He urged TikTok to “accelerate” compliance with the new EU rules

He urged TikTok to “accelerate” compliance with the new EU rules

BRUSSELS: The heads of diplomacy of the 27 nations met Thursday in Brussels to discuss a possible strengthening of their ties with Turkey, as they failed to offer a credible opportunity for EU membership.

This debate over a core partner has been planned for a long time, and it took on even greater significance after last week’s NATO summit in Vilnius, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan played the role of spoiler.

The latter caused a surprise by stipulating the green light for Sweden’s accession to NATO to relaunch talks on Turkey’s accession to the European Union, which have been stalled for several years.

After intense diplomatic activity, he finally lifted his veto on Stockholm’s accession to the alliance. While he warned that there would be no ratification before October at the earliest.

In turn, the Europeans paved the way for the consolidation of relations with Ankara: after meeting with the Turkish leader, European Council President Charles Michel spoke in a tweet about their common desire to “revitalize” relations between Turkey and the European Union.

Sweden agreed to “actively support” efforts to revitalize Turkey’s accession process, while helping modernize the customs union and visa liberalization, according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

These last two issues are important in Ankara’s eyes.

The Customs Union Agreement between Turkey and the EU has been in place since 1995 and could therefore be adapted to encourage more trade, while potential visa liberalization would ease entry requirements for Turkish nationals into the EU.

“The decline of the rule of law”

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In general, the time has come to “reassess the EU’s relations with one of its most important neighbours,” after President Erdogan was re-elected at the end of May for a third term, notes a European official.

At their summit in June, the heads of state and government of the 27 countries invited the EU’s chief of diplomacy, Josep Borrell, to prepare an inventory of relations with Turkey – a report that awaits the fall.

If enhanced cooperation is mentioned in terms of tariffs or visas, it is difficult to envision a short-term progress in Turkey’s EU accession process.

Negotiations that began in 2005 have stumbled over the years. Until the twenty-seven were sentenced, in 2018, to a “dead end” due to decisions that Ankara considered contrary to the interests of the European Union and “a continuous and alarming deterioration in the rule of law and fundamental rights.”

Relations between Brussels and Ankara were very tense after the failed coup attempt in July 2016 and the crackdown on dissidents and journalists thereafter.

And the European director asserts: “Turkey remains a candidate for membership in the European Union, and we have signals from Ankara indicating that they want at least an open and serious discussion with us about difficulties and points of difference.”

“The idea is to let ministers discuss it, see how they see the situation, what avenues of action they envision,” he continues.

Visa liberalization

However, the visa liberalization claimed by Turkey could be complicated by the ongoing dispute over Cyprus.

Since Turkey conquered its northern third in 1974, the island has been divided between the Republic of Cyprus – a member of the European Union – which exercises authority in the south, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). 1983 and recognized only by Ankara.

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“It is clear that this is one of the main points of contention (…) and it will be one of the topics of discussion” Thursday, the European official stressed.

However, geopolitical crises still make Turkey an essential partner for the European Union.

After the migration crisis in 2015, the European Union countries concluded an agreement with Ankara aimed at limiting the arrival of migrants to Europe, in return for a large financial compensation – part of the then promised 6 billion euros has yet to be paid.

In addition, Turkey is accused of circumventing Western sanctions against Moscow in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, especially by transporting Russian oil despite the European embargo, but last year it played the role of mediator to cancel the ban on Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea.

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