EU's foreign affairs chief visits Turkey to highlight 'strategic' ties

EU's foreign affairs chief visits Turkey to highlight 'strategic' ties

BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
EUs foreign affairs chief visits Turkey to highlight strategic ties

European foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini speaks during a debate on the recognition of Palestinian statehood. AFP Photo

New EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini travels to Turkey next week to highlight the "strategic importance" of ties, one week after Russian President Vladimir Putin made a rival visit during which he cancelled a huge gas pipeline to Europe.

Europe and Russia are both keen to court Turkey, a long-standing but so far unsuccessful candidate for EU membership, viewed as a bulwark against regional turmoil in Syria and Iraq.

"The visit to Turkey... is a strong indication of the strategic importance of the EU-Turkey relationship and our desire to step up engagement in view of shared interests and common challenges" said Mogherini.

Mogherini will travel on Dec. 8 and Dec.9 with EU Humanitarian Affairs Commissioner Christos Sylianides and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

"I reiterate Europe's solidarity with Turkey, most notably the host communities who are generously hosting more than one million refugees from Syria and Iraq," Stylianides said in the statement.

The trip comes just days after Putin visited Ankara with 10 ministers in tow to promise a huge increase in trade and closer relations despite sharp differences over the crises in Syria and Ukraine.

During the visit Putin announced the cancellation of the multi-billion-dollar South Stream gas pipeline to Europe, saying instead that Russia would work with Turkey on a gas hub.

Turkey is also a long-standing candidate for EU membership, beginning talks in 2005 which have so far made little progress.

Ankara has been angered by Brussels' insistence on human rights protections while there are strong reservations in some EU member states against allowing in such a large Muslim country.

Negotiations resumed late last year following a three-year freeze but President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's handling of opposition to the government has since then only raised fresh concerns in the EU.

"We are committed to moving forward EU-Turkey relations and keeping the accession negotiations on track," Hahn said in the statement.

"However, further reforms are needed to provide solid ground for progress. To achieve this, we need to have an even closer and deeper relationship with Turkey," he added.

The European Union and its member states have provided some 2.5 billion euros in humanitarian aid to help neighboring countries deal with the millions of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.

On Dec. 4, the bloc announced a further package worth 180 million euros to help Jordan and Lebanon.