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September 19, 2021

About Eastern Question 2.0. Turkey and EU: A difficult partnership (II)

A daily press review, performed by analyzing 500 Media in 30 states and in 3 languages, to identify the topics of the day and what was going on in Europe, was called, on May 4 (namely the day of the convention on visa liberalization for Turkey, disclosed by the European Commission), “Have the Turks earned visa-free travel?” This title was located under the photo of an EU passport with the official Turkish flag and name, exactly as all the EU Member States’ citizens’ passports are. Therefore, last week, the main news of the day was the decision of the European Commission to recommend to the European Parliament and European Council to remove visas for the almost 80 million citizens of Turkey, the most populated Muslim country in Europe.

Ankara was invited to fulfill, until June, the remaining criteria to be reached, out of the 72 criteria which are necessary to be fulfilled in order to be able to enjoy this measure in all European states. According to this Media monitoring, the various interpretations of the EU – Turkey convention on the visa liberalization of Turkish citizens, were revealed again last Wednesday. If some of them deemed this measure as a logical step in the joint effort to dam the wave of refugees in Europe, others were more skeptical in this matter.

Thus, the Swiss magazine Tages-Anzeiger (having a left-centered orientation) was writing: “Turkey has done its bit and curtailed the human trafficking business. The number of refugees arriving on the Greek islands has slowed to a trickle. The government is now rightly demanding its reward, namely visa-free travel for its citizens. … If Turkish citizens face fewer travel restrictions and can get a breath of freedom elsewhere, that could also help to prevent Turkey from becoming more authoritarian. Fears of a flood of migrants are also unfounded.”  But in Sweden, the Sydsvenskan magazine (a Liberal one) was writing that “It may look as if the EU is entirely dependent on Turkey regarding the asylum deal, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Other ways can be found to prevent new uncontrolled waves of refugees heading for the Greek islands. /…/The EU should drop the entire idea of lifting visa restrictions for Turks.” In Bulgaria, the Sega daily newspaper (which is critical with the Government) deemed that the EU decision actually opens the way for the refugees: “If 75 million Turks can travel freely to Europe, the three million Syrian refugees will soon follow.

If Erdoğan fulfils the EU’s demand that it ‘integrate’ Syrians by issuing them Turkish passports, who can stop them from using these passports to come to Europe, first and foremost Germany, where Merkel believes that she is conducting particularly clever diplomacy with Ankara?“ In the same day, Turkish daily Evrensel, having a left-centered orientation, has wrote that “The last conditions to be fulfilled are acting as a handbrake, according to the Europeans. With Turkey’s current regime, they can’t be fulfilled./…/ Europe was counting on the fact that the corruption and oppression in the country would prevent the criteria from being fulfilled, and that the resulting conflict would nip visa-free travel in the bud. Now it is rubbing its hands “.

Therefore, shortly after 1.00 pm, on May 4, at Brussels, it was announced the proposal of the European Commission that Turkey should benefit of the visa liberalization, provided that the ancillary criteria will be “urgently” implemented. “If member states and MEPs agree, visa requirements could be lifted by the end of June”, announced EU Observer. Besides, close to this EU decision-making, Turkey has undertaken the implementation of these mandatory requirements, out of which the technical ones, such as visa-free travel for all EU nationals, are the easiest to accomplish. When it comes about other requirements – for instance, ensuring the rights of the national minorities -, the process will be much complex.

Actually, in the today’s Turkey, we can obviously notice that, at the top of the political context of the state leaders, there is a tightening of the relationships between the President and the PM, on the internal matters of the Government’s party, so that we cannot exclude a political crisis which can lead to delays in the implementation of the EU requirements. A news in a Turkish daily, dated May 4 (“Daily Mail News Hurriyet”), was noting that „Some party sources said Davutoğlu’s speech at the parliamentary group meeting was marked by ‚sadness and resentment,’ a sign that ‚sustaining the relationship between Davutoğlu and Erdoğan has become more difficult’.” But the implementation of this recent decision meets other difficulties too.

There are voices on the Turkish side, asserting that, despite of the statements made by both parties, the adhesion process of Turkey to EU is not simple at all, especially because of some chapters related to the case of Cyprus, which are far to be solved. It is known that the Greek part of the island is against even to opening negotiations for some new chapters with Turkey as long as an overall solution of the Cypriot question is not identified. These voices state also that in the refugees matter, EU has put the exigencies of the Realpolitik in the first line, and that the Brussels is „/…/ very hypocritical. Actually, both sides pretend that there is an accession process. It is like you have a patient in a comatose state but you do not want to pull the plug because it will be detrimental. The EU would like to see Turkey as an important strategic partner, not as an accession partner.” (interview of an Turkish academic and Governmental counselor).

On their turn, European experts assert that it’s not easy at all to fulfill the requirements in order to achieve a positive decision of the EU Member States’ leaders in June 2016. Alike, the issue is complicated by the possibility that some of the states will organize referendums on the matter of admitting refugees on their territory (Hungary already announced it, and Slovakia seems to intend to do the same). On the other hand, it seems that European Commission intends to apply financial penalties to the countries which will not accept quotas of refugees, and this will lead for sure to new difficulties by the internal tightening inside the continental organization. The European experts are skeptical towards Turkey’s ability to solve the case of the mandatory requirements until June 2016, since there are extremely sensitive issues to be solved, such as the anti-terrorist laws, judicial cooperation with Cyprus, or the rights of the minorities.

In the matter of EU enlargement, which was the most successful process performed by Brussels until now, there are also fears that undermining the credibility of the visa liberalization politics by concluding a convention with Ankara, may generate collateral  victims (for instance, Balkan countries) during the adhesion process with full rights to the European organization. In the same time, the impact of visa liberalization on the two actors of the process, is being analyzed.  On one hand, it is underlined that Turkey may be deemed a “superpower of the immigration” which uses “/its geography to extract concessions from migration-phobic neighbors./…/” , being „once forced to beg to be considered for European Union membership, it now dictates the terms of its relationship with Brussels” (see Mark Leonard, in an article which was published on April 20, 2016).

In this context, Russia is credited by a German expert with the “hybrid use of the refugees’ matter”, therefore the situation is related both on the Moscow’s recent animosity against Turkey, in the wider circumstance of the Syrian civil war, and to the burden that Germany has to bear in this case. In our opinion, the recent EU decision revealed the importance of the refugees’ matter and of the “deal” between EU and Turkey for the changing power configuration in Europe.

Visa liberalization for the almost 80 million Turkish citizens indicates that EU is determined to exercise an important role in the political and military approaches in the Mideast, a place where big changes are on the way, despites the fact that the organization doesn’t have its own military instrument, which could support its diplomatic action.

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