EU foreign ministers decide not to slam door on Turkey despite all spats

By bne IntelliNews November 15, 2016

While it once again expressed concern over the developments in Turkey, the EU seems not yet ready to suspend accession talks with Ankara.

The EU foreign minister met in Brussels on November 14 to tackle a number of issues, including how to handle the relations with Turkey, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sharpened his rhetoric against the bloc, even proposing a referendum on the accession talks.

The decision not to put Turkish accession process on ice is the confirmation of Ankara’s importance for the bloc. The EU wants to keep the key migrant deal with Turkey alive despite all the spats. Ankara, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly critical of Brussels, accusing the bloc of failing to deliver on it promises. When the EU and Turkey inked the migrant deal, Brussels promised an easing of visa rules for Turkish nationals and fast-track accession talks. Turkey is threatening to walk away from the migrant deal that helps the EU keep millions of refuges away from Europe.

The EU also needs Turkey’s military power to contain Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Turkey is conducting a large military operation in northern Syria, in coordination with Syrian opposition forces, against the jihadi group.

Strong trade and business ties between Turkey and the bloc also should not be ignored. The EU is Turkey’s largest trading partner with nearly half of the country’s exports going to the bloc. Last year, around 58% of FDI inflows into Turkey originated from the EU.

“The channels – with the Turkish authorities – are open at all levels, including mine, obviously, to make sure that we communicate with each other,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters following the ministers’ meeting. “There are no conclusions adopted. It was not foreseen because we just released the common position last week, but it was a useful exchange”, she added.

Reports suggest that Austria wanted to end the membership talks, but Germany and France, the bloc’s heavyweights, disagreed. “I am not for the continuation of entry negotiations and I believe that this Turkey does not have a place in the European Union," said Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, as he arrived in Brussels for the meeting, according to Reuters.

However, the German minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier does not think this would be a wise move. “Turkey is too important to us - not least because of the close personal times between our two countries - that we could afford to renounce dialogue, particularly in these difficult times”, he told reporters, ahead of the gathering, as Reuters reported. “We cannot decide for the government in Ankara whether they will turn away from the West. That is Ankara's responsibility. If they decide to reintroduce the death penalty, then that would be a clear signal that they want to permanently close the EU file.”

Steinmeier will visit Turkey on November 15. Bilateral relations, the continued German deployment at the Incirlik Air Base, the fight against terror and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens will top the German minister’s agenda, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.

An EU official told Reuters that the bloc's leaders would review the situation in Turkey at a summit to be held on December 15 and 16. “It would have to be a majority vote to stop the talks and it's clear there is no majority at this stage,” the official said.

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