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#Turkey: Syrian refugee crisis can help 're-energize' relations between Turkey and EU

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turkeyThe EU-Turkey deal to tackle the Syrian refugee crisis could help 're-energize' EU/Turkey relations and pave a way for a resumption of accession negotiations, a Brussels conference heard, writes Martin Banks.

The crisis represents a 'wake-up' call for the EU but could also help kick start relations between the two sides.

But before this can happen, several thorny issues, such as a reduction in the number of refugees attempting to cross EU borders, visa liberalization and implementation of readmission agreement by Turkey, had to be overcome, the event on Monday was told.

Dr Demir Murat Seyrek said, "The refugee crisis could have positive repercussions on EU/Turkey relations if both parties overcome their mutual distrust."

Seyrek, a senior policy advisor at the European Foundation for  Democracy, which organised the debate, said the issue of visa liberalisation was particularly important for the millions of  Turkish citizens with relatives in Europe.

But other issues, including the 'reluctance' of some EU member states to Turkish accession, had to be addressed before negotiations could restart.

He argued that opening accession chapters, particularly those on the rule of law and justice, could be a useful step forward to tackle the current impasse on EU/Turkey relations.

Another important 'symbolic' measure would be acceding to Cyprus’s formal application for Turkish to be recognised as an official language of the EU, he said.

The policy briefing focused partly on the 3€ billion deal the EU signed with Ankara in November which is partly designed to help cut the flow of migrants. After more than five years of fighting, more than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives and 11m have been displaced.

Of the 3€ bn, Germany will give 427,5€ million, the UK 327,6€ m, France 309,2€ m, Italy 224,0€ m and Spain 152,8€ m.

The progress the EU-Turkey deal has had on tackling the crisis will be discussed at a special EU-Turkey summit in Brussels on March 7.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has warned of a "complete breakdown" of the EU's migration system unless progress is made.

Seyrek told the debate that Turkey was currently hosting 2,6 million Syrian refugees, a figure that is larger than six EU member states and two and a half times the size of Brussels.

"Turkey has, in fact, been dealing with the issue for four years while the EU has had a late wake-up call to the crisis," he said.

He pointed out that the 3€ bn fund is aimed at delivering humanitarian assistance, the enhancement of self-sufficiency and participation in the economy, and improved access to education for the refugees in Turkey which is now home to the largest refugee population in the world.

In addition to hosting refugees, Turkey, he said, had also become a transit route in recent years.

The crisis shows no sign of abating. According to latest figures from the UN Refugee Agency more than 80,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by boat during the first six weeks of 2016.

Seyrek said that while the 3€ bn from the EU and its member states represented 'important support' it was 'minor' compared to the 7€ bn cost Turkey had incurred in tackling the crisis since it started in 2011.

Another keynote speaker, Zeynep Alemdar, of Okan University in Istanbul, agreed, saying she too believes the refugee situation had the potential to help reinvigorate EU-Turkey relations.

However, she warned that with support for EU accession among the Turkish public falling from a high of 70% in 2004 to 50% now, a 'lack of trust' between the two sides could hamper any attempt to resume accession talks.

"What we need is an honest relationship between the two parties," she told the packed audience.

Alemdar, also vice president of the Turkey-EU Association, said that as 11 out of every 100 people in Turkey have immigrant backgrounds, it had plenty of experience in addressing the current crisis.

As little as 10% of the Syrian refugees in Turkey actually live in camps and Alemdar said that while the 25 camps housing refugees were in "much better condition" that those in Europe, only 3% of these refugees had been able to obtain work permits.

Another obstacle to refugees finding employment is work quotas - a maximum of 10% of staff hired by Turkish companies by law can be immigrants.

It is estimated that more than half of Syrian refugees are children while only 14% of primary school aged children outside the camps are enrolled in school.

In response to a question about the reasons for the apparent breakdown in trust between the EU and Turkey, Alemdar said, "The  EU should not forgot to uphold its own values. You just have to look at what's going on in places like Hungary and Slovenia for evidence of this."

This was a reference to the attempts by some member states, including Hungary, to reinstate border controls, in violation of EU rules on free movement of people. Austria has also been criticised after it placed a cap on asylum seekers.

Another participant said the burden on other countries such as Lebanon, which hosts around a quarter of the 4 million Syrians who have fled to neighbouring countries, should not be overlooked.

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Accession talks with #Albania and #NorthMacedonia sharpens focus on EU solidarity

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Whilst public policy news continues to be dominated by the social and economic effects of the Chinese Covid 19 virus – the Council has found time to make great progress  in respect of the enlargement of the EU to embrace the countries of Albania and North Macedonia – writes Dr. Vladimir Krulj

EU Member states agreed earlier this week to give the green light to open EU accession talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania. The way they did it was also exceptional, by written procedure having regard to the present health situation affecting Europe and the rest of the world.

It is interesting to note that Northern Macedonia started discussions with EU before Croatia did. However complications with the dispute with Greece over the country’s name caused endless delays, until finally an unprecedented move in 2018 by the then Prime Minister to change the country’s name opened the door for progress with talks.

In the case of Albania there were difficulties with the rule of law, anti-corruption efforts, criminality, freedom speech and protection of human rights which led Denmark and the Netherlands to block the opening of accession talks last November – against the recommendations of the European Commission.

On the other hand Croatia did its best to lobby for those two countries to open negotiations with the EU. This was important not only for the Euroatlantic movement now spreading among the majority of the countries in the region but also to counter the influence from Russia, China and Turkey.

It is extremely important and encouraging to see how other neighbouring countries from the Region, Serbia and Montenegro who are already candidate countries supported the efforts of Croatia and other EU countries to open accession talks with Northern Macedonia and Albania.

President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and Prime Minister Edi Rama of Albania have already held discussions about the idea of a “mini Schengen” which will enable an easier exchange of goods, people, services and capital, hence making the economy and everyday living of the people from the region easer. Despite being heavily criticised by some analysts this initiative at least also demonstrates the good intention to put bad memories from the past firmly behind them and to look to the future of constructive regional cooperation.

It is imperative that all societies in candidate countries for EU membership truly embrace the core values of the EU. But the challenge this presents should not be underestimated. The situation regarding the rule of law, freedom of the press, respect for human rights and civil liberties today presents serious obstacles to the majority if not all candidate countries on their path towards the EU.

On the other hand, it is fair to say that for the EU it seems that acceptance of core values represents just one side of the problem. Another more challenging part of the equation is how to embed those values in society and maintain respect for them.

Examples of how democratic institutions operate today in Hungary, Poland and to a certain extent even in Croatia is, rather worrying if not to say deplorable. It seems that the EU must focus on strengthening the role of democratic institutions and implement mechanisms to remove obstacles to their efficient operation.

One may think that President Macron referred to this point in particular when he was addressing the future of the EU. Today more than ever the key issue is solidarity. Giving Northern Macedonia and Albania the chance to open EU accession talks offers a promising new starting point.

The author, Dr. Vladimir Krulj, is an Economic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), London.

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Majority of people in non-eurozone member states say #Euro is good for economy

EU Reporter Correspondent

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A majority of respondents in the EU member states that have yet to adopt the euro thinks that the common currency has had a positive impact on those countries that already use it, the latest Flash Eurobarometer shows.

In total, 56% of respondents across the seven member states (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden) share this view, up one percentage point over the past year and up a total of four percentage points since 2016.

This view is strongest in Hungary (70%), Romania (62%), Poland (54%) and Bulgaria (53%). Almost half also believe that introducing the euro would have positive consequences for their own country (45%, -1) and for them personally (47%, no change).

In total, 55% would like the euro to become their currency as soon as possible or after some time (+2), vs. 42% who would prefer this to take place as late as possible or never (-2). A majority of respondents in Hungary (66%), Romania (61%) and Croatia (49%) are in favour of introducing the euro.

77% of the population in these seven member states has already used euro banknotes or coins (+1 percentage point since last year). 49% feel well informed about the single currency (+1) and 81% think that they would personally manage to adapt to the replacement of the national currency by the euro (+2).

A Standard Eurobarometer released in December 2018 shows that 75% of the population in the euro area are now in favour of the euro, the highest level since the introduction of the single currency. This Flash Eurobarometer was conducted in the seven eurozone ember states that are legally committed to adopting the euro: Bulgaria, Czechia, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden.

The Flash Eurobaromemter is available here.

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Parliament wants to suspend EU accession negotiations with #Turkey

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Following years of severe political and democratic backsliding, the European Parliament has recommended suspending EU accession negotiations with Turkey.

The European Parliament remains seriously concerned about Turkey’s poor track record in upholding human rights, the rule of law, media freedom and the fight against corruption, as well as its all-powerful presidential system.

In a resolution adopted last week by 370 votes in favour, 109 against with 143 abstentions, MEPs welcome Turkey’s decision, last year, to lift the state of emergency introduced after the failed coup attempt in 2016. However, they regret that many of the powers granted to the President and executive following the coup attempt remain in place, and continue to limit freedom and basic human rights in the country. MEPs express great concern about the shrinking space for civil society in the country, as a large number of activists, journalists and human rights defenders are currently in jail.

Taking into account the human rights situation and the new Turkish constitution, the European Parliament recommends that the current EU accession negotiations with Turkey be formally suspended.

Parliament stands behind Turkish citizens

Despite the serious situation, MEPs express their will to stand behind Turkish citizens, and keep the political and democratic dialogue open. EU funds must be made available - not via Ankara, but to Turkish civil society - for human rights defenders, students and journalists to promote and protect democratic values and principles.

Modernising the EU-Turkey Customs Union

MEPs believe that to keep Turkey economically anchored to the EU, the possibility to upgrade the 1995 EU-Turkey Customs Union to include, for example, agriculture and public procurement, must remain an option, but only if there are concrete improvements in the field of democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

Visa liberalization

Further, MEPs encourage Turkey to fulfil all 72 benchmarks for EU visa liberalisation, to benefit Turkish citizens, particularly students, academics, business representatives and people with family ties in EU countries.

Turkey’s role in the migration crisis

Finally, regarding the war in Syria, the resolution recalls Turkey’s important role in responding to the migration crisis and the government’s efforts to grant refugees temporary protection. The EP takes the view that the country and its population have shown great hospitality by offering shelter to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, but at the same time urges them to respect the non-refoulement principle. Member states, on the other hand, need to keep their promises regarding large-scale resettlement.

Rapporteur Kati Piri (S&D, NL) said: “If the EU takes its own values seriously, no other conclusion is possible than to formally suspend the talks on EU integration. Our repeated calls to respect fundamental rights have fallen on deaf ears in Ankara. On top of the severe human rights violations, the dismantling of the rule of law and the fact that Turkey holds the world record for the number of journalists in jail, the recently amended constitution consolidates Erdoğan’s authoritarianism.”

“I realize that stopping the accession talks is not a step which will help Turkey’s democrats. For that, the EU leaders must use all possible tools to exert more pressure on the Turkish government. The Parliament, therefore, calls for dedicated funds to be made available to support civil society, journalists and human rights defenders in Turkey. In addition, modernizing the customs union must remain conditional on clear improvements in the field of human rights. And more efforts must be put into people-to-people exchange programmes.”

Background

The EU is Turkey’s largest trading partner, while two thirds of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Turkey comes from EU member states. Negotiations on its EU accession started in 2005.

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