‘It’s about power struggle’: how Turkey and EU have soured relations

By | July 26, 2020
There are more and more reasons for disagreement between Turkey and the European Union.

There are more and more reasons for disagreement between Turkey and the European Union. It is not only about Ankara’s actions in Syria and Libya, its policy already affects the interests of the members of the commonwealth – Greece, and Cyprus. The EU’s response, on the whole, remains soft. Brussels is in no hurry to move to serious measures for fear of consequences that could result, for example, economic sanctions. Meanwhile, relations between the parties are deteriorating and the EU is losing an important strategic partner in the Middle East.
Relations between Turkey and the European Union continue to deteriorate, and the prospects of Ankara joining the commonwealth are becoming more elusive. The parties already openly demonstrate open dislike for each other, between the leaders of the EU and the President of Turkey periodically there are public skirmishes, and Ankara, apparently, no longer considers the opinion of Brussels on certain issues. This process began four years ago, and it seemed at the time that it was a positive development for both sides.
When the European Union desperately tried to resolve the migration crisis in 2016, he turned to Turkey. The parties have concluded an agreement on the admission of refugees expelled from European countries, Turkey has committed itself to curb illegal migration.
In exchange, Ankara was promised funds to help support refugees (6 billion), the visa-free regime under a number of conditions, and activation of negotiations on one of the criteria of Turkey’s accession to the EU – the availability of sufficient financial resources.
A month later, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then-European Council President Donald Tusk visited a Syrian refugee camp in the Turkish province of Gaziantep. The media published photos of European politicians with the children of refugees, as well as their warm welcome in Turkey. At the press conference, Merkel and Tusk announced a sharp reduction in the flow of illegal migrants and that Ankara has shown the best example of caring for the needs of migrants.
In Berlin, the German Chancellor returned with relief – the “open door policy” she promoted had already caused a split within the EU, a rise in nationalist sentiment, and a strengthening of the positions of right-wing Eurosceptic politicians.
Turkey continued to fulfill its part of the treaty properly: already in 2016 the flow of migrants sharply went down and continued to decline, in 2015, 860,000 arrived from Turkish shores in Europe. illegals, but for the first half of 2019 – only 11,000. One of the reasons for this trend was the conclusion of an agreement between the EU and Turkey. At first, there were no problems with payments of the European Union, but the fulfillment of other obligations did not progress, however, formally to complain to Ankara was nothing to do – visa easing is tied to the implementation of Turkey’s certain conditions.
In 2017, the European Union stated that the policy of the Turkish leadership violates the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership, and in 2018 the EU Council reported that “Turkey is increasingly moving away from the European Union.” Irritation grew in Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other members of the government have threatened to stop implementing a deal that is meaningful to the EU.
In March this year, Erdogan, citing delays in payments from the EU and a new flow of Syrian refugees, which Ankara can not cope with after the offensive of Bashar al-Assad on the last enclaves of opponents, decided not to prevent the passage of illegal migrants to Europe. The borders were opened, refugees poured into Europe, the European Union claimed that it complied with all its obligations and called on Ankara to do the same.
Turkey’s irritation has led to the fact that it has ceased to take into account the opinion of the European Union, especially in matters concerning its interests. In October, Ankara launched a military operation in northern Syria without the approval of its NATO allies, after which French President Emmanuel Macron declared the alliance’s brain “death.”
“The President of France, Mr. Macron, I am telling you in Turkey, and I will say to NATO: first check your own head for brain death,” Erdogan said at the time.
The French Foreign Ministry regarded the Turkish leader’s words as an insult, and the Turkish ambassador was also summoned to the ministry.
Ankara soon intervened in the intra-Libyan conflict, where a confrontation is unfolding between the Government of National Accord (PNC) led by Fayez Sarraj and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar.
Late last year, Turkey and the PNC approved a memorandum of military cooperation and understanding of maritime zones signed in November.
According to the document, Turkey can send troops to Libya at any time, if Sarraj asks for it. However, it did not come to that, but Ankara sent additional weapons and military advisers to the country, despite the fact that the result of the Berlin Conference on Libya was the confirmation of the arms embargo on Libya, as well as the refusal to provide military assistance to any of the parties to the conflict.
Turkey’s participation has turned the tide of the conflict, Haftar has lost his main positions and expressed readiness to resolve the situation.
In March, the EU launched an operation Irini naval operation aimed at enforcing the arms embargo. EU High Representative Josep Borrell has repeatedly stated that the operation is not directed against anyone party, although only Turkey supplies arms to Libya by sea.
Soon news began to emerge that Turkish vessels in the Mediterranean are refusing inspections and posing a threat to stability in the region. Emmanuel Macron has again declared the “brain death” of NATO, Ankara again sharply responded to him. The greatest discontent from the EU member states was shown by Greece, which has recently been forced to defend its interests against the encroachment of same Turkey.
The Memorandum of Military Cooperation and Understanding on Maritime Areas between Ankara and the PNC does not recognize Athens’ right to shelf between Rhodes and Crete. Meanwhile, Turkey’s claims to this territory are related to local oil and gas reserves. Since November last year, Ankara has been drilling offshore off the coast of Cyprus. Earlier, Turkey announced plans to start the exploration of the oil shelf in Greek territorial waters.
Athens, defending its interests, declared its readiness for military action in the conflict with Turkey.
Emmanuel Macron recently called for “punishment” of Turkey for violating the sovereignty of Greece and Cyprus in the Mediterranean.
“In this part of the Mediterranean, which is vital for our two countries, energy and security issues are important. It is about the struggle for power, in particular, Turkey and Russia, which are increasingly asserting themselves and in the face of which the EU is still doing too little. Sanctions should be imposed on those involved,” the French leader said, hosting The President of Cyprus Nikos Anastasiades.
However, the sanctions will not come to any point. It cannot be said that the European Union is limited to strict statements. Last November, the European Council approved a list of restrictive measures in response to Turkey’s drilling in the eastern Mediterranean. The sanctions include travel bans and the freezing of the assets of those responsible for exploration.
In addition, Brussels suspended negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement, postponed indefinitely high-level dialogues between the EU and Turkey, and reduced financial aid to Ankara by three-quarters.
The last demonstrative gesture on the part of Turkey was its decision to return the cathedral of St. Sophia to the status of a mosque, which caused outrage of Greece and other EU members.
In general, Brussels’ approach to Ankara’s actions looks soft. And there are reasons for that. First of all, the European Union is thinking about the negative consequences that a more rigid policy towards Turkey can lead to, notes Nikolai Topornin, an assistant professor of European law at MGIMO.
“Previously, quite strong investments were made in Turkey and many countries do not want to lose such an important economic partner, and, of course, they do not welcome such tough sanctions,” the expert notes. “Apparently, they believe in European capitals that we should try to make the most of political and diplomatic opportunities without resorting to economic sanctions because they can hit the EU with a boomerang.”
In the context of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and the economic consequences of it hanging over the world, sanctions against such a large trading partner as Ankara seem to be an undesirable option, primarily for the European Union itself, Topornin notes.
The European Union, by and large, expresses condemnation in words, and, mainly, by the forces of the French president. The rest of the measures taken by the EU simply cannot force Turkey to reckon with the opinion of the West. To date, the only result of the commonwealth’s policy is the deterioration of relations between the parties and the loss of any leverage over Ankara. Meanwhile, Turkey is becoming an increasingly important player in the Middle East and, with its growing influence, it could help the European Union in many ways in certain issues.
Turkey’s intervention in the Libyan conflict, on the one hand, has exacerbated the situation by escalating hostilities. On the other hand, Ankara’s support also helped the UN-recognized government of national accord to confront Haftar and his announced operation to capture the capital.
LNA is now showing signs of a willingness to resolve the conflict. Given the fact that external players are involved in the Libyan issue, it will not be easy to resolve the situation. However, with the EU’s right approach to Turkey, Brussels could take a direct part in ending the conflict and even force Ankara to work for its interests in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, where the interests of at least three of its members – Greece, Cyprus, and Italy – are affected. Probably, including, on the basis of these considerations, the EU is trying to find a balance in the approach to Turkey, but so far in the geopolitical space, this policy brings only disadvantages.

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