Barçın Yinanç / Hürriyet Daily News, Oct 26 () - The European Union is acting pragmatically toward Turkey in bargaining over refugees, according to the head of an organization working on Turkey-EU relations. ‘[Ankara] should play their cards well. They should also be aware of their strong points and they should not give in easily,’ says Çiğdem Nas.
Turkey must do what is necessary to ensure the European Union does not break its promises following recent negotiations on migrants, readmission agreements and visa liberalization, according to Economic Development Foundation (İKV) head Çiğdem Nas.
“Turkey should make sure that they are not promises that are forgotten in the process,” said Nas, a specialist on Turkey-EU relations.
For those who might have missed it, can you tell us about the recent developments in EU-Turkish relations?
As a candidate country, we had a stalemate in the negotiations process. Fourteen chapters were opened, but only one of them has been closed.
Due to the Cyprus problem, none of the chapters can be provisionally closed. [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel expressed two weeks ago that she still does not support Turkey’s membership. There is no political will on the part of the EU to accept Turkey as a member in the short to medium term.
We have had a sudden revitalization in the process, and this is linked to the Syrian crisis and the influx of refugees to the EU.
[There were] such influxes before, but this time, the numbers were much more substantial.
After the Russian attacks, we are now expecting even more refugees. The EU and Germany decided that this influx can only be resolved with Turkey’s cooperation. However, relations between the EU and Turkey were not at its best.
A new effort had to be made; some sweeteners had to be offered to Turkey. So we have some proposals from the EU to convince Turkey of a more cooperative approach.
One is a financial package of around 3 billion euros.
It is not clear under which program these will be made available and over what period of time. So it is ambiguous.
Second, the EU promised that there would be an acceleration of the accession process. And the third promise is with regard to visa liberalization.
This is also an issue which has already been decided upon with the signing of a readmission agreement.
Will those ‘sweeteners’ revitalize EU relations?
I don’t think it is a reliable perspective for Turkey. Looking at a pragmatic level, [one might think] that because the EU needs Turkey, the EU is ready to provide some rewards for Turkey and Turkey should seize this opportunity, regardless of what the reason or the circumstances are.
But when we look at what the EU is offering in terms of reviving the process, I don’t think they are realizable goals. It seems opening talks on five or six chapters will be on the agenda; however, when Merkel was in Turkey, she talked about opening Chapter 17, which was already on the agenda. For 1.5 years, there has been talk about opening talks on Chapter 17.
We don’t know how progress will be made on the other chapters; they are blocked by Greek Cyprus. So this is related to the resolution of the Cyprus conflict. Something else is needed to trigger the process.
It seems there is serious progress taking place on the talks to find a solution to the Cyprus issue. A breakthrough on Cyprus could coincide with reviving the process.
If it happens, that would be something substantial, but without [a solution on Cyprus], it is difficult for Merkel to promise there will be an acceleration.
So in the absence of a solution on Cyprus, you are not convinced that Germany or the EU will have the will or leverage on Greek Cypriots to lift their blockage.
When I heard Merkel speak, I did not feel that she would do it. I felt like there will be a process and some things will be forgotten in the process as has happened in the past. When we look at the situation in Turkey, I don’t think the EU has the will to accelerate the accession process.
What do you mean by that?
At the moment, we are waiting for the elections and a new government may be more willing [on EU accession]. But with the ending of the talks with the Kurds and the restart of terrorism, Turkey’s stance against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, freedom of expression and fundamental freedoms are not in accord with the EU’s approach. I don’t think the EU is sincere because they do not see Turkey at the moment as being in line with EU criteria.
We never expect the EU to be sincere anyway.
Indeed, it is interest-based. Obviously, we don’t know what is happening in the deals behind closed doors. But looking at the history of relations, in 1999 for example, when Turkey was given candidacy status, there was a letter written by the then-Finnish president – it was a move to suggest that the Cyprus issue would not be a problem and that without a resolution, Cyprus would not be accepted. But the contrary happened, and nobody is now talking about the letter. What is being talked about at the moment will not take place as has been reflected in the media. Merkel talks about Chapter 17, but this is not something new. I don’t find it convincing.
How about visa liberalization?
Again, what is being talked about is not something new. Turkey has already promised to the EU that once the readmission agreement enters into force, it would accept migrants going to Europe if it is proven that they passed through Turkish territory [in exchange for visa-free travel]. The EU felt the urge to accelerate this process instead of waiting until 2017.
But there is also a document – a visa liberalization road map which includes 72 criteria that Turkey has to fulfill in order for Turkey to qualify for visa liberalization. I really cannot imagine the EU putting this totally aside without Turkey fulfilling these conditions. It may be that these conditions will be fulfilled in one or two years in a fast-track process. Then it may happen, but it is not easy for Turkey to fulfill all these conditions as they range from document security to the construction of new centers and the training of staff to deal with immigrants. There is a chapter on fundamental rights, too.
Although what is on the table might not be new; nothing has moved until now. At least the new urgency can trigger the progress. What do you suggest Turkey should do; say “no?”
They should not say no, but they shouldn’t be lured by the EU. How the EU is approaching Turkey is very realistic and pragmatic. Of course, Turkey should be engaged with the EU. The problem is on the one side whether or not Turkey is interested in accelerating the process. I think the government should be interested and it should make the most of this opportunity. But [government officials] should play their cards well. They should also be aware of their strong points and they should not give in easily. They should tell this to the EU: “OK, we already have a process; what are you going to do in concrete? You have made some promises that I want to see you deliver; we want to see action. We will monitor your promises.” Turkey should make sure that they are not promises that are forgotten in the process.
Do you see such a stance on the part of the government?
I don’t see it. What I see is that Turkey may be flattered because of this new approach by the EU. We should tell the EU that there are more fundamental problems than just opening chapters. These promises will just create the impression that things will accelerate, but in reality, they will not. It will be just about the refugee issue. We should make sure that it translates into something real.
How do you evaluate the postponement of the progress report which is said to be very critical of Turkey’s human rights record?
I think they did not exert undue pressure. There are negotiations between the two sides. The message they want to give is mostly on the refugee issue. If they give a second message that does not resonate with that, this might work negatively on the Turkish side because the Turkish side could say, “You want my cooperation, but at the same time you are publishing a report critical of me.” It could have been difficult reconcile these two messages. They did not want to complicate the situation.
Who is Çiğdem Nas?
Çiğdem Nas was born in Istanbul in 1966 and is a graduate of Robert College, Bosphorous University, the London School of Economics and Marmara University who completed a PhD on the minority rights regime in Europe.
A political scientist specializing in the field of European studies and Turkey-EU relations, Nas is the author of articles and book chapters and the co-editor of a book on Turkey’s Europeanization process.
Nas is currently an associate professor at Yıldız Technical University’s Political Science and International Relations Department, where she lectures on Turkey-EU relations, international organization and Turkish foreign policy. Since 2009, Nas has also been the secretary-general of the Economic Development Foundation (İKV), a non-governmental and non-profit research organization specializing in the field of European integration and Turkey-EU relations.
She is also a member of the Turkish University Association on EU studies, the University Association of Contemporary European Studies and the International Political Science Association. Additionally, Nas is a member of the “Team Europe” coordinated by the EU delegation in Turkey and has participated in many seminars and conferences as a speaker both in Turkey and abroad.