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EU-Turkey relations following the European Council: Can a positive agenda work?

Meriç Dağlı / Unsplash
Meriç Dağlı / Unsplash

Experts from politics and academia discussed Turkey's alarming human rights, democracy and rule of law standards. The conclusion was that the improvement of the EU-Turkey relationship is limited due to complex conflicts.

Within the context of the European Council decisions of March 25-26, the Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP), together with the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), organized a virtual discussion forum on March 30, 2021 on the topic "EU-Turkey Relations following the European Council: Can a positive Agenda work?"

The positive agenda is a preliminary offer by the EU to gradually improve bilateral relations- However, this is subject to clear conditions and includes the possibility of tougher sanctions. Therefore, the event focused on the question to what extent and under which conditions the positive agenda offered by the EU can contribute to an improvement of EU-Turkey relations.
This question was addressed by Senem Aydin Düzgit, Professor of International Relations at Sabancı University and Academic Affairs Coordinator of Istanbul Policy Centre, Panagiotis Ioakeimidis, Professor Emeritus of European Politics at the University of Athens, Dimitris Kairidis, Member of Parliament for Nea Dimokratia and Professor of International Relations at Pantion University, Nils Schmid, Foreign Policy Spokesman for the SPD Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag, and Wolfgang Wessels, Director of the Center for Turkey and EU Studies (CETEUS) at the University of Cologne. The event was moderated by Funda Tekin, IEP Director, and Ioannis N. Grigoriadis, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the ELIAMEP Turkey Program.

It was already apparent from the opening remarks that the multi-faceted nature of EU-Turkey relations would make the question of the positive agenda complex. Thus, the positive agenda offered the possibility for a more constructive shaping of relations on several levels. In addition to visa liberalization and conflict resolution in Syria, for example, the modernization of the Customs Union and deeper cooperation in migration policy through the provision of EU funds for refugees in Turkey should be mentioned here. The positive agenda, together with the more constructive approach of Turkish foreign policy in recent months, therefore sent important new and important impulses of de-escalation and cooperation.
However, disagreement on changes to the 2016 EU-Turkey Declaration on Cooperation in Migration Policy persists, he said, adding that Turkey's refusal to extend the Customs Union to the Republic of Cyprus prevents the latter from modernizing.

Above all, the Cyprus issue, now a top priority on the European agenda, and the situation in the eastern Mediterranean are straining EU-Turkey relations. The EU is "helpless" in the Cyprus conflict, he said, and a solution is unlikely due to the stalemate of both parties.

With regard to the situation of Turkey's human rights, democracy and rule of law standards, he said it was worrying that these were neither given a central place in the decisions of the European Council nor laid down as clear conditionality for a deepening of the relationship. This is particularly problematic in the context of the increasingly authoritarian policies of the Turkish president, which are also exacerbating Turkey's economic plight. The EU must take a values-based approach to foreign policy, he said, because violations of its values outside the Union also affect its resilience within the Union. The EU must stand united vis-à-vis Turkey, he said, in part to counter Turkey's confrontational posturing in the eastern Mediterranean and to strengthen the EU's influence in international security policy.

In summary, the possibilities for a substantial and sustainable improvement of the EU-Turkey relationship are limited by the positive agenda due to multi-layered conflicts. Nevertheless, the positive agenda offers a constructive, albeit tentative, proposal for a gradual rapprochement. Although Turkey's accession perspective is receding further into the distance, its close ties to the EU are of interest to both sides. However, a deeper relationship between the EU and Turkey would have to be value-based, which would require an improvement of Turkey's internal situation. Since this is likely to be difficult, the exact design and implementation of the positive agenda remains a fundamental question for the future of EU-Turkey relations.

Team & authors

About the Europe talks project: The IEP's Europe Talks bring together citizens, decision-makers, academics and civil society to discuss challenges and perspectives on European integration. In this way, they promote the debate on European policy in Germany.

Image copyright: Meriç Dağlı / Unsplash