No way for Turkey and the EU other than cooperation

Think back to an image that, for many, was truly worth a thousand words.

It came when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen found her fellow senior EU official taking the only available chair next to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the duo’s visit to Ankara.

Footage from their meeting showed the first woman to head the European Commission, the only woman in the talks, gesturing in disbelief and heaving a surprised sigh as Erdogan and European Council President Charles Michel took the two seats center stage, relegating her to a neighbor. sofa.

It happened almost a year ago, in April 2021 and, for many, seemed to sum up the relationship at the time between the European Union and Turkey.

But, almost a year later, have things improved between the two parties?

This is a question that was on the lips of participants at a recent high-level conference in Brussels on EU-Turkey relations.

It is clear that the strategic relationship between Turkey and the EU has deteriorated, but just as much as Turkey needs the European Union and NATO for its security, the EU and NATO also need from Turkey.

In a few crucial areas, the EU should consider cooperating with Turkey in a much more strategic way and Turkey could play an important role in Syria, the Western Balkans, the Black Sea and Afghanistan.

But, at the same time, closer cooperation does not mean the EU should stop pushing Turkey on issues such as human rights and media freedom. At the same time, Europeans must recognize that Turkey is more than Erdogan, its president.

Turkey has been a staunch ally of the West in the areas of foreign policy and defence, particularly within the framework of NATO since 1952. While bearing a crucial responsibility over NATO’s security architecture During the Cold War, Turkey contributed to a number of security operations, peacekeeping missions and counter-piracy and terrorism efforts in the post-Cold War era. Furthermore, Turkey is expected to make a substantial contribution to European energy security after the completion of the Southern Gas Corridor and other potential energy projects.

The Brussels conference learned that more must now be done to translate these long-standing strategic ties into closer diplomatic relations between the EU and Turkey, particularly following recent differences over Syria, Libyaand the Eastern Mediterranean.

The event was organized by an EU-funded project which aims to strengthen civil society dialogue in the field of migration and security between the EU and Turkey.

Dialogue and negotiations are essential to ease tensions and increase convergence in the field of foreign and defense policy between the EU and Turkey and, the conference was told, civil society has a crucial role to play in fostering cooperation rather than hostilities. Recent developments show that it is increasingly necessary to develop cooperation mechanisms and seek common ground in order to solve existing problems and meet common challenges, such as the increase in migration flows.

These common challenges can be addressed more effectively by achieving better alignment in the area of ​​foreign and defense policy.

Currently, there are more than 150,000 Russian soldiers at the Ukrainian border and most agree that this threatens the stability of Turkey, NATO and the EU. At this critical time, it is high time for both parties, the EU and Turkey, to find ways to strengthen their cooperation, including in the field of energy.

The conference was organized by the Brussels-based NGO, Dialogue for Europe (DfE), in cooperation with the European Union and the Ankara-based World Research Organization (ABKAD). The DfE, in partnership with ABKAD, is currently implementing a project entitled “Strengthening the dialogue between the EU and Turkey in the field of migration and security”. The project is funded by the European Union under the “Support to Civil Society Dialogue between EU and Turkey”.

Polish MEP Ryszard Czarnecki, Chairman of the EU-Turkey Friendship Group in the European Parliament, was among the conference participants and noted that Turkey is the EU’s 6th largest trading partner. He believes that civil society has an important role to play in raising awareness of the positive aspects of migration and bringing the two sides closer together.

“I have worked on EU-Turkey relations for many years and strengthening defense and security cooperation is becoming of crucial importance and can help prevent future humanitarian and refugee crises like the one we are facing. we experienced in 2015. Since then we have seen irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the EU.These long-standing links must now be translated into firm action which has been hampered by recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Looking ahead, he added, “We should seek inclusiveness and more constructive approaches, as the cost of isolation [Turkey] should be carefully considered by the EU and the Member States. At the same time, Turkey must be a bridge between East and West while continuing to respect values. Successful cooperation on migration could give new impetus to relations as well as to the accession dialogue which has been stalled for years. But I believe that the EU considers Turkey [an] important ally and Turkey can also make substantial contributions [contributions].”

Retired Ambassador Selim Kuneralp, Turkey’s former permanent delegate to the EU, admits that there have been many ups and downs in EU-Turkey relations, but the three main ones are the completion of the customs union, the Helsinki Council and the decision to start accession negotiations in 2004.

The common thread that connects the three is Turkey’s accession to the EU.

The EU regards Turkey as an important ally but, due to the “Cyprus problemrelations have rather regressed.

It is estimated that 60% of Turks still want EU membership but, worryingly, a larger majority also believe that this will not happen.

The paradox, says Kuneralp, is “unfortunate and frustrating,” but it is in the EU’s interest to have a mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey.

The title of the conference was how the two sides can better cooperate on migration and security and some look to Turkey to eliminate the reasons for migration.

On security, Professor Haldun Yalçınkaya, head of political science and international relations at TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Turkey, said that Turkey had done what it had to do, but not the EU.

“Remember, in a year we will have elections in Turkey, and that is an elephant in the room. For the first time in history, migration will be an issue for all parties. He noted: “ In recent years, the flow of refugees from Syria to Turkey has been a major humanitarian disaster.

For Amanda Paul, Senior Policy Analyst at the European Policy Center (EPC), Turkey is further from the EU than it has ever been and there has been a big shift in the way the EU looks at the Turkey. “In some cases, he doesn’t even consider Turkey an ally.”

Paul said: “Turkey is often compared to Russia and China, although this is short-sighted. I believe we should look at the bigger picture which is a world in disarray and also the rise of China.

“Middle powers like Turkey have become more prominent and Turkey wants to be part of EU security and defense initiatives, such as PESCO, the European Defense Fund and the European Defense Agency. It’s logic.”

“We must remember that during the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, Turkey stood shoulder to shoulder with its allies, so that increased dialogue is possible in this area.”

Looking to the future, she predicts that relations will never be a “bed of roses” but, even so, both sides share common challenges and Turkey should be an essential ally and partner in meeting these challenges.

Relations between Brussels and Ankara are strained since an attempted coup in 2016 have provoked a crackdown in Turkey, but they are now testing a cautious rapprochement.

For each of the recent and ongoing conflicts, be it Syria or migration, there is no other way for Turkey and the EU but cooperation. Therefore, it is time for the EU and Turkey to put aside their past differences, but learn from them and urgently seek strategic collaboration at the highest level.

Perhaps it is really a question of finding the political will and the necessary foresight.

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