The EU reacted immediately to China’s discriminatory trade practices against Lithuania. However, in the case of the EU-Turkey customs union agreement, the European Commission still remains “passive”, writes Costas Mavrides.

Costas Mavrides is a European lawmaker from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament and chairman of the Political Committee for the Mediterranean.

The 1995 EU-Turkey Customs Union Agreement governs bilateral trade relations on a range of import-export and free trade. The agreement is concluded between the EU and Turkey and applies to all Member States.

In 2004, with the accession of ten new member states to the EU, Turkey’s legal obligation to extend the agreement to the new states was formally signed with the Additional Protocol to the EU Customs Union Agreement -Turkey (July 2005). However, shortly afterwards, Turkey publicly announced its refusal to implement the customs union with the Republic of Cyprus.

The European Council, reacting unanimously, declared Turkey’s obligation to fully implement the Customs Union Agreement in a non-discriminatory manner towards all Member States. He basically asked Turkey to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, to remove any obstacles to free trade or means of transport and to indicate that this is a contractual/legal obligation of Turkey and not only of a political issue or agreement. Due to Turkey’s continued refusal to comply, in 2006 the EU unanimously decided to freeze eight membership chapters.

Since then, the European Parliament and other institutions have repeatedly called on Turkey to comply, but other than that, no further action has been taken by the EU. Even today, Turkey imposes a total trade and economic embargo against the Republic of Cyprus, causing essential commercial and financial losses to Cyprus and the EU.

In July 2015, amid the continued breach of contractual obligation under the EU-Turkey Customs Union Agreement, I urged the European Commission to act on the flagrant breaches in complete disregard of EU rules. World Trade Organization (WTO), there was no action.

On January 27, 2022, the European Commission announced its WTO appeal against China for discriminatory trade practices against Lithuania “which appear to harm Lithuania and elsewhere in the EU”.

Furthermore, Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President of the Commission, explained that the EU is determined to act quickly because “from December 2021, China started to restrict or hinder (de facto) imports and exports from Lithuania.

If the WTO appeal is unsuccessful within 60 days, the EU will appoint a panel of experts to adjudicate the matter. In the case of Lithuania, the European Commission reacted quickly, protecting EU interests as expected. On the other hand, in the case of Cyprus, the European Commission has not taken similar action against Turkey.

For seventeen years now, Turkey has refused to implement the EU-Turkey customs union with the Republic of Cyprus, acting to the detriment of the latter and the EU in a flagrant way. In addition to this, Turkey’s request to improve EU-Turkey relations has been put on the table.

As the European Council has stated since 2005, Turkey’s obligation to the EU regarding its member state, Cyprus, is contractual. It is also a question of solidarity based on respect for standard rules and commercial legitimacy.

However, this is mainly Turkey’s contractual legal obligation to the EU. The Commission still remains “passive”, leaning in favor of the offender.