Turkey calls on the EU to envisage ‘a new beginning’

Turkey in Brussels. Schaerbeek, October 2015. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

An official close to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu told EURACTIV that the summit between Turkey and the EU expected by the end of this month could be “a new beginning” in the relations.

But he regretted that Union was “remembering Turkey only in case of crisis”.

The EU-Turkey summit, which rumours have it, will take place in Brussels on 29 November, will gather all heads of state and government of the EU member states.

The date is not yet confirmed, but appears as the only one possible in view of the COP21 climate conference beginning on 30 November in Paris, which the same leaders will attend.

If something prevents the summit from taking place on 29 November, a date in December would be sought, EURACTIV was told.

It is not yet clear who will represent Turkey. EU officials informed EURACTIV that they assume that President Recep Tayyip Erdo?and will attend, possibly with the Prime Minister Davuto?lu.

It appears that the two Turkish leaders are in some sort of competition to grab the European media attention.

Council President Donald Tusk had made the effort to speak to both of them, at the Antalya G20 summit, which ended yesterday (16 November), an EU diplomat told EURACTIV.

The EU-Turkey summit is an attempt to agree on an Action Plan between Turkey and the EU, which would hopefully stem the flow of refugees coming from Turkey, especially via the Greek islands.

The EU has been preparing a package of incentives, including financial assistance to the tune of €3 billion, if both sides can agree on a refugee cooperation accord.

>> Read: EU leaders to roll out red carpet for Turkey at summit

It is almost certain that the EU will speed up the granting of visa-free travel for periods of up to three months to Turkish nationals, and that at least one chapter of the accession negotiations will open, specifically N.17, “Economic and monetary policy.”

One chapter to be open?

“Yes, the summit could be a new beginning […], but I wonder why Europe is remembering Turkey only in case of a crisis. We’re expecting a more stable, visionary, predictable accession process. Turkey is a reliable and responsible partner making a net contribution to European security, economy and stability,” said the government official, who asked not to be named.

“Yes, maybe one chapter will be open, but still, it’s very difficult for us to understand why the chapter on energy, why the chapters on justice and security issues are not being opened. Energy is the very first field of cooperation between Turkey and the EU.  In this field the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU,” the official said.

The energy chapter is however unlikely to be opened due to the situation around Cyprus. In 2011, the Republic of Cyrus, an EU member, discovered gas reserves on the border of the Exclusive Economic Zone between Cyprus and Israel.

Cyprus continued drilling activities in 2014.  But in October of that year, Turkey sent naval vessels specialising in seismic exploration, into Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone, without permission.

>>Read: Cyprus Ambassador: The EU should tell Turkey that gunboat diplomacy is over

Analysts, however, say there is little the EU can offer to Turkey, and that the real deal would be between Ankara and Berlin.

Gerald Knaus, Director of the European Stability Initiative, a think tank with offices in Berlin, Brussels and Istanbul, told an audience today (18 November), that there was “enormous distrust” around the Action Plan.

Speaking at a conference organised by the European Policy Centre, Knaus said that the statements of many EU leaders, who are callling for the closure of the EU’s external borders, including Hungary, amounted to an “enormous abdication of rationality and responsibility”.

EU action derided

“You cannot stop people from arriving to Greece, even if you create an EU border service, or if you send 10,000 Frontex people, he said, referring to the EU border management agency, which has a staff of 200, and has asked for an additional 600.

>>Read: Hundreds of border guards sought for hotspots

“Even then, people will keep arriving. And they wouldn’t be stopped along the Balkan route. The whole Balkan summit, having reception centres in Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, was another big phantasy”, he said, referring to the mini-summit hastily organised by Commission President Jean Claude Juncker on 25 October.

>> Read: Leaders clash at migration mini-summit

Knaus said he had challenged several EU interior ministers at a public event by asking them why the refugees don’t get sent by planes from Greece to Germany, Austria and Sweden.

“It would save a lot of money along the route, the refugees wouldn’t be so troubled,” he said.

Knaus made it plain that he didn’t believe in the EU plan to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy over two years. He also said that awareness was growing in Berlin that there would be no EU solution, and that Germany would have to do it alone.

The solution Knaus proposed is that “real issues” start being discussed with Turkey, the only country that could control the Aegean.

“The real issue is if Turkey commits, from a certain point in time, to take back anybody who reaches the Greek islands,” Knaus stated, adding that if this happens, it would become meaningless for migrants to pay smugglers to reach the Greek islands.

But he explained that in Turkey, there was a very strong and widely shared resistance to doing this, based on a sense that it would be unfair, that the country was already taking the largest burden, and that it didn’t want to be seen as the buffer zone for the EU.

This is the reason why Turkey accepted thousands of people per day coming from Syria last year, but only 400 requests from Greece to return third country nationals on its soil, on an existing readmission agreement. At the end, only 6 people returned to Turkey.

Knaus said he had asked Turkish officials why they wouldn’t take more, and was told that out of principle, Turkey would not take people to please the EU, and be seen as a buffer zone for Europe. He added that this was not only the resistance of the government, but of civil society.

Germany to lead

To change this situation, Knaus stated that the EU had very little to offer, but member states could “offer something”. He said that the debate should be between Turkey on one hand, and Germany and a coalition of EU states most concerned.

“Angela Merkel should go to Ankara and say – the way to cope with this issue is to share the responsibility. We accept 500,000 Syrians, families, already registered in Turkey, and we will re-settle them straight to Germany. But in return, you implement the readmission agreement with Greece. And we will do it from the same time. So we don’t need to trust each other – it’s parallel,” he said.

Knaus said he has been challenged by remarks that such a statement from a German leader would amount to political suicide, but added that since the discussion started two months ago, 500,000 had arrived in Germany.

Regarding what the EU could do, Knaus stressed the importance of visa liberalisation, which needs to be decided immediately, and of Turkey being removed from the so-called “black” EU visa list from next week. 

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