President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on April 6 met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council Head Charles Michel seeking to build relations on renewed momentum for better ties.
The meeting in the Turkish capital Ankara was their first face-to-face talk since the Turkish president paid a visit to Brussels in March 2020.
Among the issues that Erdoğan and EU officials were expected to discuss are relaunching high-level political dialogue, the liberalizing of visa rules for Turkish citizens, starting negotiations on the modernization of the 25-year-old customs union, and renewing the 2016 EU-Turkey refugee deal to fund more for Turkey’s hosting of millions of Syrians.
Following the meeting, Michel said that Turkey’s withdrawal from an international pact to curb violence against
women raises concerns after what he called a “frank” discussion with Erdoğan.
Michel, at a press conference alongside Ursula von der Leyen said it was positive that Ankara had de-escalated tensions with bloc member Greek Cyprus over offshore rights and should be enhanced.
Last month, Brussels said the EU pledged to start the implementation of what it calls the positive agenda and said it was ready ”to engage with Turkey in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner to enhance cooperation in a number of areas of common interest.”
Intensifying talks with Turkey to address the current difficulties in the implementation of the customs union, ensuring its effective application to all member states, and inviting in parallel the council to work on a mandate for the modernization of the customs union are cited among economic incentives.
However, it also stressed that the improvement in all these fields is subject to continued de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean.
The EU tasked an executive committee with trying to build on refugee agreement. EU leaders also asked the European Commission to explore ways to continue to help finance the estimated 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, as well as those in Jordan and Lebanon.
The 2016 deal envisages Turkey prevents refugees and migrants from trying to reach Europe in exchange for refugee aid and other conditions. The EU offered Turkey 6 billion euros ($7.1 billion) to help Syrian refugees. However, only 3.6 billion euros were spent or could reach Syrians, and the bloc should help Turkey, according to Turkish officials.
The agreement also included six key points, including the reinvigoration of Ankara’s EU accession process, the modernization of their customs union, revival of top-level dialogue, visa liberalization for Turkish nationals, cooperation in managing migration flows and counterterrorism. Ankara has long been asking the block for progress in these areas as well.
Turkey has also accused Brussels of not fulfilling its promise under the agreement to accelerate Turkey’s near-frozen accession process to the EU.
These steps were blocked by several member states due to bilateral problems and tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Last year, disputes mounted further, with the EU siding with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean where Athens and Ankara had been contesting maritime boundaries. Ankara argued that its relations with the EU have been hijacked by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration.
Following a year-long tension, Turkey-EU relations gained new momentum in late 2019 after the Turkish seismic survey vessel, Oruç Reis, which had been sailing for energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean, returned to port ahead of an EU leaders’ summit in December.
The bloc has been encouraged by conciliatory moves from Ankara over the past few months, including the resumption of talks with Greece over a disputed maritime border.
However, the meeting of Erdoğan and EU leaders came on the heels of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention for combating violence against women and the launch of a formal bid to shut down the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
EU leaders are scheduled for a summit to be held in June where they will assess progress on EU-Turkey ties again.
Hurriyet Daily News