Exclusive interview with Faruk Kaymakcı: the future of EU-Turkey relations


VoteWatch Europe reached out to Ambassador Faruk Kaymakcı, Turkish Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Director for EU Affairs, to discuss his views on the latest developments concerning EU – Turkey relations and the outlook for the partnership.

VoteWatch Europe: The European Commission made an agreement with Turkey to increase collaboration in EU research, innovation, and education programmes in the period of 2021-2027. With this agreement, Turkey has been granted association status to Horizon Europe, Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps. Regarding Turkish participation in EU programmes, what are your expectations about Turkey’s integration process to the European Union? How do you think this will benefit youth, researchers and various communities in Turkey?


Faruk Kaymakcı: EU programmes serve as a solid platform conducive to closer partnership in key areas such as education, youth, sport, research, and innovation. They are also a reflection of our strong will to join the EU. These programmes are yet further proof of Turkey’s and the EU’s mutual longstanding commitment to Europe’s common future.

Erasmus+ is not only a learning or exchange activity but also a factor that strengthens the European identity and cohesion. Participants can develop their life skills whilst learning a foreign language and deepening academic knowledge. Living in another country, making friends in the international environment, getting to know different cultures, gaining business experience and establishing professional connections are significant achievements of the programme.

The European Solidarity Corps Programme (ESC) offers young people between the ages of 18 and 30 the opportunity to participate in various solidarity and volunteering activities around Europe.

Erasmus+ and ESC offer immense opportunities for people to develop cultural awareness, open-mindedness, to fulfil their potential and to enrich their lives.

Horizon Europe Programme will constitute the backbone of the world collaboration in science, innovation, technological advancement, and our shared commitments to implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. Given its unique nature with a budget of almost €95.5 billion and ambitious “missions” to tackle big global challenges we are facing today, Horizon Europe is the programme that we are especially pleased to be associated with and get the chance to be a part of the European and global solutions.

By taking part in Horizon Europe, Erasmus+ and ESC, all Turkish citizens and especially young people can benefit from the guidance of science and reason, be part of the teams of visionaries, innovators, and scientists and consequently have courage to change the world.

VoteWatch Europe: Turkey recently ratified the Paris Agreement and stated its objective to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2053. In line with The Green Deal Action Plan, how would you evaluate Turkey’s compliance with the European Green Deal? What will be the first policy implementations taken by the Republic of Turkey according to green transformations in the areas of economy and trade?

Faruk Kaymakcı: The European Green Deal, rather than being merely an environmental strategy, encompasses far-reaching measures to transform production, consumption and investment patterns towards competitive, sustainable and environmentally sound alternatives. The Green Deal will have important implications not only on Turkey’s efforts to align with the EU’s laws and standards, but also on our trade relations with the Union. As an EU candidate country and a Customs Union partner, Turkey has been following the developments regarding the Green Deal right from the beginning and has taken important steps to ensure a smooth compliance process.

In that regard, Turkey’s Action Plan for the Green Deal has been prepared under the coordination of the Ministry of Trade with the contribution of all related public institutions and the private sector. The Plan, which was made public in July 2021, provides a detailed roadmap for Turkey’s transition to a greener, digital and sustainable economy. The Action Plan includes 81 actions and 32 objectives under 9 priority headings in order to create an environment conducive to a carbon-free future.

Turkey’s ratification of the Paris Agreement and the announcement of the net zero emissions target by 2053 will bring significant impetus to the implementation of the Green Deal Action Plan. These developments will also provide greater certainty to business circles in their green investment plans.

Finance and technology are the key drivers of green transition. As a matter of fact, Turkey’s adaptation to the Green Deal will require considerable investments. The success of the Green Deal will ultimately depend on equitable access to financial and technological means by all related actors including Turkey.

With the establishment of the Customs Union, Turkey has been highly integrated with the EU market since 1996. Turkish firms are part of the EU value chains and Turkey is contributing to the competitiveness of EU industries. Turkish industries and retailers closely follow the EU standards on products and production methods.

However, in order to preserve the strong interconnection between Turkey and the EU, the new measures introduced by Green Deal such as Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) should not run contrary to the requirements related to the Customs Union and international commitments of both sides. Due to our integrated value chains, effects of any measure on bilateral trade should be examined thoroughly with joint efforts.

The EU’s transition to a green economy should not result in protectionist measures, but focus on building partnerships that would contribute to the EU’s strategic vision. In this respect, given the strong trade and economic links between Turkey and the EU, we need to take coordinated actions regarding the challenges of the Green Deal.

Turkey is a strategic country for global supply chains, with its geographic location, proximity to the EU, physical and technological infrastructure and skilled labour force.

The pandemic has affected our economies negatively through many channels, and it has shown us once again how dependent we are on each other and especially Turkey’s importance for Europe.

Fast adaptation to the Green Deal will reinforce Turkey’s position in the global supply chains, increase its international competitiveness, and enhance economic integration with the EU. Thus, it will bring substantial benefits to both sides, which will result in improved living standards and higher welfare levels for all of our citizens.

Sustainable finance has a key role in delivering the policy objectives under the Green Deal. Our Green Deal Action Plan dedicates a section for green finance and our responsible authorities are taking necessary steps to develop green bond market and sustainable finance instruments in Turkey.

VoteWatch Europe: The European Council and Turkey signed an agreement on March 18, 2016, to halt the influx of irregular migration into the rest of Europe via Turkey. Therefore, both parties have tried to come up with effective solutions regarding this matter. However, recent developments in Afghanistan bring a new agenda between these two parties to reach concrete solutions. What steps will Turkey take in this regard? What will be Turkey’s expectations from the European Union?

Faruk Kaymakcı: The 18 March Statement is not only about migration cooperation, but also includes visa liberalisation dialogue, acceleration of EU membership negotiation process, upgrading of Customs Union, Turkey-EU high level dialogue engagements and counter-terrorism cooperation. The statement is based on a balance of reciprocal expectations and responsibilities. It is very important to keep this balance. We have fulfilled all our commitments and expect the same from the EU on all six aspects of the statement.

The migration dimension of the 18 March Turkey-EU Statement is based on the principle of responsibility and burden sharing. Thanks to this model of cooperation, we have made solid progress in tackling the mass arrivals in Turkey and the rest of Europe.

Turkey acted in accordance with the principle of pacta sunt servanda and fulfilled its two commitments emanating from the statement, namely implementation of the 1 to 1 scheme (for every migrant Turkey takes back from Greek Islands, the EU resettles 1 Syrian from Turkey) and prevention of irregular immigrants to the rest of Europe. In particular, irregular crossings (a reduction of 92% in arrivals into the EU) have been notably reduced and lives have been saved at the Aegean Sea. We maintain our resolute stance for stemming irregular migration and reducing irregular migratory flows to the rest of Europe. The EU benefits greatly from developments related to migration and border management in Turkey. Turkey’s increasing legal and operational capacity on border management, fight against organised crime and terrorism are directly and very positively affecting every single EU member state.  

The migration dimension of the 18 March Turkey-EU Statement also included four commitments that the EU was expected to honour, namely; implementing the 1 to 1 scheme, ensuring fast and adequate financial assistance to refugees in Turkey, putting in practice the Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme and cooperating with Turkey in Northern Syria in order to improve the humanitarian conditions for the safe, voluntary and dignified returns of Syrians. However, among these commitments, only the 1 to 1 scheme was fully implemented by the EU. The promised financial assistance (3+3 billion Euros) to refugees is still being delivered with considerable delay due to cumbersome bureaucracy and the amount is not sufficient. The EU Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme was never put into practice and Turkey-EU cooperation in Northern Syria has not been realised.

The current realities require the renewal of the 18 March Statement’s migration dimension along with its other aspects. A new migration cooperation deal must focus on Turkey-EU cooperation in Northern Syria to enable better conditions and voluntary returns; to support strengthening of the Turkish-Iranian border, which is the external border of NATO and Europe; to implement joint projects in source countries especially in Afghanistan and Africa and to have a fair burden sharing in terms of both financial cost and resettlement.

We are still facing new challenges on migration, such as the Belarus and Afghanistan crisis. On the migration crisis with Belarus, we stand in solidarity with the EU and NATO Allies. Turkish authorities and Turkish Airlines have taken all necessary measures within their capacity.

On the Afghanistan crisis, Turkish Red Crescent and NGOs continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people and we will keep working to provide more humanitarian assistance. Neighbours of Afghanistan are in a key position to convey this humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. Cooperation and supporting the neighbours of Afghanistan in the field of border protection and migration management is also crucial. We should focus on these areas otherwise, additional waves of irregular migration will be inevitable. Turkey, which already hosts 4.2 million refugees of which 3.7 million are Syrians has reached its limits and cannot accommodate additional migrants.

We believe that common challenges such as migration crisis and terrorism, inter alia, puts forward the necessity for both the EU and Turkey to get closer and increase their cooperation.

We have to think comprehensively to address our common challenges in a sustainable manner. In this context, we expect genuine burden and responsibility sharing from the EU side. 

VoteWatch Europe: The European Parliament, the Council, and the Commission have given their priorities to the involvement of EU citizens and especially young people, for their guidance in shaping the EU’s future. Considering the issues related to the future of Europe, what are the main themes and priorities of the conferences organised by Turkey on the future of Europe? Especially when you take into account the suggestions and opinions of Turkish youth about the future of Europe, what responsibilities do you think Turkey has at this point?

Unfortunately, the EU did not include citizens of the 7 candidate countries in the debates on the future of Europe.

But as the Directorate for EU Affairs, we have initiated “Future of Europe and Youth” meetings. Our main objective is to enable young people from universities, academia, NGOs, think tanks, workplaces etc. to express their opinions and suggestions on the future of Europe via these online meetings.

While deciding on the main themes, we held a preparatory meeting with the participation of academicians as well as representatives of civil society organisations working in the field of youth. We have arranged four sessions namely; on “strengthening democracy and representation”, “economic and social inclusion”, “green deal and digitalisation” and “foreign and security policy”. During these sessions, young people from different parts of Turkey had the opportunity to share their thoughts and visions on Europe.

During these webinars, we have witnessed that Turkish youth is highly engaged with European politics and has sound knowledge of the ongoing discussions within the EU. Moreover we are glad to see that they are very eager to express their opinions on European politics and policies. We also observed that they have similar concerns, priorities and expectations with their peers in other European countries. They are mainly concerned about the youth employment, rise of extremism, xenophobia and racism in Europe. On the other hand, Turkish youth is optimistic about the European economic recovery and prosperity. Besides, they believe that the European Green Deal would give a new momentum to our bilateral relations.

I believe that these meetings would give us an opportunity to comprehend Turkish youth’s concerns about the future of Europe and expectations from the EU. Thus we will prepare a report about these webinar meetings and share Turkish youth’s opinion and expectations with the EU institutions in order to contribute to the policymaking process that will shape our common European future.

In addition to “Future of Europe and Youth” meetings, we also support the webinar series entitled “The Future of Europe and Turkey” led by the Economic Development Foundation (IKV). The webinar series focus on the main issues in Turkey-EU common agenda and all issues are debated within the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

All in all, I would like to emphasise that it is impossible to envision a European future without Turkey. The challenges our continent faces today are common and massive. How they will be addressed would have profound effects on our common future. Turkey is the most important asset for the EU on key issues that the EU faces today. The European Project will not be complete until Turkey is a part of the EU. 

VoteWatch Europe: The recent European Commission report suggested for the first time that Ankara was no longer serious about delivering on EU-backed reforms. When you consider Turkey’s long-term goals of becoming a Member State, how do you evaluate the current accession negotiations in terms of Turkey’s alignment with the EU acquis Additionally, how would you describe Turkey’s progress in implementing the goals of the EU?

To begin with, there is no such statement in the recent Turkey Report. Nevertheless, it claims that the “Turkish government did not reverse the negative trend as regards the reform agenda despite the Turkish government’s repeated commitment to the objective of EU accession”. If you mean this statement, I must say that it does not reflect the true picture of Turkey’s reform process.

Unfortunately, Turkey-EU relations have suffered from a highly politicised course of accession negotiations that was supposed to be technical. From the very beginning onwards, the process has been abused by certain Member States for their own narrow minded national interests. They have always tried to turn their bilateral problems with Turkey into an issue of Turkey-EU relations. Even when relations were at their best, half of the accession chapters were blocked for purely political reasons.

However, despite the delays and impediments we have faced and have been facing in the accession negotiations, Turkey firmly maintains its strategic commitment to the EU membership. The most concrete example is the recent steps that we have taken within the framework of the Judicial Reform Strategy, the Human Rights Action Plan and the National Action Plan for the EU accession as well as the European Green Agenda, including the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The 2021 Turkey Report also confirms that Turkey has reached, in general, a good level of alignment in 20 Chapters and achieved progress at various levels in 20 Chapters during the past year. This demonstrates Turkey’s determination to continue alignment with the EU acquis despite the political obstacles it faces.

If the EU acts like a credible anchor towards Turkey, we can move forward in the reform process in an even faster pace. Unfortunately, it is the opposite that Turkey-EU relations are facing today: I name it as an anchor-credibility dilemma. In the past, when the EU was a serious anchor towards Turkey, when there was a clear EU membership perspective, Turkey made a “silent revolution”, as it was called by our EU friends. Thus the EU should provide a clear accession perspective for Turkey as it does for other 6 potential candidate and candidate countries. This is the key for ensuring further progress in reform agenda and enhancing Turkey-EU relations. Indeed prolonged and politically blocked accession negotiations negatively affect us in tackling common challenges as well.

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