Down the road to the EU Summit

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

It has been a month of Summits. The G7 of Finance Ministers, deciding to go for a minimum tax rate on multinationals, wreaking havoc at hitherto idyllic tax havens; the G7 at Presidents-and-Prime Ministers level, with Queen Elisabeth quipping “Do we have to show we are having a good time?”. All along, talk of the US coming home, of the West closing ranks, of democracies claiming the high moral ground against autocrats – then, of course, the face-to-face of President Joe Biden with President Vladimir Putin in Geneva (at the 18th century lakeside Villa La Grange, home to the First Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Wounded in Armies in the Field back in 1864; also where Pope Paul VI spoke of “disenchantment of public opinion in the face of frustrated hopes” in 1969…).

Sandwiched between these two sets of summitry, one could follow the NATO Summit in Brussels, the spectacular setting for a more focused U.S. homecoming after the distancing of the Trump years. As was usually the case in a NATO setting b.T. (before Trump), the name of the game was “looking for a positive agenda” once the usual search for enemies and threats was over (this time, China was named as a threat alongside Russia). Further to the reaffirmation of “unity, solidarity and cohesion” and to a “new chapter in trans-Atlantic relations”, the positive agenda had to do with undertakings to build concrete solidarity and joint action not only when “the security and stability of an Ally is threatened” (after all, such is the role of an Alliance), but also whenever “our fundamental values and principles are at risk”. Does this sound rather too high-brow? Well, in more practical terms the Brussels (31st) Summit was used to indicate what kind of a positive agenda could be envisaged for relations with truculent Alliance member Turkey.

This very concept of a “positive agenda” will be centre-stage in the last round of summitry: the European Council of 24-25 June. The Summit Agenda will cover a wide range of topics, starting from Covid-19 and the vaccine situation and going over to the expected economic recovery and the NGEU package (complete with useful infographics in the Agenda…). Still, an important part of the discussions will deal with relations with Russia and (here it comes!) with Turkey. “In line with the statements of the European Council of March 25, leaders will resume their discussions on relations with Turkey”.

The meetings of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with US President Joe Biden and Greece’s own Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis have paved the way, so the “positive agenda” for Turkey in the European Council of June 24-25 can focus on – at the very least – the updating and modernizing the EU-Turkey Customs Union towards an Enhanced Commercial Framework (as suggested back in 2016) but also on the EU-Turkey Statement over Migration (also dating from March 2016). The fact that a rapprochement of sorts is underway between Athens and Ankara, with confidence-building efforts picking up pace and exploratory talks also going on (the first have to do with the defense situation, the second with foreign affairs) is supposed to have cleared the way.

But Ankara’s move, to volunteer for an increased Turkish footprint in Afghanistan now that the US (and other NATO allies) are stepping back may well prove more convincing an argument about Turkish usefulness to the West than talk of “values and principles” – be it in NATO or EU context…