Berlin wants more EU pressure on Turkey, asks to freeze customs union talks

Pulling the plug on the customs union update could directly affect the Cyprus talks. [European Commission]

Berlin is pushing the European Commission to halt talks with Turkey over updating the customs union, claiming that a continuation would send the “wrong signal” to Ankara.

According to a document seen by Reuters, the German government wants the European Commission to suspend preparatory work on negotiations with Turkey about modernising the EU-Turkey Customs Union.

The customs union between the EU and Turkey entered into force in 1995, but it concerns only certain categories of goods. But bilateral trade between the two sides has increased in recent years and the agreement needed to be updated.

Particularly at the end of last year, the European Commission asked the European Council to open negotiations with Turkey to “update” the union.

Germany says EU aid to Turkey could be halted over arrests

Germany raised the possibility on Wednesday (19 July) of suspending European Union aid payments to Turkey after summoning Ankara’s ambassador to Berlin to protest over the arrest of six human rights activists including a German citizen.

But in light of political developments in Turkey, which have triggered strong reactions in EU member states, Germany now wants to “freeze” the talks in order to avoid sending the “wrong signal”.

The paper went further, saying that Berlin was in favour of other measures that would raise financial pressure on Turkey to respect the rule of law.

It said that given developments in Turkey pre-accession aid (IPA) should be targeted “even more towards supporting democracy and the rule of law”. It also said the European Commission should look into suspending all pre-accession aid to Turkey if the need arises.

It added that Germany expected the Commission to “shift funding away from Turkey in a way that is meaningful compared to the overall funding Turkey receives under the IPA schemes”.

In an interview with EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel, European People’s Party (EPP) leader in the European Parliament Manfred Weber stated that the EU had repeatedly extended its hand to Turkey through various initiatives but Turkish President (Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan has consistently spurned it.

“Turkey’s EU accession makes no sense,” he said.

Weber: Turkish EU membership 'makes no sense'

European Peoples’ Party group leader Manfred Weber told EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel that hard-hitting action must be taken against the Turkish government, while reiterating his call for EU membership talks to be scrapped.

Affecting the Cyprus issue?

Reports in Athens suggested that in the event of such a development, the Cyprus talks could be directly affected, considering that Greece wanted to use it as a leverage to put more pressure on Turkey.

In an interview with EURACTIV, Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias stressed that the customs union was “a good tool” for the development of EU-Turkey relations.

“Big economic interests are at stake on both sides, especially in Turkey, where they estimate that they will have about €50-60 billion of profit. So it is a lever that can be used properly in order to better develop and respond to the Cyprus problem,” he said.

Greek FM: EU should be louder against Turkish 'intervention rights' in member states

EXCLUSIVE / In a wide-ranging interview, Greece’s foreign minister on Sunday (16 July) outlined his country’s position on the failed Cyprus reunification talks, scolding UN envoy Espen Barth Eide and rejecting “interventions rights” for Turkey in any future settlement. He also warned against expecting any breakthrough with FYROM.

Referring to Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, he noted that in the first step towards the customs union, Turkey showed that it wanted to separate the EU member states, between those that it recognises as states and those that it does not recognise.

“In order for Turkey to have a real customs union and benefit from it, it must understand that the EU consists of 28, and after Brexit, 27 member states and must accept them as such,” he explained.