Syria: Risks and opportunities for EU-Turkey cooperation

Institute: Institute of European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB), Belgium

CATS Network Research Topic: Opportunities and constraints for EU-Turkey cooperation in Syria

Project Members: Zafer Kizilkaya, Mohammad Salman

Project Duration: 01 September 2020 – 31 May 2021

Contact Person: Zafer Kizilkaya, email: Zafer.Kizilkaya(at)vub.be

In the last couple of years, developments in Syria have added an extra layer to the already complicated relationship between the EU and Turkey. Cooperation and discord have mainly been on two key issues: the refugee crisis and the threat of terrorism, which is associated with the phenomenon of European foreign fighters. Accordingly, most of the current academic and non-academic research output has been on the problems, opportunities and policy proposals concerning these two priorities. Turkey’s repositioning in Syria, its military action in the northern part of the country and its stance on the future of Syria are not clearly understood in the West. This not only hinders the development of a coherent Turkey policy within the EU but also precludes potential cooperation between the EU and Turkey in rebuilding war-torn Syria. This project aims at identifying opportunities and constraints for EU-Turkey cooperation in Syria in two parts:

In the first phase, the focus will be on the Turkish sphere of influence in northern Syria. Here, a distinction will be made between the Turkish policies regarding the areas west of the Euphrates (the Idlib region and the Turkish-controlled areas between Jarablus, Azaz and Al Bab) and east of the Euphrates where Turkey conducted its latest offensive in October 2019. The goal is to examine Turkey’s foreign policy objectives in both areas, to explore potential future scenarios based on the developments on the ground and to identify policy alternatives for the EU. Should the EU be ignorant, permissive or opposed to the existing and future enlargement of the Turkish presence in northern Syria? What are the potential areas of cooperation between the EU and Turkey in the Idlib province as well as the Turkish-controlled areas to the east and west of the Euphrates River?

In the second phase, the focus will be on the broader peacebuilding efforts in Syria. This includes an analysis of the current mediation processes of Geneva, Astana and other multilateral initiatives which aim at reaching a negotiated agreement. What are the opportunities and constraints for the EU and Turkey to cooperate in the efforts to achieve a durable peace in Syria? How can Turkey and the EU play a role to address the challenges in the reconstruction, peacebuilding and reconciliation attempts in Syria?

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