EU-Turkey goes 'back to the future'

For the time being, Cyprus is silently removed to be an obstacle to common EU policymaking; in return for being turned into the kingmaker in the EU-Turkey relations.

Last week's "special meeting" of the European Council ended up introduction of some sanctions as expected; but to Belarus, not for Turkey as tentatively intended. Foremost achievement of the meeting was breaking the impasse created by Cyprus over the EU (in)action on Belarus.

To recap; Cyprus blocked an EU Foreign Ministers’ statement at the Gymnich-the informal EU meeting that took place at the of August. Since then, the EU found Cyprus as the de-facto veto power against its will on every substantial move made against Belarus. Cyprus was not interested in Belarus per se-but bargained for sanctions and clear firm against Turkey. 

That episode is now over.

Cyprus is silently removed to be an obstacle to common EU policymaking (for the time being); in return for being turned into the kingmaker in the EU-Turkey relations. 

The EU criticized Turkey for not making positive gestures towards Cyprus-while willing to be engaged in “exploratory talks” with Greece. 

So now, the time immemorial chronic “Cyprus Question” is placed in the middle of Turkey-EU relations.

The EU Council President Charles Michel was already talking about a “carrot and stick approach” towards Turkey back at the very  beginning of September: now we have this strategy of the EU unfolding with more tactful and diplomatic wording . Framed (again) by Charles Michel, the “carrot and stick approach” is now termed as the “two track approach”. Meaning the EU is opting for dialogue with Turkey and is ready to give something in return for cooperation-the carrots: and these are the updating of the Customs Union, trying to expand trade and further cooperation over the refugee issue. The latter carrot on refugees means continuing on funding the existing educational and financial aid programs for Syrian refugees in Turkey; and maybe even extending it. 

There are other carrots-that may be in the horizon though; the EU insinuates. 

The EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s statement after meeting pointed out that she would rather work towards a “new long term EU-Turkey relationship, including modernization of the Customs Union, stronger cooperation on migration on the basis of the 2016 EU-Turkey statement and coordinated action on COVID-19”.

The Conclusion on External Relations issued after the meeting reiterated the same points:

“Provided constructive efforts to stop illegal activities vis-à-vis Greece and Cyprus are sustained, the European Council has agreed to launch a positive political EU-Turkey agenda with a specific emphasis on the modernization of the Customs Union and trade facilitation, people to people contacts, High level dialogues, continued cooperation on migration issues, in line with the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement. The European Council invites its President, in cooperation with the President of the Commission and with the support of the High Representative, to develop a proposal for re-energizing the EU-Turkey agenda to this effect.”

The 2016 EU-Turkey Statement and Action Plan foresaw updating of the Customs Union, and cooperation regarding refugees by Turkey stopping their movement beyond its borders with the EU, accepting the refugees expelled from the EU and in return getting EU funding of assisting Syrians inside its own borders. But there were two other crucial agreements: visa liberalization scheme for of Turkish citizens to travel inside the EU would be granted and Turkey’s creation of a “safe zone” inside Syria would be supported by the EU-so that the Syrian refugees may return there. The EU allusion to the 2016 Agreement with Turkey may be also read as an indication for further cooperation on these two latter issues.

Although visions of carrots malinger in the air; so do the specters of “sticks”. The EU Conclusion framed it as follows:

“[T]he EU will use all the instruments and the options at its disposal, including in accordance with Article 29 TEU and Article 215 TFEU, in order to defend its interests and those of its Member States.
The European Council will continue to closely monitor developments and will revert accordingly and take decisions as appropriate at the latest at its December meeting.”

The reference to December points out to Germany-this is the month that Germany’s EU Council Presidency ends, and the arena is left to the EU Commission and Council-and to France, who takes the counterclockwise position towards Turkey as compared to Germany. 

The Article 29 referenced in the EU Conclusion states that the decision taken by the Council will need to be adopted by all member states as national policy. So, if no results by the end of December; Germany or any other country that opts for keeping mum towards Turkey will have to change their national policy-says the EU. 

And Article 215 is about “interruption or reduction, in part or completely, of economic and financial relations with one or more third countries.”

But at the one side are the carrots and the other are sticks-and if Cyprus Question is placed right at the middle between them-is this equation solvable? Well, the Cyprus Question dates to 1974, and nothing tangible has been achieved in the past 46 years up to now. So far, pegging any other settlement and resolution to the Cyprus Question has failed miserably.

So, if Cyprus Question is continued to be placed in the middle of Turkey-EU relations that sounds more like a recipe for disaster arriving just around Christmas; when the deadline set in this EU meeting expires. 

September 29, 2021 A post-Merkel Turkey