EU needs to let go of double standards against Turkey

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Despite Turkey already proving itself to be a trustworthy partner, the EU seems to lack vision. The readmission agreement between the two sides is the latest example of this.

Ankara recently declared the readmission agreement with the European Union is no longer functional, and experts say the main reason for this is the EU’s failure to deliver on its commitments stemming from the deal and discretional treatment of Turkey. Valeria Giannotta, an academic expert in Turkish politics and international relations, said that the EU has not fulfilled its pledge to provide the visa liberalization for Turkish citizens heading to European countries while Turkey, since 2016, has been taking the burden of hosting the refugees despite some delays in the financial support.

“I believe the recent statement of Minister Çavuşoğlu refers to this double standard treatment that became much more evident after the European sanctions on Turkey’s drilling activities on the Eastern Mediterranean. Among other thing, the sanctions are based on a serious downgrade of Turkey’s pre-accession financial support by the EU. Shortly, the principle ‘pacta sunt servanda’ (deals have to be respected) have not been fulfilled by the EU and Turkey had been treated discretionally,” she added.

A few weeks ago, Ankara announced that the readmission deal with the European Union signed in April 2016 will no longer be functional as long as the bloc continues to not fulfill its promise of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

“We will not wait at the EU’s door. The readmission agreement and visa-free deal will be put into effect at the same time,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in a television interview, and added that Turkey has decided to suspend its commitments in the deal.

Ankara and Brussels signed an agreement in 2016 to find a solution to the influx of refugees heading to the union. According to the deal, Turkey was promised a total of 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in financial aid, which was initially designed to be given to the country in two stages and be used by the Turkish government to finance projects for Syrian refugees. Visa freedom for Turkish citizens was also promised to be provided under the agreement.

The customs union was also to be updated in accordance with the deal. In exchange for these promises of the EU, Turkey took the responsibility of discouraging irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of more than 3 million Syrians living in Turkey.

Despite significant developments in the control of migration traffic, the EU could not deliver on its commitments stated in the deal.

Emre Gönen, an academic from Istanbul Bilgi University, said that the readmission agreement between Turkey and the European Union was a very comprehensive agreement adding, “As I understand, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu talked about the part that Turkey would take back refugees who went to the EU from Turkey and the EU would accept the same amount of refugees in exchange.”

Saying that this part of the deal did not work already, Gönen added the EU’s commitment to pay a total of 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in two separate payments for solidarity projects has mostly been realized despite the slow process.

“Despite the racist discourse in the media with news like ‘the state pays a salary to Syrians,’ most of this financial aid consisted of the EU’s payments,” he said, adding that the EU completed the first 3 billion euro payment and that the second 3 billion euro payment has been launched.

Underlining that the project and financial aid parts of the agreement still continue, Gönen said, “In other areas, there is no progress because of the growing tension between Turkey and the EU. Therefore, we could not see any progress in the visa liberalization process or the opening of new chapters in Turkey’s accession process.”

TUrkey most active country in hosting Syrian refugees

In the third anniversary of the EU-Turkey refugee deal, migration flow in the Aegean Sea has decreased by 96% thanks to Turkey’s efforts. The number of irregular migration has dropped to 32,494 in 2018 from almost 856,000 in 2015, based on data by the United Nations refugee agency. Due to improvement in the frequency of irregular migration, deaths caused by irregular migration in the Aegean Sea have decreased significantly. Moreover, Turkey hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world.”Well, Turkey has been active in hosting the huge amount of Syrian refugees almost alone since the conflict erupted in 2011. The international community started to support Ankara just after the 2016 agreement and the EU was late in delivering all the financial assistance to Turkey. As matter of fact, Turkey’s effort in dealing with refugees is incomparable and has to be unanimously recognized,” said Gianotta and added that since the agreement was signed it seems that the EU did not intend to fulfil its responsibilities in liberalizing the visa for Turkish citizens.

“Out of the negotiating path, Brussels criticized the current Turkish law against terrorism as a condition for the visa liberalization. The outcome was a discretional and hypocritical approach toward Turkey,” she stated.

EU struggles with migration problems

Gianotta recalled that nowadays Europe is struggling with a new wave of immigrants mainly coming from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and with the rise of far-right European governments, such as in the Italian case, many are refusing immigrants by not allowing them to land on their shores.

“Immigration and security is a core issue in continental Europe and along the closure of the Balkan way, Turkey remains a valid and trustable partner. Actually, Ankara has already proved to be a trustworthy partner, but the EU seems to be a victim to blind vision,” she said and added that by breaking the agreement, the EU has to face a huge issue and it does not have the means to cope with this.

“There is no a common policy or vision on refugees as the last episodes prove. Therefore I believe Brussels will step back on Turkey, it is in the EU interest to contain the flow as it is rational to adopt fair treatment with Turkey,” she added.

On the other hand, regarding the possibility of a new refugee wave if the deal between Turkey and the EU no longer function, Gönen said, “Syrians who want to go to Europe went already. Syrians living in Turkey are content with their lives. Therefore, I do not expect a further refugee wave in the future.”

Turkey’s journey to become a member of the EU has seen numerous ups and downs in the last 50 years. Turkey has always been open to cooperation, doing its part within the bounds of its capabilities in the negotiations, which started in 1963 with the Ankara Agreement. Yet, Turkey has been waiting for membership for decades as the EU keeps dragging its feet on the process.

In 1963, Turkey first signed the Ankara Agreement that foresaw the abolition of tariffs and quotas on goods as part of integration in the customs union with the European Economic Community (EEC), the predecessor of the EU, acknowledging the final goal of membership.

After a long interim period, Turkey signed the European Constitution in 2004, leading to negotiations for full membership to be launched in 2005, when the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was enjoying its first term in power. However, negotiations stalled once again in 2007 due to objections to opening chapters by the Greek Cypriot administration on the divided island of Cyprus.

“I consider EU-Turkey relations as a sort of stalemate. Since the negotiations started in 2005, it was visible a sort of malfunctioning logic due to the unresolved Cyprus issue (Cyprus got accepted as an full EU member in 2004 despite the Greek side rejecting the Annan Plan, and it got the right to veto the main chapters of the Turkish accession process). It was a path blocked since the very beginning,” Gianotta said and added what happened afterward and what we are witnessing in the Eastern Mediterranean, as seen by the recent statements of both sides, it is the product of a negotiation affected by double standards since the very beginning.

Commenting on the current situation of EU-Turkey relations and its future, Gönen said, “Both sides should take steps for normalization. A new commission is about to be elected within the EU, a new parliament was already elected. A new opening policy is needed,” adding that Turkey can trigger this new opening with democratic reforms.

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