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Turkey takes first step towards normalisation of its relations with the EU




Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu met his European counterpart Josep Borrell to affirm his willingness to normalise relations between his country and the EU (photo: European Council).
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu met his European counterpart Josep Borrell to affirm his willingness to normalise relations between his country and the EU (photo: European Council).
TURKEY / EU. Will 2021 be the year of reconciliation between Turkey and the European Union? Perhaps. In any case, Ankara is multiplying little phrases and initiatives to this end. The last act being the visit of Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, on Thursday 21 January 2021, in Brussels. The Turkish Foreign Minister was able to meet Josep Borrell, EU High Representative, and several MEPs. He will also have talks on Friday 22 January 2021 with Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO. The head of Turkish diplomacy acknowledged that "2020 has been a problematic year for bilateral relations between Turkey and the EU". At the same time, he affirmed everyone's desire to "create a positive climate" between the two parties, which he considered important "to find a solution to the serious problems that persist in the region".
Josep Borrell said he "hopes to be able to work towards a relationship that will create a partnership that will further advance our relations based on common interests".

Invitations to visit Turkey were even extended to Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. A détente that began on 12 January 2021 and a speech by Recep Tayyip Erdogan evoking his desire to "put (his) relations with the European Union back on track". The new diplomatic language contrasts with the Turkish declarations of July 2020 when the European Union reached out to Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Many issues to be settled

Nothing has been decided yet as the pages of disagreement have continued to pile up in the binder of relations between Turkey and the EU. From the involvement of the Turkish army in Libya (with violation of the arms embargo) and Syria to gas drilling in controversial waters in the eastern Mediterranean, via the division of the Cypriot island and the purchase of Russian military equipment (defence system) by this member of NATO. Not to mention the quarrel with Paris that has led to unpleasant discussions between the two presidents.

These are all stumbling blocks that will have to be resolved before there can be any real reconciliation. The time has therefore only just come to defuse the situation, to attempt to resume dialogue. Peter Stano, Josep Borrell's spokesman, said that Europeans were wary of "declarations of intent" and wanted "facts and concrete action". His boss, the head of European diplomacy, stressed that "much remains to be done to open a sincere dialogue with Turkey".

Ankara said it was ready to discuss the renewal of the migration agreement concluded with the EU in 2016, the modernisation of the Customs Union and the visa liberalisation promised by the EU. The proximity of the exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey on the Aegean Sea dossier, scheduled for Monday 25 January 2021, has also paved the way for reconciliation. The proposal to organise an international conference on the Eastern Mediterranean has even been put back on the table in Brussels. According to a communiqué of the European Council published after the meeting between its number one and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, "the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean is at the centre of EU-Turkey relations".
 

The EU is Turkey's biggest trading partner

Turkey has wanted to become an EU Member State since April 1987

After an association agreement signed with the European Community in September 1963 (negotiated since July 1959) and then one on customs union in 1995, Turkey has been an official candidate for EU membership since December 1999 (Ankara's application for membership was submitted in April 1987). Accession negotiations started in October 2005. The Council of the Union declared the application at a standstill in 2019 by means of a communiqué. To date, sixteen chapters out of thirty-five have been opened - the last being the chapter on financial and budgetary provisions in June 2016 - and only one closed, that on science and research. All summits between Turkey and the EU and high-level dialogues between their leaders have been suspended since July 2019.

Within two months, Josep Borrell will present a report on political, economic and trade relations between the EU and Turkey. The document, including instruments and options for fostering them, will serve as a basis for discussions between EU leaders at a summit in March.

Part of the reason for Turkey's new attitude is the loss of US support for Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the departure of Donald Trump. But also by the sanctions, albeit timid and applying only to individuals without targeting the state, imposed in December 2020 by the European Union in retaliation for continued gas drilling in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone. The list is expected to be expanded shortly after it has been approved by the foreign affairs ministers who will meet on 25 January 2021. The Turkish President does not want and cannot remain isolated. It is imperative that he should get back together with his first trading partner, the EU of 28. It represented a market share of 41% in 2019. This year Turkey exported $83 billion (€68.2 billion) worth of goods to the EU, which received 48.5% of Turkish exports. The country imported $69bn (€56.7bn) of products from the EU, representing 34.2% of Turkish imports. Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy were its first customers in 2019. And Germany its second supplier after China.

All the more so as the Turkish economic situation is far from flourishing. Despite the statements of its president on Thursday 21 January 2021: "Despite the pandemic, we finished 2020 with rather good results in terms of investments and budget management. In 2021, we aim to achieve greater and more important advances". The country is facing high inflation (14.6% in 2020) and a collapse of its currency, the Turkish lira. Its central bank decided on Thursday 21 January 2021 to leave its main key rate unchanged at 17% after two successive increases in November 2020 following the dismissal of Central Bank Governor Murat Uysal, replaced by Naci Agbal, and the resignation of Berat Albayrak, son-in-law of the President, from his post as Minister of Treasury and Finance (Lütfi Elvan succeeded him).

Frédéric Dubessy


Friday, January 22nd 2021



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