MENEKSE TOKYAY – October 02, 2021 – ARAB NEWS
- The latest demining operation is considered the largest ever undertaken by the UN
- Turkey currently hosts about 4 million refugees
ANKARA: Despite several disputes in Turkey-EU relations last year, including tensions in the East Mediterranean and the migrant crisis, both sides are continuing their cooperation in various spheres.
This work ranges from the demining of vast territories along the Iranian border, opening hundreds of schools for Syrian refugees, and developing cooperation to combat climate change together.
On Sept. 28, the EU and the UN Development Programme launched a 18.6 million euros ($21.5 million) project to clear 83,000 landmines along the country’s eastern border with Iran by Jan. 2023 in partnership with Turkish authorities.
The latest demining operation, which began on Tuesday, is considered the largest ever undertaken by the UN.
Ambassador Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, who heads the EU delegation to Turkey, said the project was helping the country fulfill its commitments to the Ottawa Convention, which it has been a party to since 2004 and bans the use of anti-personnel landmines.
“The EU funding helps to improve the working conditions of Turkey’s border management authorities,” he told Arab News. “Anti-personnel mines are very dangerous, indiscriminately killing animals, civilians including many children, and it does not constitute anymore and anyway a modern border management system.”
Turkey currently hosts about 4 million refugees. Afghans, the second-largest refugee community in Turkey after Syrians, are mostly arriving through the Iranian border.
In terms of EU-Turkey relations, accession negotiations are almost frozen although EU leaders earlier this year said the bloc was ready to support a concrete and positive agenda with Turkey, especially in the areas of economic cooperation and migration.
On the other hand, the European Parliament is also discussing a report recommending an end to the Customs Union and replacing it with a free trade agreement. For many, giving up the Customs Union would also mean giving up the accession process and that would create political problems, especially under conditions where Ankara supports the modernization of the Customs Union to cover sectors such as services, tourism, business and e-commerce.
“The EU and Turkey, since the beginning of this year, are working toward the implementation of a positive agenda. In several of its decisions, the European Council has mentioned different points that it wishes to make progress on, such as sustained cooperation on migration issues and cooperation in Afghanistan as well as the resumption of high-level dialogue,” the ambassador said.
As a first step, on Sept. 16, the European Commission’s executive vice president for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, and the Turkish minister of environment and urbanization, Murat Kurum, met in Brussels for a high-level dialogue on climate.
Brussels also welcomed Turkey’s recent decision to ratify the Paris Agreement before the climate change summit in Glasgow next month.
As another avenue for high-level dialogue, the EU commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson, will visit Turkey mid-October to launch the Turkey-EU High-Level Dialogue Mechanism on migration management including visa liberalization issues.
The third high-level dialogue before the end of the year will be about cooperation on health issues, including the alignment of digital vaccination certificates.
Turkey’s efforts to integrate the Syrian refugee population have been welcomed by Brussels, which has contributed to several projects.
Young Turkish and Syrian students, sitting next to each other, playing together and learning the same curriculum, as well as young Syrian university students studying law at Turkish universities, were all very positive experiences and these people would be always grateful to Turkey for all they had learned as part of the national education system, the EU ambassador said.
“Whatever you are able to teach to the young generation now will be the basis of their future lives. They will be able to contribute to society, they will be able to earn their own lives, pay taxes in whatever country they will be. To give these people a perspective, they should be educated. It is for their personal benefit and the benefit of society. It is the best prevention strategy for not being a lost generation,” Meyer-Landrut said.
EU ambassadors approved on Wednesday 149.6 million euros ($173.5 million) as additional funding for Syrian refugees in Turkey. The support will extend the EU’s monthly cash assistance to the refugees.
However, no progress has been made so far on the update of the migration deal signed with Turkey in 2016.
And, despite an on-off peace process over recent years, Cyprus still remains a sticking point for Turkey-EU relations, especially after the divided island became an EU member in 2004.
Despite several diplomatic efforts by the UN, no comprehensive settlement has been reached so far in the decades-long dispute.
“The UN is the roof organization under which Cyprus talks need to take place. The UN resolutions set the framework and the UN is the actor. The EU will support the efforts of the UN and every effort of the parties to negotiate a solution,” Meyer-Landrut said.
The EU supports a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation in Cyprus, while Turkey claims the time has come for talks between two states, not two communities.
Turkey expects the incoming German government — which still remains a driving force in the EU — to support and contribute to the betterment of Ankara’s ties with Brussels, similar to outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s rule.
Turkey’s EU ties predate an association agreement that it signed with the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community, in 1964. The country was granted the status of a candidate country in 1999 and started accession negotiations in 2005.