HomeEuropeEU and Turkey call for concrete actions to improve relations

EU and Turkey call for concrete actions to improve relations

Turkey and the EU signalled a slight brightening of relations on Thursday, after a year of tensions that had left Brussels pondering new sanctions.

The hint of a thaw came at a meeting between Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and just a day after President Joe Biden took office in the United States.

In brief statements to reporters, Borrell and Çavuşoğlu called for action to build on the recent improvements.

“Last year has been a complicated year for these relations,” Borrell said, standing alongside Çavuşoğlu at the headquarters of the EU External Action Service. “Recently, we have seen, from both parts, an improvement in the overall atmosphere and some important steps.”

Borrell, in particular, noted the the announced resumption of direct exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece, which are aimed at reducing longstanding regional tensions betwen the neighbors. Borrell stressed that “intentions and announcements need to be translated into actions.”

Borrell also mentioned efforts by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to resume negotiations over the future of Cyprus. “We strongly wish to see a sustainable deescalation in the Eastern Mediterranean, but in the wider region also,” Borrell said. He also nodded to the “prospects of adhesion” — a reminder that Turkey formally remains a candidate country for EU membership, though negotiations are effectively frozen and its hopes of ever joining the bloc darkened amid the recent tensions.

In the livestream of his statements to the press, Borrell didn’t explicitly mention any concern about human rights, but the point was later added to the official transcript.

Tensions had run high for numerous reasons, but especially because of unauthorized Turkish drilling for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. As a result, EU leaders unanimously agreed in December to add more names to a sanctions list that currently targets two top managers at the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO).

In recent weeks, however, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched a charm offensive, including by reaching out to Athens and Paris. Some analysts linked Erdoğan’s shift to the looming change of administration in Washington. Others said the EU had succeeded in striking the right balance between carrots and sticks — by threatening new sanctions in December but also keeping a door open to reengage with Turkey.

During his two-day visit to Brussels, Çavuşoğlu is meeting several top EU officials, including European Council President Charles Michel.

Standing with Borrell, the Turkish minister said that last year was “problematic” in terms of bilateral relations, but that recently “both sides have expressed will in order to create a positive atmosphere.”

Erdoğan has invited Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to visit Turkey and Çavuşoğlu said that he and Borrell “are going to work on the preparation of these visits.”

Çavuşoğlu cited the “need of concrete steps by both sides” saying that talks would focus on migration, the preparation of a multilateral conference on the Eastern Mediterranean; Turkey’s desire for visa-free travel to the EU for its citizens, an enhances of the EU-Turkish customs union.

 



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