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New momentum: Turkiye and the EU are an inseparable duo

July 28, 2023 at 3:29 pm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with President of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (L) within the second session of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Heads of State and Government Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania on July 12, 2023. [TUR Presidency/Murat Cetinmuhurdar – Anadolu Agency]

Turkiye 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 Turkiye, while the Vilnius NATO summit resulted in a warm welcome by everyone of Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s surprise decision to give a green light to Sweden’s NATO membership.

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

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

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Turkiye 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 Turkiye, it is increasingly indispensable that Turkiye 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 realising that Turkiye 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 Turkiye and the EU are “attached at the hip” and fundamentally inseparable. With over 7,500 German companies operating inside of Turkiye, and thousands more from other EU member countries, it is clear that Turkiye 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 Turkiye and the EU, which is particularly clear in terms of transport, critical raw materials, energy and supply-chain corridors eastwards, which remain defined by Turkiye and Georgia’s geographic locations.

The same can be said for Turkiye, which is similarly co-dependent 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 Neighbourhood 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 Turkiye and the EU.

In order to support a more stable, predictable and converging of foreign policies between Turkiye and the EU, it is key to support the development of a “common European security architecture” which takes Turkiye into account. The aim would be to avoid a spiral of deteriorating relations and the weaponisation 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 Turkiye-EU cooperation in EU security areas, like Common Security and Defence 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.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.