Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece

Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece

ATHENS (RAHNUMA) The month of June could prove crucial for the mid-term and long-term future of Greek-Turkish relations, but also for the next steps in Ankara’s relationship with the EU.

The “twin summits” of NATO and the EU in Brussels, to be held on June 14 and June 24-25, respectively, could help clear the air between the two rivals and prepare the ground for a more positive agenda.

Athens and Ankara are exploring the possibility for a bilateral meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit.

However, nothing has been agreed yet, and a planned visit by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Athens in May will reveal if there is enough common ground for such a meeting.

But Erdogan will also meet with his US counterpart President Joe Biden on June 14, and the bilateral agenda will cover heavyweight issues, ranging from the S-400 missile system to the Eastern Mediterranean dispute.

A few days later, EU leaders will deal once more with the bloc’s relationship with Turkey.
Since the last European Council in March, member states decided to follow a dual-track approach toward Ankara, aiming to promote a positive agenda on issues such as the upgrade of the Customs Union and the EU-Turkey Statement on Migration.

In parallel, the EU is monitoring Turkey’s behavior toward Greece and Cyprus, following last summer’s escalation by Ankara when it sent seismic vessels in maritime areas close to Greek islands, violating the sovereign rights of both states and sparking regional tensions.

Is there hope for a more sustained and viable relationship in the region?

“There is an obvious de-escalation with regard to Turkey’s illegal activities in disputed waters, but Ankara continues its provocative rhetoric, threatening Greece on a regular basis,” said Konstantinos Filis, executive director of the Institute of International Relations at Athens’ Panteion University.

He added: “The core problem, though, is that despite diplomatic efforts and the resumption of exploratory talks, the two sides have avoided dealing with the fundamental problems that have negatively affected bilateral ties for decades. But at the same time, it is convenient to demonstrate that tensions are under control.”

Many experts believe that Ankara wants closer ties with the EU, even for opportunistic reasons, as the Turkish economy is facing increasing problems.

“The upcoming European summit is expected to once again examine relations with Turkey. Sanctions may be out of the question, but I do not foresee any drastic development in refreshing the EU-Turkey agenda,” said Filis.

“The Biden factor is certainly crucial. His insistence on human rights and democracy rendered it imperative that the Europeans follow. So, in such an environment, and given Ankara’s constant retreat from European values, unleashing the so-called positive agenda will not be an easy task. The EU needs a more solid approach on behalf of Turkey. The revision of the joint statement of March 2016 addressing the migration crisis might be considered,” he added.

George Pagoulatos, a politics professor and director of prominent Greek think tank ELIAMEP, said: “The European Council on March 25 outlined its readiness to positively engage with Turkey in a ‘phased, proportionate and reversible manner,’ subject to the conditions set out in previous European Council conclusions.

“There are a number of ‘low-politics’ areas of cooperation, including public health, climate, counterterrorism and migration management. This dual approach is the right framework; a positive agenda highly conditional on Turkey’s actions, given its track record of rule of law violations and provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

Could an upgrade of the Customs Union deliver a win-win solution for all sides? “The Customs Union is the only institutionalized instrument that remains important for both the EU and Turkey, given the density of trade relations,” Pagoulatos said.

“There is a strong incentive, especially on Turkey’s part, to update the Customs Union. This in itself offers an opportunity to strengthen political and economic ties in EU relations with Turkey,” he added.

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