Remainder of 2019 to determine course of Turkey-EU relations - analyst
The rest of 2019 will witness testing moments for all the critical components of Turkey-EU relations and it is in the best interest of both sides to renew the search for realistic paths for constructive cooperation in the ongoing standstill, wrote Marc Pierini, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based independent policy research centre.
There is large consensus in Europe that Turkey, whose accession into the 28-member bloc formally began in 2005, has failed to comply with any of the required criteria pertaining to the EU candidacy. However, the EU has so far shied away from formally suspending negotiations.
In a non-binding vote on March 13, 2019, the European Parliament called for the suspension of EU accession talks with Turkey, citing violations of human rights and the rule of law.
Despite growing divergences between Turkey and its traditional Western allies, Pierini wrote, neither side can afford relations to deteriorate beyond a certain point, noting that is particularly true of the EU-Turkey economic relationship, “where trade, foreign direct investment, and technology transfers play important roles both ways.’’
Turkey’s economics, domestic politics, foreign policy, defence policy, and the rule of law. together paint a challenging picture that leaves Europe and Turkey with limited options for how to respond, he underlined.
It was the country’s economic slowdown which undermined support for the government in the local elections, the article said, noting that the outcome of the polls is set to embolden the opposition, which now controls cities that represent 65 percent of Turkey’s GDP.
Meanwhile, the country’s defence policy debates continue to dominated by the S-400 dilemma, which translates to the West that Turkey’s defence policy is of a growing divergence from the country’s commitments to NATO, he added.
Unless Ankara changes its planned purchase of the S-400 system, he wrote, the outcome would be another Turkey-U.S. escalation and a major blow to the North Atlantic Alliance.
Apart from politics on the EU side, it remains clear that the 23-year-old customs union has allowed a massive transformation of Turkey’s manufacturing industry, the article noted, adding that ‘’the EU remains an indispensable partner for Turkey in the fields of trade, foreign direct investment, and technology transfers.’’
Turkey also has a customs union agreement with the EU which came into effect in January 1996 and the bilateral trade between two sides has increased to $150 billion from $37 billion over the 23 years since.
The interdependence between the EU and Turkey works both ways, Pierini wrote, stressing that Turkey’s refusal to improve its questionable rule-of-law for the sake of revamping the EU-Turkey Customs Union may become reason for the bloc’s political circles to prolong the ongoing standstill over the country’s EU bid.
The modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union must be prioritised, according to the analyst, including new technologies and vast increases in trade in services. This move more important for its indirect impact on Turkey’s governance than for its direct commercial effects, he added.
Another factor to consider in the relations is the EU’s political landscape, which has resulted in greater Euroskeptic and Turcoskeptic forces, posing a serious challenge for rapid improvement in the EU-Turkey relationship.
Should there cease to be a positive dynamic on accession, the EU-Turkey relationship will become purely transactional, as evident in the 2016 refugee package, which sees that the EU provides Syrian refugees and their host communities in Turkey with €6 billion ($6.8 billion) of aid, or foreign policy dialogue, he underlined.
The challenge ahead will be whether Ankara and Brussels can still nurture some ‘’rules-based order,’’ in the areas of the customs union, counterterrorism, visa liberalisation, and economic and political dialogue, the article noted.
A complete standstill in the EU-Turkey relationship should not be underestimated, Pierini opined, noting that mutual long-term interests of Turkey and the EU should take precedence over short-term political gains for both sides.