EU-Turkey relations heading for new pause
17.12.13 @ 09:16
BRUSSELS - The EU and Turkey on Monday (16 December) feted a new pact on migrants, but relations are about to go back into low gear.
EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom and Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu signed the "re-admission" treaty at a ceremony in Ankara.
When it is ratified by both sides, it will oblige Turkey to take back irregular migrants who enter the EU from its territory.
Malmstrom and Davutoglu also launched talks on future visa-free travel, which the EU had tied to the re-admission deal.
Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that "a new process is beginning in Turkish-EU relations."
Malmstrom noted that relations took "a significant step forward."
The re-admission ceremony comes one month after the EU and Turkey restarted accession talks following a three-and-a-half-year break.
The upbeat mood is set to continue in January, when Erdogan visits the EU capital, and in February, when French President Francois Hollande goes to Turkey.
But EU parliament elections and Turkish presidential elections in 2014 mean the re-admission pact is likely to be the last development of substance until 2015.
"The momentum is still fragile," a senior EU source, who asked not to be named, said.
"Turkey is heading into complex elections and will become more inward looking. The EU will be the same. Surveys indicate large gains by populist, anti-EU parties, which are not the most open political forces when it comes to enlargement, let alone when it comes to Turkey," the source noted.
The source said that "technical work" will continue on the visa and accession front.
But the source added: "EU-Turkey relations will not make big headlines in 2014."
With support for EU membership in Turkish society fluctuating, but on a downward trend, the situation has prompted some head scratching on how to keep the momentum going.
For their part, Turkish diplomats are keen for the EU to do something "creative … symbolic" during the election season.
One idea is to open talks on chapter 33 of the EU accession rulebook, which deals with how new member states channel customs and VAT income into the EU budget.
It is symbolic because chapter 33 is normally dealt with at the end of the accession process, indicating that the finish line is near.
France, which under its former centre-right government spoke out against Turkish EU membership, is open to the move.
But there are other ideas floating round as well.
The UK is one of the most pro-Turkish EU states for strategic reasons - building Western influence in the Middle East.
It says there is no alternative to full membership down the line.
But with accession still a dim prospect, some British diplomats believe the EU should offer Turkey an "interim" pact modelled on the Stabilisation and Association Agreements in the Western Balkans in order to "keep the positive mood alive."