The once severely strained relations between Turkey and the European Union (EU) are now normalizing with steps being taken from both sides. While officials from Ankara and Brussels announce high-level dialogue meetings, sources said Ankara has set working groups for each missing criteria for the visa liberalization of Turkish citizens into the Schengen zone.
Turkey is expected to meet seven remaining benchmarks for the visa regime, including one on cooperation with the European Police Service (Europol). Sources told Daily Sabah that negotiations with Europol started on Friday and the Turkish side is in preparations to complete all the remaining visa criteria simultaneously and submit it to Brussels as a whole package. Noting that since many of the deputies will soon be out in the field for the March 31 local elections, diplomats who work on the visa liberalization want at least half of the remaining criteria to be passed by Parliament before election campaigns kick off.
It is also announced that a joint EU-Turkey council meeting, which is expected to take place with the attendance of many ministers from Ankara and commissioners from the European Council, will be taking place in the first half of 2019. These council meetings are the top decision-making conventions for mutual relations. Furthermore, three separate ministerial-level dialogue meetings on energy, economy and transportation will be taken until mid-February.
Also commenting on the second 3 billion euros pledged by the EU for Syrian refugees in Turkey, the source said the second batch of the payment will be used mainly for activities related to the integration process of the refugees, including education, acquiring a profession and learning Turkish. According to latest figures, only 170,000 of some 3.5 million Syrian refugees are living at the camps.
An EU source told Daily Sabah that both sides are planning to hold a leaders' meeting after the European Parliament elections in May. The format of the meeting is likely to be one held in Varna during Bulgaria's EU presidency, in which EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Council President Donald Tusk and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov as the leader of the then EU term-president. Without specifically naming the EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who recently suggested ending accession negotiations with Turkey, another high-level EU source said Ankara should not pay attention to such remarks that aim to deteriorate ties. An EU Commission spokesperson also recently told journalists at a briefing that only President Juncker's statements could represent the EU's stance.