Since the end of World War II, Turkey has been an important ally for Europe. The country fields Nato’s second largest army, and its strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean is crucial. It is the bridge between Europe and the Middle East and the gateway to the Black Sea region, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
Over the past decade and a half, the European Union has held accession negotiations with Turkey. During these talks, the EU continuously raised the bar for entry until member states finally made it clear that Turkish membership was not desired.
Europe’s relations with Turkey have cooled lately, partly due to the EU’s faintly arrogant behaviour during the accession negotiations, but also as a result of the erratic policies pursued by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in recent years.
Turkey is now providing shelter to some 2 million Syrian refugees, many of whom would like to continue their journey westwards. It should be remembered that Turkey is also a transit country for migrants to the EU from other hot spots.
The EU needs Turkish help to prevent uncontrolled numbers of migrants and refugees from reaching its borders. Brussels also wants Turkey to beef up the measures it is taking against human trafficking. Ankara rightly points out that it is already bearing a much heavier refugee burden than the EU. Even so, it is ready to help – but it has requested some things in return.
One problem (mostly applying to Turkish businesspeople) is the visa requirement for Turks travelling to the EU, especially within the Schengen area. Obtaining such a visa is cumbersome and humiliating. It is hard to understand why this requirement was not lifted some years ago. Ankara is requesting that it be done now.
Another item on Turkey’s wish list is the right to participate in EU summits. Ankara also wants to resume negotiations on three chapters of EU accession, mostly concerning trade, finance, justice and security.
Finally, to ease the financial burden of sheltering more than 2 million refugees, Turkey expects 3 billion euros of aid from Europe.
All of this seems reasonable since, as mentioned above, the EU has not exactly treated Turkey fairly. The visa requirement is a good example of how obsolete policies create ill feeling. It is a hassle for ordinary travellers, and completely ineffective in preventing criminals from entering the EU illegally.
Excellent relations with Turkey should be a priority for the EU, even if one ignores the migrant crisis. Turkish participation as an observer at some EU summits could reinforce this important relationship. Resuming negotiations on some trade and finance chapters could possibly benefit both sides.
As for aid, it is difficult to assess whether the sum requested by Turkey is arbitrary or legitimate, but it is certainly defensible from a humanitarian point of view. Compared with the hundreds of billions the EU has pumped into Greece with no hope of ever getting back, what Turkey is requesting is almost negligible.
Today’s circumstances have given the EU an unexpected opportunity to reinstate a close partnership with Turkey. Seizing it would be beneficial for both sides, not least because it would allow the EU to wield more ‘soft power’ on Turkey’s domestic scene, giving hope for progress in such sensitive areas as freedom of the press.