coast, which resulted in a drastic drop in migrant arrivals. The refugee program is a major target for populists who use it to criticize the country’s leadership. However, scrapping it would deprive Turkey of a successful humanitarian program since most migrants who are currently residing in the country have no plans of moving to the EU.
Last but not the least, talks between the EU and Turkey on liberalizing visa arrangement for Turkish citizens travelling to the EU still see no end at the end of the ‘tunnel’. Ankara and Brussels agreed on more than 70 benchmarks at the start of the negotiations, and to date only seven remain to be met by Turkey. However, the outstanding ones are those most complex and problematic, including Turkey’s antiterrorism law, which, according to the EU, is in urgent need of revision.
‘Four Steps to an EU-Turkey Reset’ – Analysis by Marc Pierini – Carnegie Europe.
(The Analysis can be downloaded here)