Erdoğan holds talks to revive Turkey’s EU bid
BRUSSELSTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met the European Union’s top officials, along with the leaders of the powerhouses of the bloc in Brussels, in a bid to revive the country’s bid for membership in the EU in the wake of a period of highly tense relations.
Council of Europe President Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker met Erdoğan “in a good and constructive atmosphere” before a NATO summit in the Belgian capital on May 25.
The “EU and Turkey must and will work together,” a spokesman for Juncker said in a tweet as talks began.
“Major issues of common interest were discussed in detail in a good and constructive atmosphere.”
Tusk also highlighted the need for cooperation while emphasizing disagreements over human rights.
“We discussed the need to cooperate,” Tusk said following the meeting in a tweet, adding that he “put the question of human rights” at the center of the discussions.
Erdoğan did not comment on the meeting but presidential sources said all three emphasized the need to realize a March 2016 migrant deal.
The deal to put an end to migration through illegal channels in the Aegean by cracking down on human traffickers and improving the conditions of nearly 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey has also become a source of tension between the bloc and Ankara.
Under the agreement, Ankara agreed to take back all Syrians who crossed to the Greek islands illegally from Turkey, and the EU promised to take in the same number of Syrian refugees from Turkey. The agreement also called for a visa waiver for Turks visiting the EU.
However, visa-free access to the EU has been delayed due to a dispute over Turkey’s anti-terror laws. In the meantime, Ankara has repeatedly warned that it will walk away from the agreement to accept refugees heading to Europe unless the EU agrees to waive visa restrictions.
Erdoğan told reporters before he departed for Brussels on May 24 that the bloc should decide on the union’s future perspective with regards to Turkey’s membership.
“We don’t aim to break away from the EU, but the EU shall take its responsibilities, too. The EU cannot see Turkey [as] a beggar. It does not have such a right... that’s what we’ll tell them,” he said.
At another meeting on the margins of the NATO summit, Erdoğan told French President Emmanuel Macron that he would “rapidly” look into the case of jailed French photojournalist Mathias Depardon, according to Macron’s office.
According to the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Depardon, who has been held in Turkey for over two weeks, has begun a hunger strike.
Depardon was doing a story for National Geographic on Hasankeyf, a historical area that will soon be inundated by waters from a dam, when he was detained. Turkey has ordered his deportation, yet he remains in isolation in the southeastern province of Gaziantep.
Erdoğan and Macron agreed to boost annual trade to 20 billion euros ($22 billion) and to improve Ankara’s diplomatic ties with the European Union, Turkish presidential sources said.
But relations between the bloc and Ankara soured after a failed coup attempt in July 2016, and worsened further during the campaign for the April 16 constitutional referendum. In the run-up to the referendum, Erdoğan said he would approve the reimposition of the death penalty if parliament approves it, even though the move would automatically end Turkey’s EU bid.
Erdoğan was also scheduled to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May.