EU-Turkey summit, a first in 56 years, to be held Sunday despite criticism

The summit is a first in the 56-year tumultuous relationship, which started in 1959 and has so far been fruitless for Turkey as Brussels has strongly resisted the prospects of Turkish membership despite the commencement of accession talks in 2005.

The summit will be held between the 28 member countries and Turkey on Sunday in Brussels to discuss how to re-energize the moribund accession process and to stem the flow of refugees, announced Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.

In a visit to Brussels on Oct. 5, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked for four basic conditions to be met in order for Turkey to help stop the wave of refugees, whose number has reached 900,000 in the first 10 months of 2015. Erdogan asked for 3 billion euros in aid in fresh money (not from pre-accession funds already allocated for Turkey’s EU bid), speeding up visa-free travel for all Turkish citizens (not just for students or businessmen), opening at least five new chapters in accession talks and holding summits with candidate country Turkey.

The EU and Turkey are expected to seal the deal on Sunday, but the details of a possible agreement are still murky. The spokespersons of the European Commission refused to go into detail yesterday, despite repeated questions from reporters.

A total of 500 million euros is known to be in the coffers of the EU, but member countries who keep complaining about budget constraints will be requested to deliver the rest — i.e., 2.5 billion euros. Many pundits still suspect that the amount will be handed to Turkey citing the reluctance of some member states. Even if the money is delivered, it will not be going to Turkish coffers. It will be spent via the European Trust Fund for the betterment of Syrian refugees’ lives in Turkey. The EU is not only expecting Turkey to keep Syrian refugees in the country by opening up its labor market and facilitating education and health services, but also to prevent the influx by dismantling gangs and patrolling the Aegean Sea.

On the five chapters Turkey has asked to be opened, the Greek Cypriots have already declared their resistance. The only chapter ready to be opened is Chapter 17 of the accession negotiations, which is on economic and monetary policy. Turkey has been able to close only one chapter out of 35 since 2005. All in all, 14 chapters have been opened but the talks are stalled due to the Cyprus problem.

On speeding up visa-free travel, EU sources say Brussels can promise to hasten the talks but cannot give a green light for travel without visas for all Turkish citizens. Citing the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the rise of anti-Islam feelings all over Europe, sources find it unrealistic to grant visa-free travel to Turks in the foreseeable future. Most argue that the process could start with students and businesspeople and be expanded later in the process.

On holding summits, EU diplomats say it is the easiest of the package as there is no concrete promise to deliver anything other than hosting Turkish officials and giving them red carpet treatment in Brussels.

EU principles forgotten

Strong criticism is widespread in many European circles, stressing that the EU is pandering to a leader who is destroying democracy in his country by gagging the free media and purging its opponents. German’s Angela Merkel, who is giving the political battle of her life to survive as chancellor, has in particular been targeted for pushing EU institutions to reach a deal with Erdogan, who clearly breaches many basic tenets of democracy.

Many who criticize the EU for being hypocritical on its Turkey policy point to the irony that Brussels will hold its first summit with Turkey when the commission determined in its progress report two weeks ago that democracy, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are under constant attack. Holding summits with candidate countries was previously unheard of.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN

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