Turkey, Politics, World, Analysis, Europe

ANALYSIS – Can PESCO help revive Turkey-EU relationship?

Joint defense cooperation among EU states might eliminate ongoing challenges that led to serious ruptures between Turkey, EU

ANALYSIS – Can PESCO help revive Turkey-EU relationship?


The transatlantic alliance between the U.S. and Europe, which was formed around common values and norms 70 years ago, did not only contribute to ending the conflict, integration, and peace, but has also brought the two sides closer together, shaping transatlantic relations and establishing a liberal international order based on cooperative security, economic openness, democratic solidarity, and multilateral institutions. 

This does not mean that there have been no strong disagreements between the U.S. government and many of its European allies in the past. We have witnessed a transatlantic rift, which in turn led to conflicts over rules and institutions, use of force and the founding principles of the international order, and even led to some debates over the likely end of the transatlantic alliance.

However, the alliance did not undergo a fundamental break. It evolved and adjusted and accommodated itself to new realities.

In recent years, again the interests on both sides of the Atlantic have developed in different directions. This divergence between transatlantic partners, some manifestations of which include the split over climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, multilateral and regional free trade agreements, burden sharing in NATO etc., appears to be growing.

New global trends and internal challenges, such as the Eurozone crisis, Brexit, escalating nationalism and populism, and distrust in established institutions, have put the relationship under a lot of stress and led to both sides of the Atlantic become less aligned in their perceptions and approaches, which called into question whether there really is a crisis in transatlantic relations.

With all these debates going on, the EU decided to awaken the "sleeping beauty" of the Lisbon Treaty -- Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) -- which was initiated in 2009 as part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

As a matter of fact, the debates on the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy have already gained momentum since 2016, parallel to such developments as growing security concerns, Brexit, and the adoption of the Global Strategy for the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism about burden sharing against its European allies and his failure to endorse Article 5 (NATO’s collective defense clause) only served to accelerate this process.

These developments prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to state, "As Europeans we must really take our destiny into our own hands", which brought the EU to the last stage of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), evolving since the Saint Malo Summit in 1998, which set up the framework and main objectives of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP).

With Brexit progressing, the UK will no longer be able to block such an EU initiative. The need for supporting a more federalist EU through the CSDP gained urgency after the UK’s decision to leave the EU. In addition to this, the Trump administration's statements raised uncertainty on the future involvement of the U.S. in guaranteeing European security.

Rising anti-Americanism in some EU-member states also fuels this perception in European capitals, further emphasizing the need for the EU to build structures and capabilities that will enable it to act independently. As the first step of this, the European Defense Fund was launched in June 2017 to accelerate the integration process and then came the decision to activate the PESCO on Dec. 11, 2017.

Similar attempts took place in the history of the European integration process. The first of these attempts, the Pleven Plan, was proposed by the then French Prime Minister Réne Pleven to establish the European Defence Community (EDC) with the aim of creating a supranational European army between six European countries in 1950.

Although the treaty was signed in 1952, it was not ratified by the French National Assembly and it never went into effect. The PESCO is another initiative introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 with a similar goal.

The initiative will partly put an end to Europe's heavy reliance on the U.S. in the NATO alliance. Supported by French President Emmanuel Macron, it has been a reflection of what Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, said during her presentation of the Global Strategy for 2016: "For Europe, hard power and soft power go hand in hand."

In the past, Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, laid down her "three D's" with regards to the EU’s defense integration, which gained pace in the 1990s: The EU was to avoid the "decoupling” of NATO, the "duplication" of the existing NATO structure, and exercising "discrimination” against the non-EU members of the NATO. Accordingly, the EU should not discriminate against non-EU-member NATO partners, such as Turkey and Norway.

The former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, stated his views on the EU's defence integration during a 2001 speech in Germany: "EU defense initiatives should be inclusive and open to all NATO members who wish to take part."

This has not been the case with Turkey. The CSDP is discriminatory against non-EU members of the NATO. For instance, although Turkey, the largest military in Europe, was a member of the Western European Union (WEU) and its Armaments Agency (the European Defense Agency’s predecessor), is a member of the NATO and its Research and Technology Organization, and participates in the Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation, the EU does not allow Turkey to participate in the EU’s European Defence Agency, which was established in 2004.

Although Turkey is a valuable partner and played a key role in the NATO during the Cold War and contributed to a number of security operations, peacekeeping missions, and efforts toward combating piracy and terrorism in the post-Cold War era, it has been confronted with discriminatory EU policies due to the following reasons: the dispute between the Greek Cypriot Administration and Turkey and the absence of EU membership, which created an atmosphere of animosity and distrust between the EU and Turkey.

These two points combined have posed serious problems for the NATO and EU relations: It delayed the signing of a technical agreement between the NATO’s military mission in Kosovo -- KFOR -- and the EU’s civilian Rule of Law mission. It also delayed the takeover of the NATO's Operation Amber Fox in Macedonia by the EU in 2002 and 2003.

PESCO is quite flexible in terms of cooperation in the new defense integration, since not all EU-member states have to participate. Likewise, not all PESCO states have to participate in all of the projects.

PESCO has a potential to provide a new impetus for innovative technological programs carried out by defense companies in the EU. It also encourages cooperation through multilateral research and development projects and joint projects. This is what Turkey is seeking for its defense.

On Nov. 8, Turkey signed an agreement with France and Italy to strengthen their relationship in defense matters and to produce air and missile defense systems at an event held in the NATO headquarters in Brussels. As part of this project, Eurasam will work with its Turkish partners Aselsan and Roketsan to develop and complete T-LORAMIDS (Turkish Long-Range Air and Missile Defence System).

This defense cooperation and including Turkey in this defense structure might give new impetus to the relationship between Turkey and the EU by opening new channels and helping to end the "shift of axis" debates that had arisen after Turkey's decision to purchase S-400 air defense missiles from Russia. Turkey seeks technology transfer which cannot be provided from Russia in the medium and long term.

When Turkey and the EU-member states experienced recriminations over more or less similar challenging issues during the 1990s, the EU and Turkey preferred to give their relations a new frame by agreeing to the Customs Union in 1995, which made Turkey the fourth largest importer from the EU and the fifth largest exporter to the EU in 2016. Despite the ups and downs in relations between Turkey and the European Union, Turkey is still a candidate for EU membership.

A similar way followed during the mid-1990s, which resulted in the creation of a Customs Union between the EU and Turkey, might be taken in this case as well, since it might have the potential to revive the long-stagnated Turkey and EU relations. It also has potential to eliminate the ongoing challenges and problems that gave rise to serious ruptures between Turkey and the EU and also had repercussions on the NATO and EU relations.

There are, as yet, no items about the inclusion of non-EU-member NATO partners in PESCO or development of projects with them. Maybe it is time to consider a role for PESCO to play in the relationship between Turkey and the EU. 

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency. 

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