EU-Turkey: Nothing’s really new on the Turkish front

On the hookah: "Refugee deal".
On the hookah: "Refugee deal".
22 April 2016 – VoxEurop

On the eve of Angela Merkel’s and some top EU officials visit in Turkey, Turkish columnist Cengiz Aktar reviews the country’s implementation of the refugee flow stemming agreement and the current state of Ankara’s EU accession path. Contrary to what Ankara or Brussels may say, both are in some kind of stalemate.

Since last autumn, parties in the EU-Turkey game have been engaged in an immoral relationship. Bilateral as well as multilateral meetings have been going on at an rate not seen for the last 6-7 years.

EU circles had made a decision toward the end of last summer that “Refugees and asylum-seekers of Syrian and other origins are entering the EU territory via Turkey. This huge human displacement which has proved to be unmanageable for us can be only prevented by Turkey. Everything should be done to make this happen.”

What does that “everything” include? It includes: Giving money to Turkey; making sure Turkey will readmit rejected asylum-seekers, resettling refugees directly from Turkey; preventing more refugees from entering Turkey; pretending to reheat Turkey’s EU membership bid; promising Turkish citizens that they would get visa exemptions by June; turning a blind eye to more and more cases of human rights violations in Turkey; lending direct or indirect support to the regime in Turkey.

This strategy has been in place since October 2015. Its results so far are as follows:

Cash promise: Of the €3 billion promised, only 187 million Euros have been transferred. The main problem is the lack of a proper needs assessment and project design involving international intergovernmental (UNHCR) and non-governmental organisations. Moreover, two basic assumptions of the monetary support, education for Syrian kids and work permits for Syrian refugees, are unrealistic given the prevailing shortcomings of Turkish education system and job market.

Resettlement: In 2015, only 7,500 Syrian refugees were directly resettled from Turkey to Western European countries. Recently 32 for Germany 11 for Finland and 31 for the Netherlands. Now, Germany will try to boost this operation together with some other member states to reach the 72,000 mark. Totally unrealistic!

Deportation: Greece has sent back to Turkey some 300 mainly Afghan and Pakistani nationals who haven’t applied for asylum there because of the readmission agreement in force between the two countries.

Blocking further arrivals: One of the unethical aspects of the deal consists in making it harder for Syrians and others to seek asylum in Turkey, and to this end, forcing Turkey to impose visa requirements for certain countries. Yet, refugees do not care about visas; visas only make it harder for them to enter a country, but they always manage to do so. In early April tens of thousands new refugees arrived in Turkey following the offensive by ISIL.

Reviving accession talks: Last December, a letter penned by the European Commission addressing the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was leaked. Five of the six chapters that are blocked unilaterally by Cyprus were mentioned in the letter as potentially openable. These were energy; fundamental judicial rights; justice, freedom, security; education, culture; and foreign defence policy.

None of these chapters will finally be opened and only one will in June: the Financial and Budgetary Provisions.

In December negotiators opened the chapter on economic and monetary policy. This chapter is about the euro, which Turkey will not adopt for the foreseeable future. And the chapter on financial and budgetary provisions is about Turkey's contribution to the EU budget once it becomes a member. In other words, we’re looking at sheer science fiction at this point…

Yet it’s not a matter of opening chapters; there is no harmony between the content of these chapters and the acquis communautaire in general and the government’s policies. To see how little progress has been made in the 14 negotiated chapters, you only need to look to the ongoing negotiations on 14 other chapters. One of them is the on the environment, yet the Turkish government happily trashes the natural world and beats environmentalists whenever they protest.

The Progress Report, which the Commission bashfully published after the 1 November elections so as to not anger President Erdoğan, shows how the EU norms, standards and principles have not been at all reflected social life.

Now let's look at the biggest hoax of all. There are still 4 chapters that have not been blocked by Cyprus and can be opened (France is no longer blocking chapters). One of these is the upcoming Financial and Budgetary Provisions. But the other three are important: Competition Policy, Public Procurement and Social Policy and Employment.

And it is Ankara that is blocking these chapters! Why? Because fulfilling the “opening benchmarks” for the chapters doesn’t suit its interests!

Here what the Progress Report says about them:

Competition Policy: “Turkey is moderately prepared in the area of competition policy. Some progress was made, particularly on antitrust and mergers policy where the legislation is largely aligned and the competition authority continues to fulfil its tasks effectively. However, there was no progress on state aid policy. The entry into force of the legislation implementing the state aid law was postponed for a third time. In the coming year, Turkey should in particular: implement the state aid law without further delay to ensure effective monitoring of aid schemes and proper alignment with the acquis. It should also finalize an updated inventory.”

The government does not wish to alter the state aid policy, which produces unfair competition, and so this chapter cannot be opened.

Public Procurement: “Turkey is moderately prepared on public procurement, an area that could potentially be included in a modernised and extended Customs Union. Important gaps remain in its alignment with the acquis, and public procurement is particularly vulnerable to corruption. Some progress was achieved in the past year, especially in strengthening Turkey’s capacity to implement and enforce the rules. However, new amendments to the legal framework for public procurement moved the legislation further away from the EU acquis.

In the coming year, Turkey should in particular: revise its public procurement legislation to bring it in line with the 2014 EU public procurement directives, addressing in particular utilities and concessions, and to increase transparency; start repealing exceptions which contradict the acquis as envisaged in the harmonisation schedule of the national action plan for EU accession and eliminating restrictive measures such as domestic price advantages and civilian offsets.”

The fundamental impediment before the opening of Public Procurement chapter is the fact that the Turkish government refuses to include EU companies in public tenders (which represent €45bn annually) as that will introduce competition, foreign know-how and price reductions. It wants to keep the entire allocation for itself as it constitutes an efficient tool for clientelism.

In the chapter on Social Policy and Employment: “Turkey remains moderately prepared in this chapter. There was some progress over the past year, mainly on health and safety legislation. In the coming year, Turkey should in particular: remove obstacles such as the double threshold requirement for trade unions, which is hindering effective social dialogue; better implement and enforce health and safety legislation; step up social protection, social inclusion and anti-discrimination policies, with the aim of ensuring equal treatment for all.”

Since the 1980 coup d’Etat, trade unionism has been gradually destroyed in Turkey. Today it was finished off. Neither the public, nor the private sector could be convinced of the importance of trade unions, which was particularly stressed by the EU side, as well as workplace safety and health, the lowering of the threshold that allowed for unions to sign labor agreements, and the right of public sector workers to strike. On the contrary, Ankara is trying everything to prevent this chapter for being opened for negotiation.

In short, it is nonsense to say relations with the EU have entered a new phase thanks to the refugee deal, as illustrated by the resistance in the opening of the three chapters mentioned above.

Visa exemption: A vital component of the refugee deal. The Turkish side has started to show nervousness in the last few days by literally threatening the EU with retaliation if visa restrictions are not lifted. There are 72 very stringent conditions Turkey is required to comply with. The second monitoring report regarding the extent to which these conditions have been complied with was announced in early March in Brussels. Just like any text written in diplomatic language, this report welcomes the steps taken so far, but implies that there is a long road ahead for fulfilling all requirements. Let me reiterate: visa exemption is a pie in the sky. Even if Turkey fulfils all the 72 requirements, Turkish ISIL members, future Turkish refugees feeling persecuted and Turkish jobless are enough to keep the visa in place.

Human rights oversight: The crucial unethical component of the Turkish-EU bargain is the EU’s turning a blind eye to skyrocketing human rights violations in Turkey. The most pertinent example is that when asked about the takeover of Zaman media group, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizières bluntly said, “We are not a referee regarding human rights.”

Finally and oddly enough, all these negative developments have led to a positive result: as long as the Turkish government abandons the goal of making Turkey a member of the EU, the EU will fully back it.

I must stress that the EU’s “friendship” indicates that it will not take Turkey’s membership into consideration in the foreseeable future. There is no single mention of Turkey in the paragraph on enlargement in the EU’s 18-month work plan for the period between January 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017!

Factual or translation error? Tell us.