The European Commission welcomes Turkey’s constructive attitude on many bilateral issues, according to a report prepared by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy released on Monday, while the report noted that the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus and other issues still pose a threat to ties with the country.
“Since last December, Turkey has shown a calmer, more constructive attitude on various issues, including in its bilateral relations with several EU Member States. These are positive and welcome steps forward,” the joint communication titled “State of play of EU-Turkey political, economic and trade relations” said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has further enhanced cooperation between Turkey and the EU.
EU needs to come up with a number of potential areas of cooperation to enable a progressive approach in order to further enhance the current momentum, the report said, as it highlighted that the bloc needs more time to judge whether Turkey’s positive approach is “sustainable and credible.”
The report continued by listing a number of suggestions, which included a more effective and mutually beneficial implementation of the 2016 Turkey-EU migrant deal, strengthening the already-substantial economic relations, including the modernization and expansion of the current Turkey-EU Customs Union.
In March 2016, Ankara and Brussels signed an agreement to reduce the number of migrants taking the dangerous Aegean Sea route to Europe and to find a solution for the influx of migrants heading to EU countries.
Under the deal, Turkey was promised 6 billion euros ($6.77 billion) in financial aid to be used by Ankara to finance projects for Syrian migrants. Yet, Turkey did not undertake the difficult task of shouldering increasing migration from Syria only for the sake of financial assistance but has also demanded visa liberalization for Turkish citizens; likewise, the customs union was to be updated. Turkish authorities state that almost five years have passed since the signing of the deal and that it needs an update in accordance with current conditions.
“This would also provide a guiding framework for economic reforms in Turkey. EU Member States should agree on the negotiating directives and authorize the Commission to open negotiations for this modernization, provided that Turkey takes concrete steps in resolving the current trade irritants,” the report said.
“Keeping communication channels open is useful – not least to support Turkey’s economic and sectorial reform commitments. Previously suspended High-level dialogues could thus be relaunched, on the economy, energy, transport, political developments, foreign and security policies, and initiated on other new topics, e.g. the green deal/climate, internal security, inter-faith relations and culture,” the report added.
Another suggestion was to further boost one-on-one contacts to build confidence by maintaining EU programs like Erasmus+, Horizon Europe and more.
The year 2020 proved particularly difficult for relations between Turkey, which remains an official candidate for EU membership, and the European Union, as tensions increased over maritime zones and drilling rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.
EU leaders during a meeting in Brussels on Dec. 10 decided to draw up a list of Turkish targets to sanction over what they described as Ankara’s “unilateral actions and provocations” in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Ahead of the summit, Greece called for additional sanctions, an EU arms embargo on Turkey and the suspension of the Turkey-EU customs union, but during discussions, a majority of European leaders opposed severe economic sanctions, opting for a softer approach, creating space for a positive agenda.
Turkey has the longest history with the union and the longest negotiation process. The country signed an association agreement with the EU’s predecessor European Economic Community (EEC) in 1964, which is usually regarded as a first step to eventually become a candidate. Applying for official candidacy in 1987, Turkey had to wait until 1999 to be granted the status of a candidate country. For the start of the negotiations, however, Turkey had to wait for another six years, until 2005, a uniquely long process compared with other candidates.
On top of the slow negotiations, another challenge threatened Turkey’s ascension into the union when in 2016 the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) attempted a coup, forcing the country to declare a state of emergency. Unhappy with the move, the European Parliament on Nov. 24, 2016, stated that it would temporarily “freeze” the negotiations, which has kept the process at a standstill ever since.