No new phase seen in EU-Turkey relations after EP elections

In this file picture dated 04 October 2005, a Turkish flag and an EU flag are seen at Ottoman Era in Istanbul. [EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU]

The latest European Commission progress reported has warned that Turkey is moving away from Europe. Little progress on the country’s accession is expected under the new EU legislature in 2019-2024, but political analysts don’t expect major negative changes either, as long as the refugee deal is in place.

The 23-26 May European elections were followed closely by Turkey, amid concerns related to the rise of the far-right. Now the question is how the new Parliament and Commission will handle the sensitive relations with Turkey.

Pro-EU parties keep populist rise in check as tough coalition talks begin

The conservative European People’s Party once again won the most seats in the European Parliament after EU elections on Sunday (26 May) but will face difficulties building a controlling majority as the Greens, the Liberals and the far-right posted big gains, reflecting growing political polarisation in the 28-country bloc.

Nilgün Arısan Eralp of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) said the extreme right parties who strongly oppose Turkey’s possible EU membership did not win enough seats to block important decisions in the new European Parliament.

Eralp also underlined that even if the new Commission were to propose suspending the accession negotiations with Turkey, it probably wouldn’t happen.

“Even if this is supported by the EP, I doubt that the Council makes such a decision as long as the refugee deal is there because they couldn’t find an EU solution to the refugee crisis and they depend on Turkey to find a permanent solution,” she said.

EU auditors praise refugee assistance to Turkey despite irregularities

The Facility for Refugees in Turkey “swiftly” addressed people’s needs, stated a report by the European Court of Auditors published on Tuesday (13 October), but stressed there were some irregularities in tracking the EU funds.

Amanda Paul, a senior researcher at European Policy Center (EPC), noted that the previous Parliament had already produced a number of resolutions to block everything, whether it is the customs union or the visa liberalization, so there’s not much left on the table.

“I don’t expect a huge improvement of relations between Turkey and the new European Parliament,” she said but added they shouldn’t take a turn for the worse either.

“Regional security developments in Syria, Turkey’s relationship with Russia, there are many unanswered questions so they wouldn’t want to be seen as pushing Turkey any further away because the space for conversation is already quite small,” she said.

As for the far right members to the Parliament, Amanda Paul remarked that the refugee deal with Ankara should keep them at bay.

“Many of those countries that have sent far-right members were the most concerned about new immigrant flows, including countries from Central and Eastern Europe,” she said.

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What next?

It remains to be seen if the extreme right will be able to form a proper group in the European Parliament. After that, the EP will assign a new rapporteur for Turkey in place of Kati Piri. The members of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee will also be elected.

In the 2014-19 period, the Committee was run by a Greek president and two Greek Cypriots, who did not have very close relations with Turkish officials.

EPC’s analyst Paul said a lot depended on who will be appointed as rapporteur for Turkey.  She also underlined that despite difficulties, the new parliament should reach out and engage in a parliamentary dialogue with Ankara.

“I personally don’t agree with the decision not to start negotiations to upgrade the Customs Union, which is important for Turkey and for the EU,” she said and added: “I also think blocking chapters is counterproductive because these are also roadmaps for reform.”

According to TEPAV EU Working Group Director Eralp, the four main parties in the EU – EPP, Social Democrats, liberals and Greens – will continue to criticise Turkey as long as the state of democracy and rule of law continue to be questioned in the country.

“What I am afraid is that the extreme right in the EP will exclude Turkey on a cultural basis and an identity basis. This would only strengthen the discourse of the current administration in Turkey,” she said.

Turkey is determined on the EU path

Turkey maintained its commitment to a full European Union membership. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Thursday (30 May), while announcing a judiciary reform package, that Turkey remained committed to the EU membership process.

Commission: Turkey has continued to move away from the EU

In its flagship annual report, the Commission warned Turkey that it has continued to move further away from the European Union, with serious backsliding in the areas of the rule of law and fundamental rights.

“With this reform document, even though the promises given to us were not kept, we express our commitment to the full EU membership process,” Erdoğan said.

He added: “We believe that the completion of the EU negotiation process, which has been ongoing since 2005 despite everything, bears importance for Europe at least as much as it does for us.”

Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and accession talks began in 2005.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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