Turkey’s participation request in EU military project apprehended as ‘Trojan horse’

Soldiers practice the crossing of the river Elbe with a Marder tank at the crossing point between Storkau (Elbe) and Hohengoehren, in Storkau (Elbe) , Germany, 23 October 2020. [EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN]

NATO member Turkey has submitted an application to participate in the EU’s Dutch-led military project on military mobility, despite tense relations with Greece and Cyprus. While the request is being reviewed, EU diplomats are split over Ankara’s possible participation.

According to reports by Welt am Sonntag, NATO member Turkey formally declared its intention to participate in the EU’s military mobility project under the framework of the EU’s permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) of 46 military projects and is a sign of improving EU-NATO cooperation.

Military mobility aims to support member states’ commitment to simplify and standardise cross-border military transport procedures, seen as the ‘silver bullet’ for EU-NATO defence cooperation and designed to ensure seamless movement of military equipment across the EU in response to crises.

A formal request from the Turkish government has indeed been received by the Dutch defence ministry, which is coordinating the project, a Dutch spokesperson confirmed to EURACTIV.

“Turkey has indeed informed us of its desire to participate in the military mobility project. As project coordinator, we carefully follow the application process established by the Council,” the spokesperson said.

EU defence ministers in May agreed to admit the United States, Norway and Canada to join the bloc’s project on military mobility, the first time the EU allowed outside countries to join any of its military projects. The step was seen as a formality to formally inscribe an especially already strong NATO input by those members on European territory.

Values not an issue?

As EURACTIV first reported in late October, the EU had agreed on a stringent set of political, legal, and “substantive” conditions to allow countries outside the bloc to participate in joint defence projects.

Under the deal, brokered by the German EU presidency, political conditions for third countries limit their participation to cases where they provide “substantial added value” to the military project and share “the values on which the EU is founded”, meaning that they do not contravene its security and defence interests.

Many EU diplomats then agreed that the set of political conditions effectively excluded Russia, China, but also Turkey, especially after relations between Brussels and Ankara have deteriorated in the past few years.

As EURACTIV reported in November, Turkey was a ‘certain outsider’, to remain outside the framework, at least until the dispute with Cyprus over activities in the Eastern Mediterranean is resolved and tensions in the stand-off with Greece and France are defused.

Turkish officials then 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”.

Turkey frets as industry applauds deal to access EU military projects

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 …

Asked by EURACTIV, how the application goes together with the conditions for third-country conditions to apply for PESCO, EU foreign affairs spokesperson Peter Stano said that “the Netherlands, as project coordinator, has indicated that the request will be assessed by the project members, in line with the established procedures, as it did with previous requests”.

“This internal process is ongoing,” Stano added.

Asked the same question, the Dutch spokesperson said “non-EU countries are free to apply for participation in PESCO projects”.

“After such a request, all project members must unanimously decide if that country meets the conditions,” the spokesperson added.

However, neither of the two officials did comment on whether Turkey’s application would fulfil the political conditions.

‘Trojan horse’

A total of 24 EU countries are currently participating in the PESCO project. It is expected that Cyprus and Greece, both being project members, will react negatively to the Turkish request, seeing it as a ‘Trojan horse’.

There are many reasons to back such apprehensions. Cyprus, which unlike Turkey is not a NATO member, does not have a security agreement with NATO on the exchange of classified documents, because Turkey has vetoed the proposal.

According to diplomatic circles cited by Welt am Sonntag, there is in parts however the hope that possible cooperation by Turkey in PESCO would not only improve cooperation between the EU and NATO, but could also lead to a normalization of relations between Turkey and Cyprus and Greece.

At their summit at the end of March, EU leaders had promised Turkey improved economic relations, visa exemption and new billions in aid to support the around 3.5 million refugees. EU-Turkey relations are likely to be back on the agenda of the next EU summit in June.

“If the political situation gets better in the future, surely Turkey’s participation in PESCO projects would be beneficial for European security,” llke Toygür of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) told EURACTIV.

“But taking into consideration the tensions between Turkey and Greece and Turkey and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean, and Turkey’s current democratic backsliding, it might not be the best moment to go for such a collaboration,” she added.

Additionally, there is also the fear of a “free-for-all”-approach once Turkey would be admitted, an EU diplomat told EURACTIV, as to which some in Brussels believe could lead to the “dilution of the political criteria” for other, more sensitive projects under PESCO and run risk “undermining the EU’s initial idea of building a sole European defence capacity”.

[Edited by Georgi Gotev]

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