Brexit copycat: Angela Merkel’s possible successor listed Turkey for UK-style trade deal

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Turkey has embarked on a major naval construction programme to restore the regional maritime influence it lost after the Ottoman Empire’s collapse. However, the policy has already generated regional tensions, particularly with its neighbours Greece and Cyprus. At the end of last year, Greece announced a significant weapons purchase as Turkish President Recep Erdogan continued with the offensive.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the new arms included 18 French Rafale fighter jets, four frigates and four navy helicopters.

Initially, the EU, of which Greece is a member, simply called for dialogue with Turkey – an approach which was heavily criticised by many political commentators.

At a summit in early December, EU leaders agreed to prepare limited sanctions on Turkish individuals ‒ but postponed discussions on any harsher steps until March.

As tensions in the Mediterranean grow, a possible presidential candidate of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), claimed there is no prospect for Turkey’s EU membership but urged the two sides to instead focus on an expanded free trade agreement.

Friedrich Merz told Deutsche Welle Turkish that Brussels and Ankara could use the Brexit trade agreement as a precedent.

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Mr Merz said having an expanded European region that includes a country like Turkey would “make sense”, pointing specifically to the country’s participation in the EU’s internal market without acquiring full membership rights.

Mr Merz is a candidate to replace German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is standing down after 18 years as leader of Germany’scentre-right CDU.

Turkey has been an official EU candidate country since 1999 and has maintained a customs union deal with the bloc since January 1996.

Accession negotiations formally began in October 2005, but have stalled in the last few years due to what is being called Turkey’s failure to comply with required criteria pertaining to the EU candidacy.

Turkey does not have an EU prospect, even in the long run, Mr Merz said, noting that the country, along with Russia, should consider relations that rank below full membership.

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After almost a year of negotiations and multiple missed deadlines, Britain and the EU secured a post-Brexit trade deal at the end of last month.

Announced on Christmas Eve, Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as a “jumbo Canada-style” deal and declared: “All our red lines about returning sovereignty have been achieved.

“Everything that the British public were promised during the 2016 referendum and in the general election last year is delivered by this deal.

“The deal is fantastic news for families and businesses in every part of the UK. We have signed the first free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas that has ever been achieved with the EU.”

The deal, which came into force on January 1, guarantees tariff-free trade on most goods and creates a platform for future cooperation on issues such as crime-fighting, energy and data sharing.

In a recent report, the head of London-based think-tank Euro Intelligence Wolfgang Munchau suggested why Mr Merz might be interested in offering Turkey a UK-style trade deal.

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He wrote: “The biggest Turkish diaspora is in Germany.

“Traditionally voting for the SPD, though increasingly also for the CDU and the Greens, the majority supports Erdogan.

“Over the past months, he has played a diplomatic game with Angela Merkel.

“In the end, Erdogan got what he wanted: no sanctions from the European Council.

“This way he showed the Turkish diaspora what he is capable of doing.

“Erdogan is a master of manipulation and turning arguments upside down. He sent refugees towards the Greek border to remind the EU what they could expect if they crossed his red lines.”

He concluded: “If Europe cannot get its act together and decide on what those red lines are, there will be no stopping Erdogan. “

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