The European Union is concerned with Ankara’s continued policy of non-alignment with restrictive measures against Russia and increased trade and financial relations with Moscow, the European commissioner for enlargement said Wednesday.
The red flag on Turkish-Russian ties from the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, comes as Oliver Varhelyi, the commissioner responsible for neighborhood and enlargement, outlined the annual country reports for the seven EU candidates.
Addressing first the members of the European Parliament and then journalists on the annual reports, the Hungarian commissioner praised Turkey’s efforts to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine and its vital role in the agreement on the export of grains from Ukraine.
Ankara’s continued policy of not aligning with restrictive measures against Russia is of concern due to the free circulation of products, including dual-use goods, within the EU-Turkey Customs Union,” he added.
NATO member and EU candidate Turkey has been engaged in a delicate balancing act since the Russian invasion of Ukraine eight months ago. Though the country’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu maintains that this places Turkey in a unique place for mediation, it becomes more difficult as the war continues, particularly given Turkey’s political and economic ties with Russia.
The European Commission’s 140-page report on Turkey, the EU’s longest-standing candidate, said that free circulation of products “created the risk of undermining EU restrictive measures against Russia” and trust in the Turkish-EU Customs Union.
The report said that Turkey did not close its airspace to Russian planes and openly welcomed Russian oligarchs to invest in the country.
It also implicitly criticized Turkey for facilitating Russians to obtain Turkish citizenship. “In the aftermath of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, Türkiye increased the minimum amount of immovable property investment required to become eligible for Turkish citizenship from $250,000 to $400,000. In addition, the government also enacted a legal amendment allowing foreigners to apply for Turkish citizenship. … Such schemes pose risks in relation to security, money laundering, tax evasion, terrorist financing, corruption and infiltration by organized crime,” it said.
Ankara criticized the Commission’s report as "lacking a strategic approach and a vision” toward Turkey.
“It is a complete oddity that Türkiye is criticized for its non-compliance with the EU sanctions in relation to the Russia-Ukraine war albeit it does have no obligation to comply with such sanctions. We again emphasize that the grain export and exchange of prisoners of war between the parties could have only been possible thanks to the principled stance of (Turkey),” the Foreign Ministry said.
Turkey’s ties with Russia were also raised by Nacho Sanchez Amor, a Spanish Social Democrat who is the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey. “It is one thing not to join the sanctions against Russia and quite another to help Russia evade them,” said Amor, accusing Turkey of benefiting Russia by blocking NATO’s Nordic expansion.
An internal report by the European Commission also said that China and Turkey were leading the way in helping Russian President Vladimir Putin get around EU trade embargoes. “The value of Turkey's exports to Russia nearly doubled since the second quarter of 2022, showing the same trend in several key sectors," EUobserver quoted the report as saying. "In tandem with this development, exports of some member states to Turkey have also risen sharply over 2022," it added, in a tell-tale sign of circumvention.
The European Commision’s expression of concern comes a day before Turkish and Russian presidents are expected to meet in Astana. Turksih President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly expressed hope he can bring Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy together for talks to stop the war. Cavusoglu, in an interview with TeleNet on Oct. 10, said that the talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations in Istanbul last April were “the closest” that both sides came toward an agreement. “But certain third countries prevented it,” he said, without elaborating further.
On Wednesday, Putin said Russia could redirect supplies intended for the damaged Nord Stream pipelines to the Black Sea to create a European gas hub in Turkey, or even use the one intact part of Nord Stream 2 to supply the EU. Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Sonmez, in Moscow for an energy conference, appeared thrown off-balance at the proposal. “Technicaly it may be possible, but needs to be assessed in detail,” he said.
In Brussels, the release of seven annual country reports was dominated by the Commission’s recommendation to grant candidate status to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The decision needs to be formalized by the leaders of the EU member states, possibly in December. Other candidates to the EU are Albania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Moldova and Ukraine, which became candidates last June, and Turkey, a candidate since 1999 and in accession negotiations since 2005.
Among all the candidates, Turkey maintained a very low alignment rate with the EU stand on foreign and security policy of 7% as of August 2022 due to conflicting policies in Russia and with its neighbors. “Turkey’s unilateral foreign policy continued to be at odds with the EU priorities under the common foreign and security policy (CFSP), notably due to its military action in Syria and Iraq,” stated the report on Turkey.
It also said that the tensions in Turkish-Greek ties had caused a deterioration between Ankara and Brussels. “After some positive developments in 2021, relations with the EU deteriorated in the first half of 2022, due to repeated violations of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets in the Aegean and threatening Turkish statements regarding the sovereignty of Greek islands, and against Cyprus,” it said.
Like previous years, the report maintained that the Turkish government has not reversed the negative trend in relation to reform, despite its repeated commitment to EU accession. “The EU’s serious concerns on the continued deterioration of democracy, the rule of law, fundamental rights and the independence of the judiciary have not been addressed. There was further backsliding in many areas. Concerns increased over economic governance and the good functioning of the market economy,” the report said. It cited the continued detention of philanthropist Osman Kavala and former co-chair of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas as benchmarks of Turkey’s drifting away from the standards for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry rebuffed the report. "While the importance of cooperation and the collective action against common challenges were underlined in the first meeting of the European Political Community held on 6 October with the participation of our president, it is regrettable that this spirit of solidarity is not reflected in the report,” it said, adding that the report reflected the unlawful views of Greeks and Greek Cypriots in the Aegean. “We remind once again that the EU is not an international judicial body to determine maritime jurisdiction areas. This manner of the EU is against both its own acquis and international law,” it said.