Turkey frets as industry applauds deal to access EU military projects

The EU has currently 47 PESCO projects under development. [Shutterstock/Filmbildfabrik]

Although the EU has recently agreed on a set of conditions for third countries to join its defence programmes, Turkey is likely to remain outside the framework.

As EURACTIV first reported in late October, EU27 agreed on conditions to allow countries outside the bloc to participate in joint defence projects.

Under the deal, brokered by the German EU presidency, a third country can only apply if it meets a stringent set of political, legal, and “substantive” conditions.

The political conditions for third countries limit their participation to being able to take part in joint projects only if they provide “substantial added value” to the military project and share “the values on which the EU is founded”, meaning do not contravene its security and defence interests.

“PESCO is taxpayer money, therefore, it seems obvious that respect for EU values, enshrined in the Treaty, must be crystal clear for anyone wishing to participate,” Tania Latici, policy analyst for EU security and defence at European Parliamentary Research Services (EPRS) told EURACTIV.

EU seals accord to let third countries into future joint military projects

EU member states agreed on late Wednesday (28 October) on conditions to allow countries outside the bloc to participate in joint defence projects, according to a draft agreement document obtained by EURACTIV.

Many EU diplomats agree that the set of political conditions does “effectively already exclude Russia, China, and Turkey”.

That should be a particular concern for NATO member and EU candidate Turkey, as long as Ankara’s conflicts with EU members remain unresolved, an EU diplomat told EURACTIV shortly after the deal was sealed.

Turkey had been locked into a standoff with Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean, which raised tensions earlier this summer and nearly led to armed conflicts with France and Greece.

Cypriot concerns over Ankara’s unlikely future participation in the initiative were one of the main reasons why the EU’s path to the agreement had lasted two years, EU sources confirmed.

In addition, recent tensions inside NATO over Ankara’s purchase of Russian air defence and blockage of Eastern defence plans, have raised doubts about whether Ankara can be seen as a trusted partner.

“EU-Turkey relations are already highly polarised at the political level due to Ankara’s rhetoric and energy exploration activities,” said Niklas Novaky, defence policy research officer at the Martens Centre in Brussels.

“The values-clause is essentially safety mechanism for keeping Turkey out of PESCO,” Novaky said, adding that this is, however, “unlikely to cause major issues as it is a relatively technical initiative”.

However, the de-facto exclusion will add fuel to the fire for Ankara, which has long argued that the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is discriminatory against EU candidate countries.

The EU has kept Ankara at arm’s length from its initiatives although Turkey, with one of the largest militaries in Europe, has been an associate member of the Western European Union (WEU) and its Armaments Agency (European Defence Agency predecessor). It is also a member of NATO and participates in the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation.

“Turkey surely shares the values on which the EU is founded”, Turkish officials told EURACTIV, referring to the looming exclusion, adding that the country’s foreign policy “has been built on key elements such as good neighbourly relations, cooperation, partnership, respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”

Pointing towards close cooperation with European defence industries, the officials stressed Turkey’s “considerable advance” in this sector over the last couple of decades.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said his leadership has reduced Turkey’s dependency on foreign weapons systems from around 70% to 30%, although exact statistics remain unknown.

Turkey’s arms industry grew from $1 billion in 2002 to $11 billion in 2020, more than $3 billion of which were exports, making Turkey the fourteenth largest global defence exporter.

Ankara’s operational escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean had recently moved Athens to call on EU members to stop exporting arms to Turkey, including equipment but also the know-how that has enabled Ankara to rapidly develop its domestic industry, like unmanned aerial vehicles and surface vessels.

Turkish officials warned that “if PESCO starts on the wrong footing and creates new division lines, it will be neither be successful nor contribute to the transatlantic security architecture.

“The EU should carry on its initiatives on defence and security sphere with an inclusive, all-encompassing approach and should not discriminate against EU candidate countries and non-EU allies,” they added.

US industry welcomes agreement

At the same time, the legal conditions for access specify that an entity seeking participation must have a legal and operating presence inside EU territory and come from a country that has a security of information agreement in force with the EU since all PESCO projects are classified.

This is the case for the US and UK, but not for Turkey.

According to an EU official, the limitations seek to prevent the proliferation of technology against EU interests, to be codified in a separate agreement.

Additionally, there will be a double approval process for potential candidates, where first the project partners and then all 25 PESCO participating states will need to issue their unanimous approval.

“The fact that European companies with third-country parentage are allowed to participate is a positive development,” the American Chamber of Commerce to the EU (AmCham EU) told EURACTIV.

“However, we remain concerned that the unanimity condition may in practice limit the ability of third-country companies to effectively participate,” AmCham warned.

Some EU diplomats have voiced doubts whether the US would currently fulfil such criteria, not least because of the Trump administrations’ decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, which many EU members saw as having clearly violated European security interests.

The outcome of the US presidential elections might have solved such a scenario as President-elect Joe Biden announced his willingness to return to the Iran deal and renegotiate deceased nuclear arms control treaties.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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