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Face to Face with Illusions and Realities

On the occasion of the International Peace Congress organized in Paris in 1849, in his speech entitled “A Day Will Come,” Victor Hugo had spoken of a period when Europe would be known as the "United States of Europe" and where in his words:

“You France, you Russia, you Italy, you England, you Germany, you all, nations of the continent, without losing your distinct qualities and your glorious individuality, will be merged closely within a superior unit and you will form the European brotherhood.”

A European Union exists to-day but without Russia.

John Maynard Keynes in 1930 in his Essays in Persuasions wrote an article called “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” where he tried to answer the following question: “What can we reasonably expect the level of our economic life to be a hundred years hence? What are the economic possibilities for our grandchildren?” His answer was as follows:

“The pace at which we can reach our destination of economic bliss will be governed by four things; our power to control population, our determination to avoid wars and civil dissensions, our willingness to entrust to science the direction of those matters which are properly the concern of science, and the rate of accumulation as fixed by the margin between our production and our consumption; of which the last will easily look after itself, given the first three.”

The influx of refugees from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, and the specter of the rise of extreme right parties and fascism within the EU forces us to contemplate a somewhat dark future for Europe.

Today, we are far from being able to make similar projections for our world or the EU. We can no longer speak of a unifying Europe at a time when we speak of a Brexit and Grexit, or of an EU with no problems when it is still living the economic side effects of the 2008 crisis which started hitting them hard in 2009. The recovery is still slow and the Eurozone still prone to ups and downs. To the existing economic crisis, new social and political problems have been added. The influx of refugees from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, and the specter of the rise of extreme right parties and fascism within the EU forces us to contemplate a somewhat dark future for Europe.

Things do not look too bright for Turkey either. The economy is slowing down, many cities and regions of Turkey are living the aftershocks of having close to three million Syrian refugees living in the country, looking for jobs, living quarters, and schools while the widening conflict in Turkey’s southeast between government forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continues causing domestic and regional uncertainties.

These multifarious problems have led Turkey and the EU to revitalize their up till now frozen relations.

The EU that had always emphasized its concerns on human rights, civil liberties, and democracy in Turkey seems now to have replaced the priority it had given to these fundamental values with new concerns about regional security, rising terrorism in the West, and the increase in the flow of refugees. This duplicity in the way relations between Turkey and the EU is conducted is saddening but a reality.

The Turkey-EU Summit meeting of November 29, 2015 and the meetings that followed the summit allowed for the opening of a new Chapter ­– Chapter 17 – in the accession negotiations, the starting of discussions over visa free travel for Turkish citizens by the end of the current year, the upgrading of the Customs Union Agreement, and the initiation of multiple talks on energy cooperation. This revitalization of relations was coolly welcomed by pro-EU constituencies in Turkey. One has only become too used to the "one step forward two steps back" policies of both the EU and Turkey.

The EU that had always emphasized its concerns on human rights, civil liberties, and democracy in Turkey seems now to have replaced the priority it had given to these fundamental values with new concerns about regional security, rising terrorism in the West, and the increase in the flow of refugees.

Chapter 17 on Economic and Monetary Policy which was opened to negotiation during the Intergovernmental Conference last December had been formerly blocked by France's former President Nicolas Sarkozy. It is the 15th chapter to have been opened out of a total of 35. In my opinion, Turkey will face no trouble in aligning itself to the directives of Chapter 17. Its level of alignment to the Maastricht Criteria is somewhat satisfactory especially with regard to the levels of budgetary deficit and public debt. But inflation, total independence of the central bank, and aligning Turkey’s laws with the EU’s Economic and Monetary Policy legislation are areas in which further progress is needed.

The visa issue is a complex one. It is stated that by October 2016, Turkish citizens will be able to travel to the EU without a visa. However, 72 criteria have to be met by Turkey during this visa liberalization roadmap, including the recognition of Cyprus which currently Turkey does not recognize. This political issue will have to be resolved before visa exemption for Turkish citizens can become a reality. Visa-free travel is also contingent on Turkey implementing the EU-Turkey readmission agreement, which would result in third country citizens illegally entering Europe via Turkey forced to return to Turkey. The agreement is an ambiguous one since all illegal entrants from Turkey, independent of the time they might have moved to an EU country, could be sent back. There seems to be no time limit and one expert jokingly pointed out that even those illegal immigrants who had entered Europe in the 1940s could end up being sent back.

Upgrading the Customs Union agreement (CU)[1] by modernizing its functioning and extending it to new areas and Turkey's inclusion in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)[2] are two important topics on Turkey's agenda. It has been argued for quite sometime that the present CU agreement was in need of revision. When examining the many possibilities concerning what kind of changes might be involved, five potential scenarios come to light:

1. Not changing the agreement thus letting the current and worsening implementation deficit and non-compliance record stand

2. Modernizing the agreement by making amendments without changing its sectorial scope, that is letting it deal only with industrial products

3. Taking the agreement as a base and revising it with a view to facilitating its functioning and expanding it to cover new areas

4. Working out a totally new CU agreement

5. Replacing the CU with a Free Trade Agreement

My preference would be Scenario 3 since it would necessitate less time to agree on revisions than rewriting a totally new CU agreement.

Since Turkey is not a member of the EU, Turkey’s inclusion in the TTIP faces serious obstacles. There is a slight chance that when a final agreement on TTIP is reached, Turkey might be integrated into the agreement since it is already a candidate country that has already signed a Customs Union Agreement with the EU. If this does not happen, then the solution might reside in Turkey’s signing a separate Free Trade Agreement with the US. Right now the EU-US trade talks are still continuing and a final agreement does not appear to be within reach. The 12th round of talks will take place in Brussels from 22 to 26 February 2016. We should be ready for a succession of rounds in the future.

Coming back to where we stand today in Turkey’s relations with the EU, the main item on the agenda for the EU seems to be to secure its borders with the help of Turkey in return for which it will extend financial aid to Turkey for hosting refugees while leaving the door slightly open for future accession. Wondering whether we shall ever squeeze in...


[1] European Commission, “Enhancement of EU-Turkey bilateral trade relations and modernization of the EU-Turkey Customs Union,” August 2015,

[2] Kemal Kirişci, "Turkey and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Boosting the Model Partnership with the United States" The Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE) at Brookings, Policy paper Number 2, September 2013.


Gül Günver Turan
Gül Günver Turan

Dr. Gül Günver Turan is the President of the Turkey European Union Association (TURABDER) and European Movement Turkey.

This issue was published in collaboration with AmCham Turkey.
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