Top EU officials meet Erdoğan for talks on migration, trade
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.
The meeting came few weeks after EU leaders agreed on new incentives such as to increase trade and improve cooperation with Turkey on migration following the conciliatory steps taken by Ankara.
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.
Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said in a statement that they discussed issues including updating the refugee deal, the renewal of the Customs Union, the granting of visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, inter-public contacts and high-level political consultations.
It was stated that the EU should take concrete steps to support the positive agenda, he added.
Stressing that Erdogan put forward a perspective on the future of Turkey's relations with the EU, Kalın said Turkey’s ultimate aim is full membership in the bloc.
He said strengthening political, economic and social relations between Turkey and the EU not only helps for the stability of Turkey and the European countries but also in achieving regional peace.
He added that they discussed the refugee problem, which should be handled with a sense of shared responsibility, as well as the urgent need for the renewal of the refugee deal.
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.
Leyen, for her part, stressed that the visit was meant to give an impetus to Turkish-EU relations, adding that areas of mutually beneficial cooperation were covered during their meeting with Erdoğan.
Noting that Turkey was currently hosting 4 million refugees, Leyen underlined that Brussels would continue providing aid to them, as well their host country.
On the two sides' intense mutual economic relations, she pointed out that the EU is Turkey’s number-one export and import partner.
She said Brussels and Ankara would continue to deal with the current challenges in implementing their Customs Union and eventually start work on updating it, referring to a 1995 trade deal between Turkey and the bloc.
Leyen said the meeting with Erdogan was held in a sincere atmosphere and voiced intentions to build better relations.
However, she said the sides were yet at the initial stages of this effort, adding that the coming weeks and months would show how much progress would be possible.
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.