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)
Short Url
Updated 30 November 2023
Follow

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.


Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan
Updated 3 sec ago
Follow

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan

Israel says it’s still reviewing access to Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan
JERUSALEM: Israel is reviewing possible curbs on access to Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem over the upcoming Ramadan fasting month, a government spokesperson said after media reports that the far-right minister for police might be overruled on the issue.
Al Aqsa, Israel’s third-holiest shrine, is a focus of Palestinian statehood hopes. The site is also revered by Jews as vestige of their two ancient temples. Israeli controls on access have often stoked political friction, especially during Ramadan.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said last week there would be a quota for members of Israel’s 18 percent Muslim minority who wish to take part in peace prayers at Al Aqsa.
That would compound the clampdown Israel has already placed on Palestinians since the Hamas’ cross-border rampage from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, codenamed “Al Aqsa Flood,” which triggered the ongoing Gaza war.
But Israel’s top-rated Channel 12 TV reported on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would overrule Ben-Gvir.
“The specific issue of prayer on the Temple Mount, in Al Aqsa, is currently still under discussion by the cabinet,” government spokesperson Avi Hyman said in a briefing on Thursday.
He added that a final decision would take security and public health, as well as the freedom of worship, into account.
A Ben-Gvir spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday, Ben-Gvir posted on X that any attempt to override his authority would amount to a “capitulation to terror,” and urged Netanyahu to deny the Channel 12 report.

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq
Updated 8 min 56 sec ago
Follow

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq

Two killed in Turkish drone strike on YBS fighters in northern Iraq
  • Two YBS fighters were in their vehicle in the Sinjar area when the drone strike hit them

MOSUL, Iraq: A Turkish drone strike in northern Iraq on Thursday killed two fighters from the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Iraqi security sources said.
Two YBS fighters were in their vehicle in the Sinjar area when the drone strike hit them, two security sources told Reuters.
There has been a long-running Turkish campaign in Iraq and Syria against militants of the PKK, YBS and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which are all regarded as terrorist groups by Ankara.


Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows

Iran election seen as legitimacy test for rulers as dissent grows
  • Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called voting a religious duty
  • Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda
DUBAI: Iran holds a parliamentary election on Friday seen as a test of the clerical establishment’s popularity at a time of growing dissent over an array of political, social and economic crises.
The vote will be the first formal gauge of public opinion after anti-government protests in 2022-23 spiralled into some of the worst political turmoil since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Critics from inside and outside the ruling elite, including politicians and former lawmakers, say the legitimacy of Iran’s theocratic system could be at stake due to economic struggles and a lack of electoral options for a mostly young population chafing at political and social restrictions.
Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called voting a religious duty. He accused the country’s “enemies” — a term he normally uses for the United States and Israel — of trying to create despair among Iranian voters.
The commander of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said on Wednesday that “each vote is like a missile launched at the enemy’s heart.”
But Iranians still have painful memories of the handling of nationwide unrest sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in 2022, which was quelled by a violent state crackdown involving mass detentions and even executions.
Economic hardships pose another challenge. Many analysts say that millions have lost hope that Iran’s ruling clerics can resolve an economic crisis fomented by a combination of US sanctions, mismanagement and corruption.
While establishment supporters will likely vote for hard-line candidates, widespread public anger at worsening living standards and pervasive graft may keep many Iranians at home.
Prices for basic goods like bread, meat, dairy and rice have skyrocketed in past months. The official inflation rate stands at about 40 percent. Analysts and insiders put it at over 50 percent.
The US 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, and its reimposition of sanctions, have hit Iran’s economy hard. Efforts to revive the pact have failed.
Reformists shun ‘meaningless’ vote
Iranian activists and opposition groups are distributing the Twitter hashtags #VOTENoVote widely on social media, arguing that a high turnout will legitimize the Islamic Republic.
With heavyweight moderates and conservatives staying out of Friday’s race and reformists calling it an “unfree and unfair election,” the vote will pit hard-liners and low-key conservatives against each other, all proclaiming loyalty to Iran’s Islamic revolutionary ideals.
The interior ministry said 15,200 candidates will run for the 290-seat parliament, with a vetting body called the Guardian Council approving 75 percent of initially registered hopefuls.
The unelected Guardian Council, made up of six clerics and six legal experts generally within Khamenei’s orbit, has the authority to scrutinize laws and election candidates.
Ballots will mostly be counted manually, so the final result may not be announced for three days, although partial results may appear sooner.
On the same day, Iranians also vote for the Assembly of Experts, which appoints and can dismiss the supreme leader. The 88-member clerical body rarely intervenes directly in policy but is expected to help choose the 84-year-old Khamenei’s successor.
Parliament has no major influence on foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear agenda. These are determined by Khamenei who holds the utmost authority in the country’s unique dual system of clerical and republican rule.
Polling has projected turnover of about 41 percent, while former lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi said on Monday that surveys showed the participation could be as low as 27 percent, significantly lower than 42 percent in a 2020 parliamentary vote.
Discredited after years of failed attempts at widening political and social freedoms, the pro-reform opposition suffered further unpopularity in 2022 when protesters scorned its mantra of gradual change.
The Reform Front coalition has said it will not take part in the “meaningless” election but has not boycotted the vote.

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor
Updated 34 min 6 sec ago
Follow

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor

Israel strikes kill Hezbollah fighter near Syria-Lebanon border: monitor
  • Israel rarely comments on individual strikes but has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to expand its presence in Syria

Beirut: Israel killed a Hezbollah fighter in a strike on Syria, close to the Lebanese border, also hitting near Damascus Thursday, a war monitor said, hours after similar attacks.
Hezbollah holds sway over Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria, as well as some regions on the other side of the border including Qusayr, the target of Thursday’s strike.
“An Israeli drone strike on a truck killed a Hezbollah fighter in the Qusayr area near the Syrian-Lebanese border,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
At the same time, Israeli strikes targeted Syrian air defense and radar sites near Damascus, said the Britain-based monitor with a network of sources inside Syria.
An AFP correspondent in Damascus heard faraway explosions.
Syrian state media did not report the strikes.
Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups have been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces following the eruption of civil war.
Since Syria’s war began in 2011, Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes against its northern neighbor, primarily targeting pro-Iran forces, among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Syrian army.
But the strikes have multiplied during the almost five-month-old war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
On Wednesday evening, Israel struck near Damascus, killing two Syrian pro-Hezbollah fighters, the Observatory had said.
Last week, an Israeli strike on a truck in Syria near the Lebanese border killed two Hezbollah members, also according to the Observatory.
Israel rarely comments on individual strikes but has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to expand its presence in Syria.
Syria’s war has claimed the lives of more than half a million people and displaced millions since it broke out in March 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.


UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict

UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict
Updated 29 February 2024
Follow

UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict

UN rights chief: War crimes committed by all parties in Israel-Hamas conflict
  • UN human rights office had recorded ‘many incidents that may amount to war crimes by Israeli forces’

GENEVA: UN human rights chief Volker Turk on Thursday said war crimes had been committed by all parties in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, calling for them to be investigated and for those responsible to be held accountable.
“Clear violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, including war crimes and possibly other crimes under international law, have been committed by all parties,” Turk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“It is time — well past time — for peace, investigation and accountability.”
Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages in an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
The attack sparked an Israeli offensive in Hamas-run Gaza, which it says is intended to rescue the remaining hostages and eradicate Hamas. Health authorities in Gaza say some 30,000 people have been confirmed killed during the offensive.
Turk, who was presenting a report on the human rights situation in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said his office had recorded “many incidents that may amount to war crimes by Israeli forces.”
He said there were also indications that Israeli forces have engaged in “indiscriminate or disproportionate targeting” in violation of international law.
Israel has said it is doing all it can to minimize harm to civilians.
Turk said Palestinian armed groups launching indiscriminate projectiles across southern Israel and the holding of hostages also violated international humanitarian law.
Last month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians and do more to help civilians, although it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire.
Turk said the prospect of an Israeli ground assault in the southern border town of Rafah, where some 1.5 million people are estimated to be crammed after fleeing their homes further north to escape Israel’s offensive, “would take the nightmare being inflicted on people in Gaza into a new, dystopian, dimension.”
“For my part, I fail to see how such an operation could be consistent with the binding provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice,” he said.
Turk added that such a ground offensive would incur massive loss of life, increase the risk of atrocity crimes, spur more displacement and “sign a death warrant for any hope of effective humanitarian aid.”