The EU’s accession talks with Turkey are, in practice, not going anywhere. Now, the Netherlands wants clarity on how the negotiations will progress in the future, if at all. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.
It was no coincidence that on Thursday (1 December) of last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on the phone with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras about Turkey; next week, relations with Ankara will be back on the table as EU leaders meet in Brussels and, once again, discuss the bloc’s refugee deal.
Merkel and Tsipras are mostly allied on the Turkey issue. The chancellor was one of the principle architects of the refugee deal, signed in March, from which the Greek leader has benefited due to reduced numbers of people arriving in Greece.
According to the summit’s agenda, the EU28 will look at the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement, which includes returning irregular migrants to Turkey and an exchange of Syrian refugees.
Since the brokering of the agreement, €2.2 billion has been paid to the Ankara for the care and welfare of refugees, out of a promised €6 billion. According to EU sources, it is fully expected that Merkel and co. will simply reaffirm their commitment to the deal.
But things are not so blasé across the Bosphorus. Last month, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to terminate the agreement if the EU were to completely freeze accession negotiations, as requested by the European Parliament.
Given the behaviour of the Turkish leader since the failed 15 July coup attempt, after which Erdoğan has ruthlessly pursued those he suspects of having orchestrated or collaborated on it, it is likely that discussions at the Council meeting will go beyond a mere assessment of the refugee deal and extend into more of a “political debate”, said another EU source.
For Merkel and Tsipras that means that there is likely to be a critical examination of how Erdoğan is running the shop.
However, according to EU diplomats, the Netherlands is extremely concerned about the arrest of political opponents, the dismissal of civil servants and the Turkish leader’s plan to install a constitutional presidency.
A majority in the Dutch parliament has instructed the country’s chief diplomat, Bert Koenders, to explore with his EU foreign minister counterparts whether there is a consensus on taking a hardline on Ankara from now on.
If the Netherlands finds enough support among its bloc partners then the reality will be that accession talks with Turkey have indeed come to a standstill. The Hague maintains that negotiations should remain frozen if Ankara does not change its brutal tack on the opposition.
However, EU diplomats have made it clear that the intention is not to slam the door shut completely on Turkey. Even the opposition in the Turkish parliament has called for the EU dialogue to continue.
In fact, the Dutch want this particular line of communication to continue, in order to keep the Turkish government in check and remind Ankara of the importance of the rule of law.
If Koenders’ foreign minister colleagues decide to follow his lead, then it will be merely a continuation of the status quo: accession talks have not moved forward at all since the coup attempt back in the summer.
What remains puzzling is that Erdoğan has stated that “Turkey would be ready tomorrow to be a full member of the European Union”. It’s not a view shared in Brussels and one EU source insisted that “the accession negotiations are already on ice and, under the present circumstances, will remain so.”