Turkey, EU agree to accelerate relations: Erdoğan
Hande Fırat - VARNA
Turkey and the EU “agreed to accelerate relations” at a high-level summit in Varna on March 26, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, while adding it would be “self-deceiving” to say all negativities between Ankara and Brussels have been left behind.
“We have particularly stressed the importance of keeping channels of dialogue open. There is full consolidation on this subject. We have agreed that in order to accelerate relations with the EU, more frequent consultation on regional subjects would be beneficial,” Erdoğan told reporters on board his flight returning from Bulgaria, following lengthy meetings with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council President Donald Tusk.
“I told them that a constructive attitude toward Turkey - instead of unfair criticisms and double standards - would help reconcile our ties and facilitate the [resolution of] issues,” he said.
Erdoğan’s words echoed those of Tusk, who openly said there had “not been any concrete compromise” on issues that were discussed in Varna. However, both sides underlined the need to continue engagement.
“Of course, it would be deceiving ourselves to say that ‘everything is perfect and all negative things have passed.’ But it was important to gather at the leaders’ level, to sit at a table together and to speak in a sincere manner. There is an agreement to pursue dialogue and to accelerate relations,” said Erdoğan.
One of the issues discussed between the two parties was the EU’s promise to transmit 6 billion euros in two phases to be used to aid Syrian refugees sheltered in Turkey as part of a comprehensive deal.
“They have stated that the second transaction of 3 billion euros will be sent. If it is possible, we want the [3 billion euros] to be transmitted to us directly, not through intermediary institutions. Because when intermediary institutions are in the picture, part of the money is spent on commission,” Erdoğan said.
“They discussed a money transfer within the framework of a project and there is a certain procedure for this issue. Both our EU Ministry and our Foreign Ministry will closely monitor these subjects and the necessary assessments will be made,” he added.
Erdoğan said he had raised Ankara’s expectation to start negotiations to update the Customs Union, as well as to have a “balanced progress report” analyzing Turkey’s performance in meeting the EU acquis for accession. The latest annual report is due to be released in April.
The Turkish president also said a delegation would hold talks in Ankara next month to discuss Turkey’s proposals to meet the required conditions necessary to launch a visa waiver for Turkish nationals.
Another top issue on the table was the fight against terrorism and Turkey’s criticism of the EU for “not taking concrete and efficient measures” to stop the activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Europe.
“We said we will not make any concessions in our struggle against terrorist organizations like the PKK, as well as its Syrian offshoot, the People’s Protection Units [YPG], or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL],” he said.
“We said we do not have any problems with Kurds, we only have problems with terrorist organizations. We drew attention to the fact that it is wrong to regard our operations as being against Kurds. Indeed, most Kurdish citizens in Turkey support our party,” Erdoğan added.
Turkey’s relations with Greek Cyprus and Greece were also discussed in Varna, with Erdoğan stressing that “Turkey is against Greek Cyprus’s unilateral hydrocarbon activities in the eastern Mediterranean, accusing the EU of not being impartial on the matter.”
“What we say is that southern and northern [Cyprus] should come together and decide to work with whichever international company they want. International law obliges this,” he said.
Meanwhile, both Juncker and Tusk called on Turkey to release two Greek soldiers recently arrested after crossing the border into Turkish territory, Erdoğan stated.
“We said this subject will be tackled by the judiciary. The soldiers’ families and Greek consulate officials are visiting them. They told us: ‘You are a great country. You are a great president. So let these two soldiers be released.’ I responded to them: ‘I am not greater than justice. This issue is in the process of the judiciary and we should wait for the decision to be given by the judicial authorities,’” he said.
“I also noted that those who place such emphasis on the issue of these two soldiers do not mention our extradition demand for soldiers who escaped to Greece after participating in the coup attempt in Turkey,” he added.
“Of course, no connection should be made between the two incidents. But the fact is that those who participated in a coup attempt are still in Greece. They have not extradited them, despite our requests. Those who say nothing about that issue are now talking about the necessity of releasing two Greek soldiers. I told them that this issue is under the control of the judiciary and the ruling should be awaited,” Erdoğan said.