EU heads seek 'new chapter' with Turkey visit

BRUSSELS • The European Union's top two officials head to Turkey today to lay out to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the bloc's conditions for improved ties after a dip in tensions.

European Council president Charles Michel and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen will hold out the prospect of key economic and diplomatic gains for Ankara, including more funding for Turkey's hosting of millions of Syrian refugees.

But the road map for relaunching cooperation - agreed by EU leaders at a summit last month - depends on Mr Erdogan acting constructively and continuing to de-escalate tensions over Turkey's eastern Mediterranean gas exploration.

An EU official said today's meeting in Ankara "will not be the moment for negotiations, but will provide a framework" on the way forward.

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 and steps to restart United Nations peace efforts for divided EU member state Cyprus.

Brussels' "carrot-and-stick" approach entails the possibility of modernising a customs union, liberalising visa rules, more money for Syrian refugees and a resumption of high-level dialogues on topics from security to health.

But any steps would be "phased, proportionate and reversible", and if Ankara backtracks then the EU has warned it could slap painful sanctions on the country.

"If Erdogan does not show himself to be cooperative, then everything will be blocked," the official warned.

Convincing the Turkish leader to accept the conditions will not be easy and he has already pressed the EU to move faster towards "concrete results".

But analysts and diplomats say Mr Erdogan has become more pliant in the face of economic woes at home and a toughening line from Washington after his ally Donald Trump left the White House.

EU members have been split over how to handle Turkey, with Cyprus, Greece and France urging a tough line while others, led by economic powerhouse Germany, want more engagement.

Ankara formally opened talks to join the bloc in 2005 but the process froze as Mr Erdogan tightened his grip over the country.

The bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell insists the bloc's latest offer of cooperation "could be a new chapter in EU-Turkey relations" after last year's nadir. "The situation remains fragile, but the EU welcomes these forthcoming developments and gestures on the part of Turkey and has responded by extending its hand," he wrote.

EU leaders remain deeply wary of Mr Erdogan, and there are major concerns on rights after Ankara's recent withdrawal from a global treaty on violence against women and moves to ban a pro-Kurdish opposition party.

The EU also insists it wants to see Turkey "positively contribute" to solving conflicts in Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh in which Ankara plays a key role.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2021, with the headline 'EU heads seek 'new chapter' with Turkey visit'. Subscribe