'EU's foreign policy vis-à-vis Turkey lackluster'

Turkey’s European Union Minister Egemen Bağış is welcomed by Danish European Affairs Minister Nicolaï Wammen (R) and European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Czech Stefan Füle (L) at the start a EU-Turkey ministerial accession conference at the European Council Headquarters in Brussels, on June 22, 2012. (Photo: EPA, Olivier Hoslet)

January 31, 2013, Thursday/ 08:57:00

Despite the economic crisis across the European Union, the 27-member bloc has conducted a complex foreign policy, however, with no upturn seen in relations with Turkey in 2012, ranking the bilateral ties among the EU's least successful foreign policy initiatives.

The 2013 annual edition of the European Council on Foreign Relations' (ECFR) groundbreaking “European Foreign Policy Scorecard,” which comprises an overall evaluation of the effectiveness of the EU's foreign policy, suggests that the EU experienced a difficult year in its relations with Turkey during the entire course of 2012.

“Europeans continued to struggle on Turkey, with a muddled situation on bilateral relations and frustrating developments on foreign policy,” the report says, while looking back on the bilateral relations between the EU and Turkey in 2012.

Evaluating the effectiveness of Europe as a global player, the scorecard focused on policies and results rather than institutional processes. It assigned two scores -- unity and resources, each graded out of five -- for European policies themselves, and a third score -- outcome, graded out of 10 -- for results. The sum of these scores was then translated into a letter grade from A (outstanding) to F (failure).

Thus, in each of three categories that assessed the EU's foreign policy in regards to Turkey -- namely bilateral relations with Turkey, rule of law, democracy and human rights in Turkey, and relations with Turkey on the Cyprus question -- the EU's grade was C-, the lowest grade in the report.

The difficulty for EU-Turkey relations was directly linked to the lack of progress in the Cyprus issue, the French opposition to Turkey's EU bid and Ankara's preoccupation not with EU membership but with domestic policies and the civil war in Syria, which is challenging Turkey in terms of the Kurdish issue. This is already an uneasy topic and creates political tension in the country, according to the report.

France's newly elected President François Hollande intimated that 2012 might bring progress to the stalled relations. It did not happen, though, as “Hollande has not yet lifted any of the vetoes [which] suggests that hopes are premature and an opening is not in sight,” in spite of an improvement in Turkey-EU relations after Hollande defeated former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the main opponent of Turkey's EU accession in the 27-member bloc.

In 2007, France imposed vetoes on five negotiating chapters. However, the European Commission put forward a positive agenda in mid-May with the aim of speeding up and opening the negotiating chapters. Turkey has completed only one of the 35 policy chapters every accession candidate must conclude.

“Equally, Turkey has not made moves to implement the 2004 Ankara Protocol, which would unblock a host of chapters and revive the talks,” the report says, pointing out one of the most negative sides in the developments.

The EU insists that Turkey is obliged to open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus under an agreement known as the Ankara Protocol, the additional protocol to the Ankara Agreement of 1963. However, Turkey refuses to open its ports, urging the EU to first end the isolation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) as it had promised to do in 2004 with a referendum on a UN reunification plan for the island, which was approved by the Turkish Cypriots but rejected by the Greek Cypriots.

Even though Turkey did not freeze its bilateral ties with the EU during the Greek Cypriot presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of the year, these relations did not improve conspicuously in 2012 either, according to the report.

Although Turkey repeatedly vowed to suspend its relations with the EU during the Cypriot presidency of the European Council in the second half of 2012, it did not do so.

The report harshly criticizes Turkey's EU chief negotiator Egemen Bağış's policies, saying “[Turkish] Minister of EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış used his position to launch repeated rhetorical attacks on the EU in order to build up his political profile at home.”

The report also says that Turkey was an invaluable bridge between the EU and Iran, the European countries' main concern in the region. Istanbul hosted the E3+3 talks on the Iranian nuclear program in June and a bilateral meeting between High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili in September, although Turkey's doubled gold exports to Iran serve to diminish the expected damage of Western sanctions.

Turkey's bid to join the EU officially started in 2005, but it has made little progress in its candidacy due to the failure to find a solution to the dispute regarding the divided island of Cyprus, of which the Greek part is already an EU member, and opposition from Sarkozy to Turkey's membership. Sarkozy argued that the predominantly Muslim country is not a part of Europe and wanted Turkey to accept an alternative partnership with the EU instead of full membership -- which was rejected by Turkey.

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