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Event Recap

As an official candidate country to the European Union since 1999 and with its accession negotiations beginning in 2005, Turkey’s relations with the EU have been marred in recent years by a multitude of crises which contributed to a mutual loss of trust. The relationship was squeezed over tensions and disagreements on regional conflicts. However, bilateral relations are too important to be discarded. Turkey is the EU’s fifth-largest trading partner, and the EU is Turkey’s largest; Turkey is a crucial partner in stopping the migratory flow to Europe and cooperating against the terrorist threat. Additionally, as a candidate country Turkey is involved in many European cultural and educational programs.

In recent months, tensions have started to de-escalate with the launch of exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece over their disagreements on the Eastern Mediterranean as well as with talks between the EU and Turkish officials at different levels to explore where interests diverge and converge.

Ahead of the European Council meeting where relations with Turkey will be discussed, the Atlantic Council IN TURKEY, in partnership with the European Parliament’s EU-Turkey Forum, convened a virtual panel of officials and experts on March 17 to discuss a long-term perspective to EU-Turkey relations moderated by Laura Batalla Adam, Secretary General of the EU-Turkey Forum. The event coincided with the release of an issue brief published by the Atlantic Council’s Turkey program on “Europe’s geostrategic sovereignty and Turkey”.

As underlined by Atlantic Council IN TURKEY Director Defne Arslan in her welcoming remarks, the issue brief, written by Dr. Bahadır Kaleağası outlines how a more positive and productive relationship can be developed between the EU and Turkey. The issue brief focuses on how Turkey can further contribute to Europe’s security and global competitiveness in the context of a more lively debate on Europe’s geostrategic sovereignty. It proposes a version 5.0 of Turkey’s European integration with updates on democratic conditionality, foreign policy cooperation, and an economic framework, as well as on the digital, green, and social dimensions.  

Željana Zovko,Chair of the EU-Turkey Forum at the European Parliament, underlined the need for all EU members, and neighbors bordering the EU to bring their expertise to the final definition of this strategic autonomy and highlighted the importance of continuing to cooperate with NATO.  “We have different experiences, we have different security threats, we have a different concept of this strategic autonomy but without NATO and without burden-sharing and without having the NATO as a continuous partner, there is no chance that we will be able to… establish our own strategic autonomy” she said, adding that the search for strategic autonomy can only be successful by relying on international partners such as Turkey.

Turkey’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Faruk Kaymakcı, underlined that Turkey considers itself not as an international partner of the EU but as part of Europe and sees its future in the EU. Ambassador Kaymakcı, reminding that Europe and NATO’s security starts at Turkey’s southeast border, while noting that Turkey absorbs many of the threats to the European security and contributes to a more stable and peaceful in Europe. “Integration of Muslim societies in Europe will be one of the important items on Europe’s stability and geostrategic sovereignty. (…) We believe that Turkey’s cooperation and even membership in the EU will make a contribution to prevent the radicalization and enable the integration of Muslim communities in Europe” he said.

“Turkey should be fully included in the future endeavors both in terms of NATO-EU cooperation but also in terms of PESCO”. Kaymakcı added that “Turkey is not a threat and Turkey is not an adversary to Europe. Turkey itself is Europe, Turkey itself is NATO”, referring to the strategic compass the EU is developing to strengthen a common European security and defense and enhance its strategic autonomy.

Bahadır Kaleağası, President of the Paris Bosphorus Institute and the author of the newly published issue brief  “Europe’s geostrategic sovereignty and Turkey”, described the evolution of the bilateral relationship as a failure: “Turkey’s European Union policy has been a failure. The European Union’s Turkey policy has been a failure” he said. To revitalize the bilateral relationship, Dr. Kaleağası suggested to upload a new approach to Turkey’s European integration process.  He outlined the need to activate the relationship to enable Turkey to stay in the European Union’s sphere of influence on regulations, standards, and law through an updated Customs Union extending to services, agriculture and public procurement as well as expanding it in a way to include the EU’s digital strategy, the European Green Deal as well as sustainable development goals.

On the role Turkey can play in the EU’s strategic sovereignty Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, Member of European Parliament from 2009 to 2019 said: “It is clear that Turkey is a regional superpower and (…) in our search for a new geostrategic autonomy Turkey will play a role, but it could also be that it doesn’t play a role, it depends on Turkey”.  “There is a lot to do to find a common ground and to show Europe that the foreign policy of Turkey in the region is not an imperial Ottoman foreign policy, is not to protect the Brotherhood, to protect political Islam, but it is to join forces with the EU for a safe and peaceful Mediterranean and safe and peaceful Middle East” Bildt explained. Anna Maria Corazza Bildt also stressed the importance of the US-Turkey relationship to the EU’s future security, while underlining that she is a supporter of Turkey’s full membership.

On the issue of how the Biden administration will affect transatlantic relations, Benjamin Haddad, Director of the Europe Center at the Atlantic Council reminding that the new American administration has put the rehabilitation of alliances at the center of its message, emphasized the trend would be burden sharing. “We see clearly a decreased appetite from the American public opinion, left and right, for military interventions, especially in the neighborhood of Europe. So, when we look at the arc of crises from Libya to the Eastern Mediterranean to Syria these are areas where Europeans will be expected to take the lead” he said.


Welcoming by

Defne Sadıklar Arslan
Director, Atlantic Council IN TURKEY
Atlantic Council

Željana Zovko
Vice Chair, Committee of Foreign Affairs
Member, Delegation for Relations with the United States
Chair, EU-Turkey Forum

European Parliament

Introductory remarks

Amb. Faruk Kaymakcı
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Director for EU Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Turkey

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt
Former Member of EU Parliament (2009-2019)

Benjamin Haddad
Director, Europe Center
Atlantic Council

Bahadır Kaleağası
President, Paris Bosphorus Institute
Lecturer, Galatasaray University in Istanbul

Željana Zovko
Vice Chair, Committee of Foreign Affairs
Member, Delegation for Relations with the United States
Chair, EU-Turkey Forum

European Parliament

Moderated by

Laura Batalla Adam
Secretary General, EU-Turkey Forum
European Parliament

Relevant experts

The Atlantic Council in Turkey aims to promote dialogue and strengthen transatlantic engagement with the region through research, programming and high-level discussion forums to address critical issues around energy, economics, business, and security.