ANKARA: The EU on Wednesday set out the state of play of its political, economic, and trade relations with Turkiye in a strategic move aimed at ironing out long-standing disagreements between the neighbors.
Against the backdrop of shifting geopolitical dynamics, the EU report was published on the same day that NATO foreign ministers met in Brussels and discussed the progress of Sweden’s accession to the intergovernmental military alliance.
It is expected that Ankara will ratify its protocol on the issue “within weeks.”
The EU initiative aims to invigorate crucial areas of collaboration and develop trust in light of ongoing security and geopolitical challenges.
In the context of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, Turkiye’s role in the Black Sea as a NATO ally was strongly emphasized by High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell in his opening remarks introducing the joint communication on Turkiye.
He also noted the need to ensure a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean as a strategic goal of the EU.
In a statement, the EU delegation to Turkiye said: “(The EU) retains a strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean and the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkiye.”
The EU document’s foreign policy section indicates the trajectory that bilateral ties may take. Notably, the EU has resolved to regularly engage in “structured dialogues” with Ankara on foreign policy and regional matters.
As part of the recalibration, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Hakan Fidan was set to receive invitations to the informal six-monthly gatherings of EU foreign ministers — known as the Gymnich meetings — when pertinent discussions arise.
Despite missing out on the most recent Gymnich meeting in August, Turkiye could rekindle high-level dialogues on shared interests such as energy, de-escalation in the East Mediterranean, refugee management, and counterterrorism amid a volatile security climate.
Turkiye will also be encouraged to further contribute to the EU’s missions and operations regarding its common security and defense policy and to adopt a more constructive approach to the EU-NATO strategic partnership, in an apparent reference to the Swedish accession bid.
Dr. Bahadir Kaleagasi, president of the Paris Bosphorus Institute, told Arab News that there was enough historical evidence to argue that the more Turkiye was excluded from the EU’s sphere of influence, the more it became part of the problems, which in turn nourished populist demagogy and threats to Western democracy.
He said: “The report is presented as a set of proposals that will not constitute an alternative to the membership process or a search for a new institutional framework. On the contrary, it aims to be practical, realistic, and constructive.
“However, other proposals covering an updated customs union together with green and digital transition policies, provided that they are initiated without blocking pre-conditions, would certainly positively impact both foreign policy alignment and the rule of law reforms,” he added.
On migration management and the EU’s financial support for refugees, a key aspect of EU-Turkiye relations, especially since 2016, the document urged Turkiye to intensify efforts to curb irregular migration by dismantling criminal smuggling networks and bolstering border defenses. Simultaneously, Brussels pledged to sustain financial aid for refugees in Turkiye.
Kaleagasi noted that the current migration governance framework was unsustainable, and that efficient management hinged on rejuvenating the economic dimension of the relationship, aligning with shared global competitiveness objectives.
“Modernizing the existing EU-Turkiye customs union agreement stands as a catalyst for progress across all other domains,” he said.
Turkiye is the EU’s seventh-biggest trading partner, while the EU is the first for Turkiye. Bilateral trade this year surpassed 200 billion euros ($218.5 billion), a record.
Brussels has also agreed to resume negotiations on a modernized EU-Turkiye customs union, provided Ankara supported efforts to fight against the evasion of European sanctions against Russia.
Turkiye-EU relations have been troubled by several difficulties since accession negotiations opened in October 2005. Both sides have mostly disagreed on foreign policy decisions with only around 10 percent of policies being aligned in 2023.
Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, director of European Neighborhood Council, told Arab News: “Between 2016 and 2022, the EU and Turkiye relations faced their worst period in recent history. That is changing now because of structural reasons like the war in Ukraine and the EU and Turkiye’s increasingly aligned policies in Central Asia and terms of connectivity and supply chains.”
He predicted further improvements soon, including customs union reform, provided Turkiye did not cross any “red lines” in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Vesterbye said: “The most important elements of the joint communication are allowing Turkiye back into Gymnich discussions and opening the highest level of dialogue with fellow NATO and European partner Turkiye, including Hakan Fidan and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Now it’s up to especially the French and Turkish representatives to carefully think and coordinate about a common European security architecture, which will need to include a larger framework for EU-Turkiye under differentiated accession.
“France is by far the most important EU member for advanced military technology, potential sales of fighter jets or ground-to-surface missiles, nuclear power, military capabilities abroad, etc.
“The same goes for France: despite Turkiye’s worrying levels of religiously radical policy support abroad, it nevertheless has a great ground power, Muslim credibility, and significant on-the-ground experience, size, and unique geo-strategic location.
“It’s like two alpha males; they usually compete with each other, but if they manage to unite, they are far stronger together,” Vesterbye added.
But he pointed out that the process of aligning the foreign and security policies of Turkiye and the EU would require a lot of effort, time, and constant high-level and technical coordination, as well as taking risks and building trustworthy institutional security structures to keep each side in check.
In this respect, the EU’s foreign and security policy missions abroad will play a key role in establishing institutional ties between Brussels and Ankara.
Vesterbye said: “The EU and Turkiye already had many common EU military missions, so building on those will prove important, and the next steps should be further Turkiye involvement in decision-making, funding, and contribution while tackling the Cyprus issue, which would progressively lead to the full inclusion of Turkiye into the EU security apparatus.
“If Turkiye wants to progress into the next level of technology, economic growth, and large-scale policy in Central Asia, it, together with its natural geographic ally Europe, will need to walk, and vice versa, if the EU wants to become a truly geopolitical force it can only do so with the inclusion of Turkiye,” he added.
EU leaders still have to adopt the plan during their summit in Brussels on Dec. 13.