Germany will continue its opposition to launching talks for modernization of the EU-Turkey customs union during the German EU presidency unless an improvement in the rule of law and political situation in Turkey takes place, said Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakcı, who participated in an online conference on EU-Turkey relations organized by a Turkish university.
In his speech Kıran touched on Turkey-EU relations, the priorities of the German presidency, EU efforts to aid the fight against the pandemic, Germany’s travel warning for Turkey, which has been a popular travel destinations for European tourists, and the EU-Turkey customs union modernization negotiations. Kaymakcı stated that Turkey should be realistic and carry out political reform to guarantee an EU decision to launch the negotiation process.
“[The EU] might take a decision during the German presidency. However, Germany insists on the rule of law and the political situation in Turkey. We can guarantee such a decision if we take steps for political reform in Turkey. We should thus be realistic,” Kaymakcı said.
The customs union between the EU and Turkey entered into force in 1995. It covers all industrial goods but does not currently address agriculture (except processed agricultural products), services or public procurement. But bilateral trade between the two sides has increased in recent years, and the agreement needs to be updated.
Germany, which has been pushing the European Commission to suspend preparatory work on negotiations with Turkey for updating the customs union, will assume the rotating EU presidency on July 1. Even as of a few months ago, it looked as if climate change, Brexit and the negotiations over the future EU budget framework were going to be the main topics of the German presidency. In light of the COVID-19 crisis and with Europe facing the public health, economic, societal and political consequences of the pandemic, the German presidency had to revise its strategy.
“The EU needs to increase its trade in order to exit the coronavirus [crisis]. The EU should increase its investment and production. In fact, we have the customs union update [for the exit strategy]. It is an important issue. The customs union update cannot be completed overnight. Negotiations and the approval process will take time. But even the start [of negotiations] will send the right message to Turkey and investors from other member states, and improve trade. This is not only Turkey’s position. Moreover, investors and businessmen of other member states, representing BusinessEurope, have sent a clear message to European leaders and recommend that they launch negotiations for the EU-Turkey modernization, which would also contribute to the post-coronavirus era,” Kaymakcı said.
According to Kaymakcı, an updated EU-Turkey customs union should include sectors such as services, agriculture, public procurement and energy: “You may know that the current [EU-Turkey] customs union includes processed agricultural products and industrial goods. The impact of a revised [EU-Turkey] customs union covering services, agriculture, public procurement and the energy sector is very important. Why? Because, Turkey is not an ordinary country, and Turkey is the fifth or sixth largest economy in Europe. Therefore, the [EU’s] trade with Turkey has a direct impact. The customs union update is essential in that regard.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other Turkish officials are exploiting the refugee issue in Turkey’s relations with the EU in order to extract concessions in ongoing talks with European officials.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu have on various occasions warned the EU that a new refugee flow will take place in the post-pandemic era unless Turkey’s demands, including visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and an EU-Turkey customs union update, are not met.
“If it was in the EU, Turkey could have conducted a stronger fight [against COVID-19]. Several member states criticized the EU with regards to the pandemic. The solidarity was shaken. An advanced relationship is to everyone’s advantage. We should revise the agreement on migration. The customs union agreement should also be revised. Visa liberalization should be granted. We have to be more decisive in the fight against terrorism. There are many common steps to be taken, and we, to this end, initiated a plan to work together with Josep Borrell [the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy] after President Erdoğan’s visit to Brussels. I hope we can make progress in this regard,” Çavuşoğlu said.