Ankara gears up for pivotal EU visit as relations hang in the balance

Ankara gears up for pivotal EU visit as relations hang in the balance
A crucial rendezvous is set to unfold in Ankara on Sept. 6-7, with European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Verhelyi making his way to the Turkish capital to engage in discussions spanning bilateral relations and potential avenues for cooperation. (X/@OliverVarhelyi)
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Updated 05 September 2023
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Ankara gears up for pivotal EU visit as relations hang in the balance

Ankara gears up for pivotal EU visit as relations hang in the balance
  • The historic visit marks the first official visit by an EU representative to Turkiye since the May presidential elections
  • The EU is poised to unveil its forthcoming progress report on Turkiye and a fresh enlargement report in October

ANKARA: A crucial rendezvous is set to unfold in Ankara on Sept. 6-7, with European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Verhelyi making his way to the Turkish capital to engage in discussions spanning bilateral relations and potential avenues for cooperation.
The historic visit marks the first official visit by an EU representative to Turkiye since the May presidential elections.
Varhelyi’s itinerary includes meetings with prominent Turkish officials, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Hakan Fidan; Minister of Trade Omer Bolat; Minister of Family and Social Services Mahinur Ozdemir Goktas; Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Alparslan Bayraktar; and Minister of Industry and Technology Mehmet Fatih Kacir.
The EU is poised to unveil its forthcoming progress report on Turkiye and a fresh enlargement report in October.
On Sept. 1, the European Commission officially inked an association agreement with Turkiye, granting access to the €7.5 billion ($8 billion) Digital Europe Programme slated for the period spanning 2021-2027. Once the agreement is ratified, Turkish enterprises, public administrations and eligible organizations will be empowered to take part in digital technology projects. Turkiye is also expected to establish Digital Innovation Hubs across the nation as part of the scheme.
In the wake of the devastating earthquakes in the country this February, the European Commission proposed a financial lifeline of €400 million from the European Union Solidarity Fund to provide much-needed assistance.
Furthermore, during his visit, Varhelyi is set to finalize a €781 million contract, allocating EU funds to support refugees in Turkiye, thereby fulfilling a prior commitment of €3 billion in funding to continue aiding refugees in the country.
Cigdem Nas, a prominent expert on EU-Turkiye relations and secretary-general of the Istanbul-based Economic Development Foundation of Turkiye, said a critical stage in Turkiye-EU relations has already come.
“Despite being a candidate, Turkiye is no longer considered as a country with membership perspective. Turkiye was not invited to the recent summit with candidate countries in Athens. The European Council has tasked the commission and high representative to write a report on the future of the relations. Mr. Sanchez Amor, the European Parliament rapporteur for Turkiye, also recommended a new kind of relationship replacing the accession process,” she told Arab News.
While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently called for a revival of the accession process, Nas thinks that such a move appears increasingly challenging.
“In a paradoxical twist, while Ukraine’s candidacy has generated an unprecedented enlargement perspective toward the Eurasia region, it has also made Turkiye’s membership prospects more improbable due to the EU’s limited integration capacity,” she said.
On July 10, Erdogan unexpectedly called for a reopening of Turkiye’s accession talks, linking it with Turkiye’s greenlight to Sweden’s stalled bid to join NATO.
However, experts have said that the Turkish government’s decades-long backsliding in domestic reforms, especially in rule of law, press freedom and democracy, compounds the complexity of the accession process.
Accession talks have stalled since 2016 over the EU’s concerns about human rights violations and respect for rule of law in the country.
“Given Turkiye’s strategic importance to the EU, its growing geopolitical significance in light of the conflict in Ukraine and Russian aggression, the enhanced cooperation is preferred and it encouraged rapprochement in areas such as security, energy, migration and supply chains,” Nas said.
However, analysts agree that the renewed rapprochement between the EU and Turkiye is unlikely to result in full membership for Ankara, but will instead herald a new form of partnership.
“Given that Turkiye already enjoys associate status with the EU under the Ankara Agreement, which commemorates its 60th anniversary this year, any fresh model for these relations must be rooted in the existing legal framework and must integrate current policy priorities, such as the green and digital agendas,” Nas affirmed.
Nonetheless, political roadblocks and disputes, such as the Cyprus issue, could yet present formidable obstacles to the future of relations.
“In such a scenario, a transactional and issue-based, sporadic relationship may materialize instead of a comprehensive, neatly packaged arrangement,” Nas said.
Meanwhile, Turkiye’s geopolitical influence has experienced a notable surge, especially following its role as a middleman in persuading Russia to re-enter the grain deal.
Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, managing director of the European Neighborhood Council in Brussels, said that this week’s visit to Turkiye by Varhelyi is “very important” because it comes at the same time as the EP and EU’s Foreign Ministry report about EU-Turkiye relations is handed to the European Council.
“We expect this report to be submitted between Sept. 17 and 25, and it is likely to include views about a new strategic partnership with Turkiye,” he told Arab News.
Vesterbye added that the numerous visits by high-level commissioners to Turkiye is a strong sign that negotiations have started.
Dialogue about a future EU-Turkiye relationship based on institutional ties, economic interdependence, trade, investment, migration, security, connectivity, digital policies, energy, visa liberalization, disaster management and reforms are high on the agenda, he added.
“There are still many challenges, including the Cyprus question and how a renewed customs union is possible without settling the age-old question of trade to and from the island, as well as issues linked to uncompetitive, illegal state-funding practices by the Turkish government and questions regarding labor laws, media and juridical independence,” he said.
But, for Vesterbye, an essential component is Turkiye’s capability to uphold environmental and labor standards.
This will allow EU companies to continue operating in Turkiye, and provide a legally risk-free environment for existing and new EU-Turkish supply chains in the country, as well as encourage the creation of new trade routes though Turkiye and into the Caucasus and Central Asia.
“For the EU to pursue a deeper strategic relationship with Turkiye, there also has to be genuine and verifiable proof of goodwill from the Turkish side on these topics,” he said.
However, experts remain cautious about the next phase of rapprochement.
“Forced migration and conflict across Eurasia is a serious problem for both the EU and Turkiye, and the only way to solve this is by increasing EU-Turkiye cooperation in security sectors in the future. Between 2007 and 2022, the EU and Turkiye have de-aligned in common foreign and security policy from 97 percent alignment to only 7 percent.
“This poses a huge risk for both the EU and Turkiye, since both are tied together in terms of energy, trade and supply chains among many other areas, like migration and environmental policies,” said Vesterbye.
He added that the new EU report on Turkiye could help launch more dialogue and negotiations in order to find better ways to cement a new post-accession partnership based on a common strategic vision.
“The alternative could be devastating, since economic decoupling between the EU and Turkiye will have detrimental effects on both economies and security,” Vesterbye said.
A day before Varhelyi’s visit, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met his Greek counterpart, George Gerapetritis, marking the latter’s inaugural ministerial visit to Turkiye.
“We are now in a new and positive stage in our relations with our neighbor and ally, Greece. Revitalization of high-level contacts and dialogue channels are positive developments. Today, we confirmed our mutual will to sustain this momentum,” Fidan said on X (formerly Twitter).
During their meeting, discussions spanned cooperation in areas including trade, the economy and tourism, as well as strategies to combat illegal migration and terrorism.
“We believe we can overcome our differences with the spirit of good neighborliness and through constructive dialogue,” Fidan said.
Vesterbye said that the meeting between Fidan and his Greek counterpart demonstrates “real interest” between the two countries in easing tensions.
He added: “About the grain deal — it is clear that Turkiye is playing its hand well. It has an important role in Africa, and Russia is now directly blamed for impeding access to food on the continent for millions of people. The EU and Turkiye have a real role to play in Africa since the continent’s well-being and growth equals better security, safety and trade for the EU.”


Wars in Gaza and Sudan ‘drive hunger crisis affecting 280 million worldwide’

Wars in Gaza and Sudan ‘drive hunger crisis affecting 280 million worldwide’
Updated 31 min 1 sec ago
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Wars in Gaza and Sudan ‘drive hunger crisis affecting 280 million worldwide’

Wars in Gaza and Sudan ‘drive hunger crisis affecting 280 million worldwide’
  • New report on global food insecurity says outlook for 2024 is ‘bleak’

JEDDAH: More than 280 million people worldwide suffered from acute hunger last year in a food security crisis driven by conflicts in Gaza and Sudan, UN agencies and development groups said on Wednesday.

Economic shocks also added to the number of victims, which grew by 24 million compared with 2022, according to a report by the Food Security Information Network.

The report, which called the global outlook for this year “bleak,” is produced for an international alliance of UN agencies, the EU and governmental and non-governmental bodies.

Food insecurity is defined as when populations face food deprivation that threatens lives or livelihoods, regardless of the causes or length of time. More geographical areas experienced “new or intensified shocks” and there was a “marked deterioration in key food crisis contexts such as Sudan and the Gaza Strip,” said Fleur Wouterse, a senior official at the UN’s Food and Agricultue Organization.

Since the first report by the Global Food Crisis Network covering 2016, the number of food-insecure people has risen from 108 million to 282 million, Wouterse said. The share of the population affected within the areas concerned had doubled from 11 percent to 22 percent, she said.

Protracted major food crises are ongoing in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Syria and Yemen. “In a world of plenty, children are starving to death,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

“War, climate chaos and a cost-of-living crisis, combined with inadequate action, mean that almost 300 million people faced acute food crisis in 2023. Funding is not keeping pace with need.”

According to the report, situations of conflict or insecurity have become the main cause of acute hunger. For 2024, progress would depend on the end of hostilities, said Wouterse, who said aid could rapidly alleviate the crisis in Gaza or Sudan, for example, once humanitarian access to the areas was possible.
 


Yemen’s Houthis say they targeted American and Israeli ships

Yemen’s Houthis say they targeted American and Israeli ships
Updated 9 min 53 sec ago
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Yemen’s Houthis say they targeted American and Israeli ships

Yemen’s Houthis say they targeted American and Israeli ships
  • The Iran-aligned group said it targeted the US ship Maersk Yorktown, an American destroyer in the Gulf of Aden and Israeli ship MSC Veracruz in the Indian Ocean
  • “The Yemeni armed forces confirm they will continue to prevent Israeli navigation,” Sarea said

CAIRO/DUBAI: Houthi militants in Yemen have attacked what they said were two American ships and an Israeli vessel, the group’s military spokesman said on Wednesday, the first such attack in more than two weeks.
The Iran-aligned group said it targeted the US ship Maersk Yorktown, an American destroyer in the Gulf of Aden and Israeli ship MSC Veracruz in the Indian Ocean, the spokesman, Yahya Sarea, said in a televised speech.
Yemen’s Houthis have been attacking ships in the Red Sea region since November in what they say is a campaign of solidarity with Palestinians fighting Israel in Gaza.
“The Yemeni armed forces confirm they will continue to prevent Israeli navigation or any navigation heading to the ports of occupied Palestine in the Red and Arabian Seas, as well as in the Indian Ocean,” Sarea said on Wednesday.
Separately, British maritime security firm Ambrey said earlier on Wednesday that it was aware of an incident southwest of the port city of Aden, an area where the Houthis often target ships they say are linked to Israel or the United States.
The vessel reported an “explosion in the water” approximately 72 nautical miles east-southeast of Djibouti, an updated advisory from Ambrey said.
Houthi attacks have disrupted global shipping through the Suez Canal, forcing firms to re-route to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa. The United States and Britain have launched strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen.


Iraq hangs 11 convicted of ‘terrorism’: security, health sources

Iraq hangs 11 convicted of ‘terrorism’: security, health sources
Updated 24 April 2024
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Iraq hangs 11 convicted of ‘terrorism’: security, health sources

Iraq hangs 11 convicted of ‘terrorism’: security, health sources
  • Under Iraqi law, terrorism and murder offenses are punishable by death, and execution decrees must be signed by the president
  • A security source in Iraq’s southern Dhi Qar province told AFP that 11 “terrorists from the Daesh group” were executed by hanging at a prison in Nasiriyah

NASIRIYAH, Iraq: Iraqi authorities have executed at least 11 people convicted of “terrorism” this week, security and health sources said Wednesday, with rights group Amnesty International condemning an “alarming lack of transparency.”
Under Iraqi law, terrorism and murder offenses are punishable by death, and execution decrees must be signed by the president.
A security source in Iraq’s southern Dhi Qar province told AFP that 11 “terrorists from the Daesh group” were executed by hanging at a prison in the city of Nasiriyah, “under the supervision of a justice ministry team.”
A local medical source confirmed that the health department had received the bodies of 11 executed people.
They were hanged on Monday “under Article 4 of the anti-terrorism law,” the source added, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
All 11 were from Salahaddin province and the bodies of seven had been returned to their families, the medical official said.
Iraqi courts have handed down hundreds of death and life sentences in recent years for people convicted of membership in “a terrorist group,” an offense that carries capital punishment regardless of whether the defendant had been an active fighter.
Iraq has been criticized for trials denounced by rights groups as hasty, with confessions sometimes obtained under torture.
Amnesty in a statement on Wednesday condemned the latest hangings for “overly broad and vague terrorism charges.”
It said a total of 13 men were executed on Monday, including 11 who had been “convicted on the basis of their affiliation to the so-called Daesh armed group.”
The two others, arrested in 2008, “were convicted of terrorism-related offenses under the Penal Code after a grossly unfair trial,” Amnesty said citing their lawyer.


Biden says Israel must allow aid to Palestinians ‘without delay’

Biden says Israel must allow aid to Palestinians ‘without delay’
Updated 24 April 2024
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Biden says Israel must allow aid to Palestinians ‘without delay’

Biden says Israel must allow aid to Palestinians ‘without delay’
  • “We’re going to immediately secure that aid and surge it,” Biden said
  • “Israel must make sure all this aid reaches the Palestinians in Gaza without delay“

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Wednesday demanded that new humanitarian aid be allowed to immediately reach Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as key US ally Israel fights Hamas there.
“We’re going to immediately secure that aid and surge it... including food, medical supplies, clean water,” Biden said after signing a massive military aid bill for Israel and Ukraine, which also included $1 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza.
“Israel must make sure all this aid reaches the Palestinians in Gaza without delay,” he said.
US-Israel relations have been strained by Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to send troops into the southern Gazan city of Rafah, where 1.5 million people are sheltering, many in makeshift encampments.
“This bill significantly — significantly — increases humanitarian assistance we’re sending to the innocent people of Gaza who are suffering badly,” Biden said.
“They’re suffering the consequences of this war that Hamas started, and we’ve been working intently for months to get as much aid to Gaza as possible.”


Israel hits Lebanese border towns with 14 missiles

Israel hits Lebanese border towns with 14 missiles
Updated 24 April 2024
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Israel hits Lebanese border towns with 14 missiles

Israel hits Lebanese border towns with 14 missiles
  • Hezbollah targets Israeli settlements in retaliation for Hanin civilian deaths
  • Hezbollah said it attacked the Shomera settlement with dozens of Katyusha rockets

BEIRUT: Clashes between Hezbollah and Israeli forces escalated sharply on Wednesday, the 200th day of conflict in southern Lebanon’s border area.

Israeli airstrikes created a ring of fire around Lebanese border towns, with at least 14 missiles hitting the area.

In the past two days, military activity in the border region has increased, with Hezbollah targeting areas in northern Acre for the first time in the conflict.

On Wednesday, Israeli strikes hit the outskirts of Aita Al-Shaab, Ramya, Jabal Balat, and Khallet Warda.

The Israeli military said it had destroyed a missile launching pad in Tair Harfa, and targeted Hezbollah infrastructure in Marqaba and Aita Al-Shaab.

Israeli artillery also struck areas of Kafar Shuba and Shehin “to eliminate a potential threat.”

Hezbollah also stepped up its operations, saying this was in retaliation for the “horrific massacre committed by the Israeli enemy in the town of Hanin, causing casualties and injuries among innocent civilians.”

A woman in her 50s and a 12-year-old girl, both members of the same family, were killed in the Israeli airstrike. Six other people were injured.

Hezbollah said it attacked the Shomera settlement with dozens of Katyusha rockets.

The group said it also targeted Israeli troops in Horsh Natawa, and struck the Al-Raheb site with artillery.

It also claimed to have killed and wounded Israeli soldiers in an attack on the Avivim settlement.

Israeli news outlets said that a rocket-propelled grenade hit a house in the settlement, setting the dwelling ablaze.

Hezbollah’s military media said that in the past 200 days of fighting with Israel, 1,998 operations had been carried out from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, including 1,637 staged by Hezbollah.