Living on borrowed time

Turkey was facing a Black Monday with plunging of Turkish Lira on March 22 but was holding a winning hand on the foreign policy front with getting “positive” with the U.S., China, and the EU. But structurally nothing changes, fragility remains and Turkey continues to live on borrowed time as far “positive agendas” are concerned.

Turkey is a rare bird: Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu conducted meetings with the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken one day, and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the next.

Wang Yi also met with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; just at a time when Turkey’s economy needs a cash injection after the wrath of the international markets due to abrupt change of its Central Bank governor. Simultaneously, the European Union Summit focusing over Turkey was taking place on March 25-26, and the EU was delaying its sanctions decision once more.

Let alone imposition sanctions, the EU rewarded Turkey by emphasizing the “positive agenda”: updating of the Customs Union, which seemed completely utopic just until know.

As well known, the “positive agenda” is the new buzzword defining the EU-Turkey relations.

The EU leaders had already met on March 22 in Brussels to discuss the state of the EU-Turkey relations. The meeting was focusing over the report of Josep Borrell, the EU's chief diplomat. In fact, the Borrell Report was already outpaced by the rollercoaster draconian developments in Turkey: on the day Borrell Report was being circulated, President Erdoğan’s decree ruled that Turkey ceases to be a party to the Istanbul Convention-the Council of Europe’s Action Against Women and Domestic Violence.  

In any case, the EU Summit decisions stuck with the Borrell Report which divided Turkey-EU agenda into positive and negative tracks. Under light of the Borrell Report and decisions taken at the EU Summit; most tangible “positive” agenda towards Turkey will be updating the Migration Deal.

Tit for tat, as the Summit’s conclusions foresee, next item line in the “positive agenda”, is the modernization of the Customs Union: a long due move as its current form is dated 1995. Back in 2014, the World Bank had prepared an elaborate report laying the groundwork for updating the Customs Union-so everything was pretty much ready except for the green light on behalf of the EU. Gathering dust in the past 7 years, the World Bank report itself needs to be updated first. But the fact that the “Customs Union 2.0” is finally looming over the horizon is a big win for Turkey. There is the “conditionality” emphasis on behalf of the EU for realizing the Customs Union update. But that just means Ankara ceases to be too much of a wild card.

Thirdly, the EU Summit foresees liberalization of visa requirements for Turkish citizens (just as the EU citizens themselves have hard time traveling in and around the Union) as the dessert on the menu of “positive agenda”. This might be a theoretical gain on behalf of Turkey as “free movement of tourists” and its actuality might stay just as some tangible joint work on the extending the “vaccination passport” to Turkey. So far, Turkey was not even remotely a party to vaccination passport debates as it has used the Chinese made Sinopharma vaccines-so far unapproved by the EU.

There is also still negative agenda side though: the EU sanctions remain as possibility as a response to the Turkish drilling and naval activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. April will be an important month: the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias will be visiting Turkey on April 14, and on April 27-29 there will United Nations sponsored talks bringing together Turkey, Greece and the two sides of Cyprus.

The European Union itself is unlikely to rescind its side of the transaction with Turkey, and retort back to the economic sanctions’ agenda anytime soon. Aside from supporting a “positive agenda” between Greece and Turkey and ameliorating the Eastern Mediterranean centered problems; the EU also another mission to complete with Ankara-the updating of the Migration Deal.

Through the 2016-dated Migration Deal, the EU transferred Turkey around 6 billion euros to assist Syrian refugees. The deal expired last December, and final contracts and extensions will be expiring in 2021-and there is no place for new allocations in the new EU budget. Hence, the EU wants to go through with a new deal against all odds; fearing that Ankara will open the border letting refugees pass towards Europe-just as it did twice.
Turkey was facing a Black Monday with plunging of Turkish Lira on March 22 and was holding a winning hand on the foreign policy front with getting “positive” with the U.S., China, and the EU in a row in a mere span of 48 hours. But structurally nothing changes, fragility remains and Turkey continues to live on borrowed time as far “positive agendas” are concerned.