EU unveils strategy for strengthening long-term relations with Turkiye

EU unveils strategy for strengthening long-term relations with Turkiye
Turkiye’s role in the Black Sea as a NATO ally was strongly emphasized by High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell in his opening remarks introducing the joint communication on Turkiye. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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EU unveils strategy for strengthening long-term relations with Turkiye

EU unveils strategy for strengthening long-term relations with Turkiye
  • Modernizing existing customs union agreement with Ankara catalyst for progress across all other domains: analyst

ANKARA: The EU on Wednesday set out the state of play of its political, economic, and trade relations with Turkiye in a strategic move aimed at ironing out long-standing disagreements between the neighbors.

Against the backdrop of shifting geopolitical dynamics, the EU report was published on the same day that NATO foreign ministers met in Brussels and discussed the progress of Sweden’s accession to the intergovernmental military alliance.

It is expected that Ankara will ratify its protocol on the issue “within weeks.”

The EU initiative aims to invigorate crucial areas of collaboration and develop trust in light of ongoing security and geopolitical challenges.

In the context of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, Turkiye’s role in the Black Sea as a NATO ally was strongly emphasized by High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell in his opening remarks introducing the joint communication on Turkiye.

He also noted the need to ensure a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean as a strategic goal of the EU.

In a statement, the EU delegation to Turkiye said: “(The EU) retains a strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in the Eastern Mediterranean and the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkiye.”

The EU document’s foreign policy section indicates the trajectory that bilateral ties may take. Notably, the EU has resolved to regularly engage in “structured dialogues” with Ankara on foreign policy and regional matters.

As part of the recalibration, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Hakan Fidan was set to receive invitations to the informal six-monthly gatherings of EU foreign ministers — known as the Gymnich meetings — when pertinent discussions arise.

Despite missing out on the most recent Gymnich meeting in August, Turkiye could rekindle high-level dialogues on shared interests such as energy, de-escalation in the East Mediterranean, refugee management, and counterterrorism amid a volatile security climate.

Turkiye will also be encouraged to further contribute to the EU’s missions and operations regarding its common security and defense policy and to adopt a more constructive approach to the EU-NATO strategic partnership, in an apparent reference to the Swedish accession bid.

Dr. Bahadir Kaleagasi, president of the Paris Bosphorus Institute, told Arab News that there was enough historical evidence to argue that the more Turkiye was excluded from the EU’s sphere of influence, the more it became part of the problems, which in turn nourished populist demagogy and threats to Western democracy.

He said: “The report is presented as a set of proposals that will not constitute an alternative to the membership process or a search for a new institutional framework. On the contrary, it aims to be practical, realistic, and constructive.

“However, other proposals covering an updated customs union together with green and digital transition policies, provided that they are initiated without blocking pre-conditions, would certainly positively impact both foreign policy alignment and the rule of law reforms,” he added.

On migration management and the EU’s financial support for refugees, a key aspect of EU-Turkiye relations, especially since 2016, the document urged Turkiye to intensify efforts to curb irregular migration by dismantling criminal smuggling networks and bolstering border defenses. Simultaneously, Brussels pledged to sustain financial aid for refugees in Turkiye.

Kaleagasi noted that the current migration governance framework was unsustainable, and that efficient management hinged on rejuvenating the economic dimension of the relationship, aligning with shared global competitiveness objectives.

“Modernizing the existing EU-Turkiye customs union agreement stands as a catalyst for progress across all other domains,” he said.

Turkiye is the EU’s seventh-biggest trading partner, while the EU is the first for Turkiye. Bilateral trade this year surpassed 200 billion euros ($218.5 billion), a record.

Brussels has also agreed to resume negotiations on a modernized EU-Turkiye customs union, provided Ankara supported efforts to fight against the evasion of European sanctions against Russia.

Turkiye-EU relations have been troubled by several difficulties since accession negotiations opened in October 2005. Both sides have mostly disagreed on foreign policy decisions with only around 10 percent of policies being aligned in 2023.

Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, director of European Neighborhood Council, told Arab News: “Between 2016 and 2022, the EU and Turkiye relations faced their worst period in recent history. That is changing now because of structural reasons like the war in Ukraine and the EU and Turkiye’s increasingly aligned policies in Central Asia and terms of connectivity and supply chains.”

He predicted further improvements soon, including customs union reform, provided Turkiye did not cross any “red lines” in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Vesterbye said: “The most important elements of the joint communication are allowing Turkiye back into Gymnich discussions and opening the highest level of dialogue with fellow NATO and European partner Turkiye, including Hakan Fidan and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Now it’s up to especially the French and Turkish representatives to carefully think and coordinate about a common European security architecture, which will need to include a larger framework for EU-Turkiye under differentiated accession.

“France is by far the most important EU member for advanced military technology, potential sales of fighter jets or ground-to-surface missiles, nuclear power, military capabilities abroad, etc.

“The same goes for France: despite Turkiye’s worrying levels of religiously radical policy support abroad, it nevertheless has a great ground power, Muslim credibility, and significant on-the-ground experience, size, and unique geo-strategic location.

“It’s like two alpha males; they usually compete with each other, but if they manage to unite, they are far stronger together,” Vesterbye added.

But he pointed out that the process of aligning the foreign and security policies of Turkiye and the EU would require a lot of effort, time, and constant high-level and technical coordination, as well as taking risks and building trustworthy institutional security structures to keep each side in check.

In this respect, the EU’s foreign and security policy missions abroad will play a key role in establishing institutional ties between Brussels and Ankara.

Vesterbye said: “The EU and Turkiye already had many common EU military missions, so building on those will prove important, and the next steps should be further Turkiye involvement in decision-making, funding, and contribution while tackling the Cyprus issue, which would progressively lead to the full inclusion of Turkiye into the EU security apparatus.

“If Turkiye wants to progress into the next level of technology, economic growth, and large-scale policy in Central Asia, it, together with its natural geographic ally Europe, will need to walk, and vice versa, if the EU wants to become a truly geopolitical force it can only do so with the inclusion of Turkiye,” he added.

EU leaders still have to adopt the plan during their summit in Brussels on Dec. 13.


First ships dock in Yemen harbor after Israel strike: Houthi media

First ships dock in Yemen harbor after Israel strike: Houthi media
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First ships dock in Yemen harbor after Israel strike: Houthi media

First ships dock in Yemen harbor after Israel strike: Houthi media
“The port of Hodeida is working normally around the clock” to receive commercial ships, Ahmed Al-Murtada, the deputy director of the container terminal, said
Ship tracking website marinetraffic.com confirmed the arrival on Tuesday of Marsa Zenith

HODEIDA, Yemen: Two container ships have docked in Yemen’s Hodeida harbor, the first since a deadly Israeli strike hit fuel storage tanks at the rebel-held port, according to Houthi media and ship trackers.
The strikes on Saturday, the first claimed by Israel on Yemen, triggered a massive blaze that burned for days at the dock amid slow firefighting efforts.
It destroyed some cranes and dozens of oil tanks, according to experts. Another tank exploded overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday, reigniting some flames at the harbor, a critical gateway for fuel imports and humanitarian aid into Houthi-held areas.
Despite the ongoing threat, “the port of Hodeida is working normally around the clock” to receive commercial ships, Ahmed Al-Murtada, the deputy director of the container terminal, told the Houthi-run Saba news agency on Tuesday.
The port’s director of maritime operations, Mohamed Al-Sais, told Saba that two ships had docked at the harbor on Tuesday.
He identified them as “Marsa Zenith,” a vessel that carried 514 containers of “various goods,” and “Brother 1,” which was loaded with 22,803 tons of iron, Saba said.
Ship tracking website marinetraffic.com confirmed the arrival on Tuesday of Marsa Zenith, identifying it as a Panama-flagged vessel that departed from the port of Djibouti.
It additionally reported the arrival of the Tanzania-flagged Brother 1, which also sailed from Djibouti, according to the website.
The quays of Hodeida were spared major damage in the Israeli strike that rebels say killed nine people and targeted a fuel storage depot owned by the Yemen Petroleum Company as well as a power plant north of the port.
Maritime security firm Ambrey said there were no reports of major damage to vessels in or near the harbor following the strike.
The port, however, is still at risk of another “catastrophe,” said Mwatana for Human Rights, a Yemeni right group which dispatched an assessment team to the dock.
“Based on (the findings of) our field team, the risk of more fuel tanks exploding still remains,” it told AFP in an emailed statement.
“Whenever the firefighting teams tried to extinguish the fires, the explosions and flames reignited,” Mwatana said.
“There are major concerns that the teams may not be able to... prevent another explosion.”

Hezbollah broadcasts drone video it says shows air base deep in Israel

Hezbollah broadcasts drone video it says shows air base deep in Israel
Updated 24 July 2024
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Hezbollah broadcasts drone video it says shows air base deep in Israel

Hezbollah broadcasts drone video it says shows air base deep in Israel
  • It was the third in a series of videos released by Hezbollah
  • The latest video was more than eight minutes long and, Hezbollah said, mostly shot on Tuesday

BEIRUT: Lebanese armed group Hezbollah broadcast drone video on Wednesday that it said showed air defense facilities, planes and fuel storage units at Israel’s Ramat David air base, nearly 50km (30 miles) into Israeli territory.
It was the third in a series of videos released by Hezbollah which the group has said are meant to demonstrate how far its surveillance of Israel has reached. The first video showed the Israeli port city of Haifa and the second the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
A spokesman for the Israeli military said in a statement on X that the video was filmed by a surveillance drone and the base’s operations were not affected.
The latest video was more than eight minutes long and, Hezbollah said, mostly shot on Tuesday.
It included labels pointing out apparent military infrastructure, including the short-range Iron Dome air defense system which is designed to destroy rockets and drones.
The video also included nighttime shots that Hezbollah said were captured “earlier” and other images the group said were taken earlier in July. The caption said it was only “some” of what the drone had captured.
The videos were released as tensions mount over Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza and over frequent exchanges of fire across Lebanon’s border with Israel.
Hezbollah has sought to evade high-tech Israeli surveillance with low-tech means, while sending its own drones across the border to monitor and attack Israeli military positions.


‘Miracle’ baby born in Gaza after airstrike kills heavily pregnant mother

‘Miracle’ baby born in Gaza after airstrike kills heavily pregnant mother
Updated 24 July 2024
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‘Miracle’ baby born in Gaza after airstrike kills heavily pregnant mother

‘Miracle’ baby born in Gaza after airstrike kills heavily pregnant mother
  • Mother fell through several floors of bombed family home
  • Families face daily tragedy as Israel battles Hamas in Gaza

GAZA: Nine months pregnant, Ola Al-Kurd could not wait to hold her baby and bring new life to Gaza during a war which has killed over 39,000 fellow Palestinians and razed much of the enclave.
That special moment never came.
An Israeli airstrike smashed into the family home in Al-Nuseirat in central Gaza on July 19, according to her father Adnan Al-Kurd. The blast threw Ola down several floors to her death in the house, whose inhabitants included women, children and the elderly, he said.
Somehow, her baby survived, as did her husband, who was hospitalized.
“It’s a miracle that the fetus stayed alive inside of her when she was martyred (died),” Adnan Al-Kurd said, contemplating a photo of his daughter’s graduation.
The explosion, like many others, killed several members of a single family, a daily tragedy across Gaza since Israel began its offensive in Gaza in response to a devastating cross-border attack by Palestinian Hamas militants on Oct. 7 last year.
Mediators from the United States, Qatar and Egypt have failed in multiple attempts to secure a ceasefire. So it is highly unlikely that Israeli airstrikes and shelling will end anytime soon.
“She wanted to hold her child and fill our home with his presence,” Al-Kurd said. “She would say, ‘Mom, hopefully, this will make up for the loss of my martyred brothers and bring life back to our home’.”
Entirely against the odds, surgeons at Al Awda hospital in Nuseirat — where Ola was first taken after the strike — managed to deliver the newborn, Malek Yassin. He was then transferred to Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, where an aunt touched the baby’s face as he lay in an incubator.
“Thank God, this baby’s life was saved and he is now alive and well,” doctor Khalil Al-Dakran said at the hospital, where many medical facilities have been destroyed in over nine months of war.
Al-Kurd gazes at photos of his three late children killed in the Gaza war. He said baby Yassin is blond like his deceased uncle Omar. “I go visit him everyday. He is a part of me,” he said.
Babies who survive frequent Israeli bombardment get no relief as the conflict inflicts more destruction in the heavily built-up, densely populated Gaza Strip.
“We are in fact facing very great difficulties in the nursery department,” said Al-Dakran, due to a lack of sufficient medication and supplies and fears that the hospital generator could stop at any moment due to fuel shortages.
Hospitals across impoverished Gaza have been demolished or seriously damaged during the war, which began when Hamas-led fighters attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking over 250 hostages according to Israeli tallies.
Israel responded with an air and ground offensive that has killed more than 39,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, and levelled much of the coastal territory.
“What is the fault of this child to start his life under difficult and very bad circumstances, deprived of the most basic necessities of life?” said Dakran.


Climate change imperils drought-stricken Morocco’s cereal farmers and its food supply

Climate change imperils drought-stricken Morocco’s cereal farmers and its food supply
Updated 24 July 2024
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Climate change imperils drought-stricken Morocco’s cereal farmers and its food supply

Climate change imperils drought-stricken Morocco’s cereal farmers and its food supply
  • Delays to annual rains and inconsistent weather patterns have pushed the growing season later in the year and made planning difficult for farmers.
  • Agriculture Ministry estimates that this year’s wheat harvest will yield roughly 3.4 million tons, far less than last year’s 6.1 million tons

KENITRA: Golden fields of wheat no longer produce the bounty they once did in Morocco. A six-year drought has imperiled the country’s entire agriculture sector, including farmers who grow cereals and grains used to feed humans and livestock.
The North African nation projects this year’s harvest will be smaller than last year in both volume and acreage, putting farmers out of work and requiring more imports and government subsidies to prevent the price of staples like flour from rising for everyday consumers.
“In the past, we used to have a bounty — a lot of wheat. But during the last seven or eight years, the harvest has been very low because of the drought,” said Al Housni Belhoussni, a small-scale farmer who has long tilled fields outside of the city of Kenitra.
Belhoussni’s plight is familiar to grain farmers throughout the world confronting a hotter and drier future. Climate change is imperiling the food supply and, in regions like North Africa, shrinking the annual yields of cereals that dominate diets around the world — wheat, rice, maize and barley.
The region is one of the most vulnerable in the world to climate change. Delays to annual rains and inconsistent weather patterns have pushed the growing season later in the year and made planning difficult for farmers.
In Morocco, where cereals account for most of the farmed land and agriculture employs the majority of workers in rural regions, the drought is wreaking havoc and touching off major changes that will transform the makeup of the economy. It has forced some to leave their fields fallow. It has also made the areas they do elect to cultivate less productive, producing far fewer sacks of wheat to sell than they once did.
In response, the government has announced restrictions on water use in urban areas — including on public baths and car washes — and in rural ones, where water going to farms has been rationed.
“The late rains during the autumn season affected the agriculture campaign. This year, only the spring rains, especially during the month of March, managed to rescue the crops,” said Abdelkrim Naaman, the chairman of Nalsya. The organization has advised farmers on seeding, irrigation and drought mitigation as less rain falls and less water flows through Morocco’s rivers.
The Agriculture Ministry estimates that this year’s wheat harvest will yield roughly 3.4 million tons, far less than last year’s 6.1 million tons — a yield that was still considered low. The amount of land seeded has dramatically shrunk as well, from 36,700 square kilometers to 24,700 square kilometers.
Such a drop constitutes a crisis, said Driss Aissaoui, an analyst and former member of the Moroccan Ministry for Agriculture.
“When we say crisis, this means that you have to import more,” he said. “We are in a country where drought has become a structural issue.”
Leaning more on imports means the government will have to continue subsidizing prices to ensure households and livestock farmers can afford dietary staples for their families and flocks, said Rachid Benali, the chairman of the farming lobby COMADER.
The country imported nearly 2.5 million tons of common wheat between January and June. However, such a solution may have an expiration date, particularly because Morocco’s primary source of wheat, France, is facing shrinking harvests as well.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization ranked Morocco as the world’s sixth-largest wheat importer this year, between Turkiye and Bangladesh, which both have much bigger populations.
“Morocco has known droughts like this and in some cases known droughts that las longer than 10 years. But the problem, this time especially, is climate change,” Benali said.


Israel far-right minister says prayed at flashpoint mosque compound

Israel far-right minister says prayed at flashpoint mosque compound
Updated 24 July 2024
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Israel far-right minister says prayed at flashpoint mosque compound

Israel far-right minister says prayed at flashpoint mosque compound

JERUSALEM: A far-right Israeli minister said Wednesday he had prayed at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, yet again defying longstanding rules that allow Jews to visit but not to pray.
The mosque compound is Islam’s third holiest site and a symbol of Palestinian national identity but it is also revered by Jews as the site of their ancient temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
“I’m the political leadership and the political leadership authorizes prayers on the Temple Mount,” National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir told a symposium in the Israeli parliament.
“I prayed on the Temple Mount last week and Jews pray on the Temple Mount... There is no reason why parts of the Temple Mount should be off-limits for Jews,” said Ben Gvir, who is known for provocative gestures.
While Jews and other non-Muslims are allowed to visit the mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem during specific hours, they are not permitted to pray or display religious symbols.
In recent years, the restrictions have been increasingly flouted by hard-line religious nationalists like Ben Gvir, prompting a sometimes violent reaction from Palestinians.
Ben Gvir’s remarks came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due to address the US Congress in a bid to rally support amid tensions with President Joe Biden’s administration over his government’s handling of the war in Gaza.