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Turkey remains committed to EU accession despite hindrances

Despite the obstacles, Turkey's EU accession process continues with a summit in Varna, Bulgaria, which, according to experts, shows that there is still impetus to improve relations

Daily Sabah TURKEY
Published March 27,2018
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov (R), welcomes President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L), prior to their meeting as part of the EU-Turkey summit in the Black Sea resort of Varna, Bulgaria, March 26.

Ankara has said it will stay committed to its efforts to join the European Union despite the roadblocks, citing its willingness to normalize relations that have been strained for a long time. Turkey continues its EU accession process despite obstacles. The latest summit between the two parties took place yesterday in Varna, Bulgaria with the participation of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. President Erdoğan arrived in Varna yesterday at 2.50 pm and was welcomed by the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, the Governor of Varna Stoyan Pasev, the Mayor of Varna İvon Portnih, Turkey's envoy to Sophia Hasan Ulusoy and Turkey's permanent representative to the EU Faruk Kaymakçı.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and EU Minister Ömer Çelik were also accompanying President Erdoğan during the summit. "We have rooted relations with the EU. During our [Justice and Development Party] period, relations developed more than they ever did. The full membership journey took the biggest steps during our period," Erdoğan said in Istanbul yesterday before flying to Varna for the summit. He added that EU membership is a strategic aim for Turkey despite what he said were the "mines that were laid down on its road." According to Jana Jabbour, a research associate at Sciences Po and a professor of political science at the University of Saint Joseph, there is a momentum today to improve Turkey-EU relations.

"Indeed, in Turkey, there is currently a willingness to appease tensions with the EU in order to better focus on domestic affairs, and on the Syria file," Jabbour expressed while indicating that in Europe also, there is an increasing awareness of the need to have good relations with Turkey since it is an important economic partner, and plays a crucial role in the fight against Daesh, and in containing the refugee crisis. She also highlighted that the Varna summit is a platform to relaunch the dialogue between the two parties, even though no real breakthrough is expected in concrete terms.

Erdoğan said that during the summit the EU will be reminded of Turkey's intolerance for double standards.

"The EU did not show the loyalty that we have showed regarding meeting their own obligations," Erdoğan said, and added that only a small number of financial aid reached Turkey so far, which was supposed to be paid under the migrant and refugee deal that was signed in 2016 with the EU to contribute to the conditions of refugees in the country.

In March 2016, Brussels and Ankara reached an agreement to take stricter measures against human smugglers and discourage irregular migration over the Aegean Sea and improve the conditions of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Under the EU-Turkey agreement, EU states have to mobilize an additional 3 billion euros in funding by the end of 2018. Yet, although on March 14, the European Commission signaled that it would pay the additional 3 billion, but so far has not delivered on the promised money.

The agreement also promised acceleration in Ankara's EU membership process and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals in the Schengen zone, provided that Ankara fulfills criteria set out by Brussels.

In her opinion, EU countries fear a "wave of Muslim tourists" if visa liberalization is granted.

However, according to Jabbour, there is a problem. "Europeans expect Turkey to share their burden and offer them services, without them responding to Ankara's needs, demands and concerns. And this is impossible, because a new Turkey has emerged in recent years," she said, referring to the developments in Turkey that occurred during the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) era which created a country that is more independent and assertive in international affairs.

'EU must support Turkey against terrorism'

Erdoğan also said they will emphasize that Turkey expects unconditional support from Europe in the fight against terrorism.

"Having full support from our European friends is vital in order to rebuild trust," Erdoğan said, adding that he hopes the vandalism that PKK and its Syrian affiliate People's Protection Units (YPG) supporters have done in Europe while protesting the Afrin operation opened the eyes of EU members to the terrorists and made clear that they pose a great threat to Europe.

"This meeting is important since it marks the revival of the relations," said Enes Bayraklı, a foreign affairs specialist at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), adding that there has been a change in the EU's attitude toward Turkey recently.

"The EU realized that it cannot force Turkey to do some things, which makes a difference on the EU's part. I believe that from now on, the negotiations will continue in accordance with mutual interests. Turkey's determined stance, and getting closer with Russia, led the EU to change its position. Now, the main concern for both sides is what kinds of steps can be taken for mutual interests," he stated.

Ankara has previously said it expects concrete steps from the EU on updating its customs union agreement, visa liberalization, acceleration of financial assistance for Syrian refugees and combat against PKK terrorism at today's Turkey-EU Summit. Turkish officials have said they want the EU to show a more constructive attitude to "restore trust."

Due to differences between the two sides, Brussels expects that the summit will not be easy, but it will work to strengthen relations.

On May 25, 2017, Erdoğan met Tusk and Juncker in Brussels. The first summit of the leaders was held in October 2015.

Some EU members oppose Turkey's accession to the bloc, saying the continuing negotiations should be halted.

Speaking to the German Die Welt newspaper, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said prior to the summit that the membership negotiations between Ankara and EU should be terminated.

"The talks on membership between the European Union and Turkey should be ended taking into account the systematic violations of human rights and essential democratic values, and because the Copenhagen Criteria are not implemented anymore," Kurz said in an interview with the Die Welt. The Copenhagen Criteria are rules a country must meet to join the EU. He added that Turkey is still an important partner but relations should be pursued at the level of good neighborhood.

Responding to Kurz on his Twitter account, EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik said when both Turkey and the EU are focused on a positive agenda regarding relations, Kurz made unreasonable statements.

"There is no point in Kurz's statements to take seriously, not only when it comes to the ones regarding Turkey, but almost all of them," Çelik said, adding that Kurz made similar statements before.

Çelik further said that Turkish officials mind their own business despite Kurz and those like him.

Ties between the two countries soured in 2016 due to Austrian restrictions on Turkish politicians who wanted to campaign in the country ahead of a key constitutional referendum in Turkey. The campaign targeted Turkish nationals living in Austria.