European Council conclusions without consensus are followed by dispute with Turkey

The discussions at last week’s European Council were summarized by the reelected President Donald Trump. His statement was supported by all Member States besides Poland that had opposed his reelection. Immediately after the meeting The Netherlands and other Member States became entangled in a diplomatic with Turkey which might escalate. The Council statement deals with a number of important issues but “did not gather consensus for reasons unrelated to its substance”. The statement should therefore not be read as implying a “formal endorsement by the European Council acting as an institution”. What this implies is difficult to guess but no doubt Donald Trump will have to make an extra effort to implement the conclusions.

On jobs, growth and competitiveness the statement sounds positive. The reform agenda put in place by the EU and its Member States in the wake of the 2008 crisis is bearing fruit according to the Council. It adds that trade remains one of the most powerful engines for growth, supporting millions of jobs and contributing to prosperity.

The European Council also welcomes the positive vote in the European Parliament on the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and looks forward to its imminent provisional application. “This is a clear signal at a time when protectionist tendencies are re-appearing.”

On security and defense the statement says that “Europe must do more to protect its citizens and contribute to peace and stability in its neighbourhood and beyond, including by committing sufficient additional resources.” The EU remains fully engaged in supporting Member States to ensure internal security and to fight terrorism.

The most divisive issue in EU is migration where some Member States do not agree on the principles of responsibility and solidarity as a shared objective. The Council calls for further efforts to rapidly deliver on all aspects of the comprehensive migration policy resilient to future crises and will return to these issues in June 2017.

The “fragile situation” in Western Balkans is apparently a matter of concern and “will be kept under review”. Without mentioning Russia, the Council is worried about its interference in the Western Balkans, a policy which dates to the tsarist Russia.

Some countries are backsliding in their commitments to EU and should continue on the reform path. EU cannot allow a black hole in the Western Balkans and reaffirmed “its unequivocal support for the European perspective of the region”.

Diplomatic row with Turkey

But hardly had the Council meeting in Brussels ended when a diplomatic row erupted with Turkey on the participation of Turkish ministers in election rallies in Member States with a strong Turkish diaspora. Turkey plans a referendum on 16 April on constitutional reforms, which, if adopted, will transform the country from parliamentary to presidential democracy.

In a country where the support for the current President is more or less equally divided every vote counts, including the votes of Turkish citizens living in Member States. An election rally in Rotterdam was banned by its mayor for reasons of public order.

The Dutch government followed suit and forbad the entry of the Turkish foreign minister. The family minister was not allowed to enter the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam. This prompted the Turkish President Erdogan to accuse the Dutch government of being “Nazi remnants and fascists” and to threaten with countermeasures.

The Belgian news agency Belga reports that a demonstration in Amsterdam on Sunday evening by a small group of people of Turkish origin was dispersed by police. In other Dutch cities, such as Rotterdam and The Hague, calls to the Turkish community to demonstrate had been circulating on social networks but remained generally unanswered.

If the row will escalate, it might damage the EU-Turkish agreement from last year on stemming the flow of illegal migrants from Turkey to EU. Despite the sensitive situation, the European Commission issued today (13 March) an unusually sharp statement on the incident and the Turkish plans for a change of the constitution.

In a joint statement by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn on the amendments to the Constitution of Turkey and recent events, they write that “Turkey has the sovereign right to decide over its system of governance”.

The also “acknowledge the fact that the country is going through challenging times and stand by it in its fight against the scourge of terrorism. We will continue to support the country’s hospitality to refugees from war-torn areas in its close vicinity.” 

But referring to the so-called Venice Commission of the European Council they write that the proposed Constitutional amendments “raise serious concerns at the excessive concentration of powers in one office, with serious effect on the necessary checks and balances and on the independence of the judiciary.”

“Following the tensions of these last days between Turkey and some EU Member States, it is essential to avoid further escalation and find ways to calm down the situation. Decisions with regard to the holding of meetings and rallies in Member States are a matter for the Member State concerned, in accordance with the applicable provisions of international and national law.”

“The European Union calls on Turkey to refrain from excessive statements and actions that risk further exacerbating the situation. Matters of concern can only be resolved through open and direct communication channels. We will continue to provide our good offices in the interest of EU-Turkey relations.”

M. Apelblat

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