I contributed to this article by EurActiv which was published on 26th January 2011
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was in Kiev yesterday (25 January) where he signed with Ukrainian host Viktor Yanukovich a “strategic partnership” between the EU’s two biggest accession hopefuls. EurActiv Turkey reports.
Turkey has held the status of EU candidate country since 1999, but its accession negotiations have been stalled over Turkey’s failure to implement the Ankara Protocol, which states that access should be granted and ports opened to products coming from the Republic of Cyprus (see EurActiv LinksDossier on EU-Turkey relations).
For its part, Ukraine, under new President Viktor Yanukovich, has taken a step-by-step approach with regard to its EU relations and refrains from speaking about future EU accession before a comprehensive association agreement is signed.
So far, the EU has offered the former Soviet state an association agreement which would include a free trade deal, but it has not promised membership or proposed EU candidate status [more].
Following talks with his host, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, Erdoğan said both sides had agreed to start negotiations on setting up a free trade area and on removing visa requirements for their citizens.
Furthermore, the two leaders decided to establish a high-level strategic council aimed at promoting the further development of relations between Ukraine and Turkey.
Energy projects also appear to have taken up a substantial proportion of the negotiations, not least judging from the fact that the two countries’ energy ministers held separate meetings. “We paid much attention to such an economic sector as energy. We have agreed to pursue joint policy and use the experience of highly skilled specialists both in Ukraine and Turkey,” Yanukovich was quoted as saying.
“Currently we are entering a new stage of relations between Turkey and Ukraine as countries that have stable, predictable, partnership relations,” he was further quoted as saying by Ukrainian and Turkish media.
“European integration remains a firm priority for Ukraine […] and we are grateful for the support of Turkey,” he said, expressing his gratitude for Turkey’s support for his country’s integration with the European Union.
Both Turkey and Ukraine harbour hopes of one day joining the European Union, but their tactics so far have greatly differed (see ‘Background’).
Ukraine wants to set up a free trade area with the EU, but is equally open to trade with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko recently told EurActiv that he saw no contradiction between setting up a free trade deal both with the EU and Russia.
The EU-Russia summit held on 8 December marked a turning point, as Russia’s customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan is apparently no longer seen as a problem in Brussels.
On the same occasion, regarding a possible free trade with Turkey, Gryshchenko said his country was only in an initial phase of consultations.
Turkey has recently established a visa-free regime with countries such as Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia. Largely as a result of this, Greece has been exposed to unprecedented immigration pressure, in particular at its border with Turkey at Orestiada, near the Turkish city of Edirne.