OPINION - New momentum: Türkiye and the EU are an inseparable duo

OPINION - New momentum: Türkiye and the EU are an inseparable duo

Türkiye and the EU are fundamentally inseparable and 'attached to the hip'

By Samuel Doveri Vesterbye

- The author is managing director of the European Neighbourhood Council (ENC), an European Union-funded independent think tank based in Brussels with staff in Belgium, Türkiye, and across Central Asia.

- He is an expert on Turkish-EU relations and EU-Central Asia relations, including supply-chain geo-economics, trade and security.

- He writes policy briefs, data-driven analysis and book chapters, including Palgrave Macmillan’s "Managing Security Threats along the EU’s Eastern Flank." He regularly advises the European Parliament, European External Action Service, and EU member states on foreign policy.

ISTANBUL (AA) - Türkiye and the EU are facing a positive turn in their otherwise bumpy diplomatic relations. A recent EU Council conclusion calls for a more geopolitical and positive outlook toward Türkiye, while the Vilnius NATO summit resulted in a warm welcome by everyone of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s surprise decision to give green light to Sweden's NATO membership.

In the media, President Erdogan’s move has been linked both to the sales of American F-16 fighter jets, as well as Sweden’s commitment to improve intelligence cooperation, namely surrounding the PKK terrorist organization, and unblocking Türkiye’s bid to join the EU. F-16 technology is a crucial and long-standing demand from Türkiye, but the honest truth remains that independent Swedish courts don’t conform to the Foreign Minister of Sweden. A less talked about concession, which Türkiye obtained, is the promise by Stockholm to revive Turkish Customs Union modernization.

This promise is likely to be a major benefit to Türkiye, since increasingly more EU countries view Customs Union modernization as the motor of a revived Türkiye-EU geopolitical relationship. The 2016 Impact Assessment indicates that such a modernization of the EU’s most important Customs Union in the world (with Türkiye) would raise welfare in the EU and Türkiye by €5 billion ($5.48 billion) and €12 billion respectively [1].

Türkiye is currently looking for investor credibility and a solid liquidity injection, which a renewed Customs Union would bring to Turkish citizens, its business sector and government. In fact, due to the economic policies of Türkiye, it is increasingly indispensable that Türkiye and EU deepen their regulatory frameworks, decision-making process and trade into services and agriculture in order for the Turkish economy to remain sustainable.

- Interdependence leads development in relations

The improvement in the relationship between Ankara and Brussels has happened due to various reasons. Firstly, President Erdogan made a series of strategic choices (regarding for example Ukraine, Azov, Sweden) in the past weeks, which have overall been viewed very positively by fellow European and NATO countries. Secondly, a new and very experienced Turkish Ambassador to the EU, Faruk Kaymakci, has been appointed to Brussels, and his efforts throughout the past months and packed meetings with high-level EU officials are paying off in terms of developing rapport and trust. Thirdly, the EU and its member countries are fast realizing that Türkiye is an indispensable ally for the EU, both in terms of supply-chains, as well as due to geo-strategic calculations linked to security, energy, critical raw materials and land-connectivity toward Asia.

All of the above should be understood in the context of interdependence. When looking frankly at the economic, foreign direct investment, supply-chain and financial figures, there is consensus amongst EU and Turkish economists and policy-makers that Türkiye and the EU are “attached at the hip” and fundamentally inseparable. With over 7,500 German companies operating inside of Türkiye, and thousands more from other EU member countries, it is clear that Türkiye not only represents the EU’s back-office in terms of production and supply-chains, while also providing Europe’s key to renewable and green energy transition.

The on-going war in Ukraine has exacerbated this interdependence between Türkiye and the EU, which is particularly clear in terms of transport, critical raw materials, energy and supply-chain corridors eastwards, which remain defined by Türkiye and Georgia’s geographic locations.

The same can be said for Türkiye, which is similarly codependent on the EU for financial stability, foreign direct investment, employment and – since the devastating earthquake – emergency relief and reconstruction support.

- Cooperation should be widened

A new momentum and an upcoming report, which is being prepared by the EU’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (EEAS) and European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) will support the EU countries in the Council and help provide new options for an improved relationship. However, it is important to remind the EU and its countries that supporting Customs Union reform is only the beginning, and should be rapidly followed by a wider, more structured and security-oriented approach in the relationship between Türkiye and the EU.

In order to support a more stable, predictable and converging of foreign policies between Türkiye and the EU, it is key to support the development of a "common European security architecture" which takes Türkiye into account. The aim would be to avoid a spiral of deteriorating relations and the weaponization or blackmail of shared policies and interests, which would likely lead to an eventual and undesirable scenario of loose-loose geo-economics, shared economic investments, supply-chains and geopolitics.

The first step in this positive process remains Customs Union reform, but it is key that increased discussions about possible Türkiye-EU cooperation in EU security areas like Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) missions is put on the agenda. Two ideal starting points could be the existing Kosovo and Ukraine missions, which would greatly benefit from Turkish involvement.

[1] https://www.tepav.org.tr/upload/files/1491836076-0.A_Modernized_EU_Turkey_Customs_Union.pdf

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu.​​​​​​​

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