David McAllister: The EU’s relations with Turkey
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David McAllister: The EU’s relations with Turkey

Turkey has been linked to the EU by an Association Agreement since 1964. The Customs Union was established in 1995. The European Council granted the status of candidate country to Turkey in December 1999 and accession negotiations were opened in 2005. However, until Turkey agrees to apply the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement to Cyprus, eight negotiating chapters will not be open and no chapter will be provisionally closed.

In response to Turkey’s backsliding in the areas of democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights, the EU’s General Affairs Council decided in June 2018 that the accession negotiations are effectively frozen. In October 2020, the European Council offered Turkey a renewed and broad positive agenda, if constructive efforts by Turkey to stop illegal activities vis-à-vis Greece and Cyprus are sustained, concessions are made, tensions are lowered and aggressive behaviour stops.

The continuous and growing distancing of Turkey from European values and standards, the lack of political will to carry out reforms, the deterioration of democracy in the country and the consolidation of an authoritarian regime are concerning. Further, the failure to address the EU’s serious concerns on the rule of law and fundamental rights, Turkish unilateral actions in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as strong and provocative statements have led to strained our relations.

The relations with Turkey are at an historic low and in the event of continuing the current negative trend, the Commission should recommend the formal suspension of accession negotiations with Turkey, in order for both parties to profoundly reassess the current framework state of these relations. However, the EU should leave the door open for improvement in order to restore dialogue in a context of mutual trust and cooperation. It is about effectively solving the root causes of the current conflicts and explore possible new models for future relations.

Rebuilding our relations will require restoring trust. The question of visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens and the modernisation of the Customs Union must be based on strong conditionality and linked to democratic progress, human rights and fundamental freedoms in Turkey.

Turkey has recently agreed to resume exploratory talks with Greece to seek to address the tensions between Turkey and Greece. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on 22 April that there will be a meeting with the Turkish President. The date of this meeting remains unknown, but the exploratory talks on settling their dispute over the Greek Exclusive Economic Zone are ongoing.

Turkey’s illegal activities in Greek and Cypriot waters, and the reopening of the city of Varosha as well as Turkey’s violations of Greek national airspace, including overflights of inhabited areas and territorial sea violate both the sovereignty and the sovereign rights of the both EU Member States and international law. The EU should use all instruments and options at its disposal, including targeted sanctions as a last resort in case of renewed unilateral actions or provocations in breach of international law.

With regard to Cyprus, so far Turkey has launched six illegal exploratory drilling operations within Cyprus‘ exclusive economic zone, violating its sovereignty. Moreover, Turkey has unilaterally opened the sealed-off area of Varosha under conditions of occupation and in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. As a reaction, the EU has been exploring possible economic sanctions against Turkey.

On 27-29 April 2021, an informal UN meeting on the Cyprus problem took place in Geneva, without the participation of the EU and objected by Turkey. No common ground was found. A new informal meeting should be reconvened in the next two to three months. During the talks, for the first time in decades, Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriots officially supported a two-state solution on the island, while Greek-Cypriots insisted on the UN framework of a federal solution.

Visa liberalisation dialogue with Turkey was launched in 2013. But until now, Turkey has failed to meet seven benchmarks of its visa liberalisation roadmap.

Turkey is the country in the world which hosts the highest number of refugees. It is estimated that 3.6 million out of 4 million Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey. A Joint EU-Turkey Action Plan was agreed in October 2015 and updated in March 2018 with the aim of bringing order to the migratory flows.

EU-Turkey relations will be discussed at the June 2021 EU Summit.