Juncker says Bulgaria's EU term presidency could help restore ties with Turkey


European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that Bulgaria, which will be the president of the European Council for the next six months, can have a significant role in the normalization of Turkish-EU relations as the country shares a border with Turkey and has close ties with Ankara.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle Turkish, Juncker said that the EU wants to have a close, joint partnership with Turkey, adding that restoring ties with Turkey also depends on Ankara.

"As a neighboring country, Bulgaria may use its close ties with Turkey as a mediator and translator to increase the dialogue [between Turkey and EU]," Juncker said, emphasizing that it is always better to talk with each other than talk about each other.

Taking over the rotating presidency of the council on Jan. 1 from Estonia, Bulgaria has recently expressed its aspiration to have close relations with Turkey multiple times.

On Sunday, a Bulgarian church in Istanbul reopened with the attendance of both Turkish and Bulgarian leaders. An outstanding symbol of Bulgarian Orthodox Christianity, the church, Sveti Stefan, the only church in the world mainly made of iron, was built in 1898 on the site of a wooden church destroyed by fire. Restoration started seven years ago in a project co-funded by Turkey and Bulgaria.

Before attending the opening ceremony of the church, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told Anadolu Agency (AA) that the reopening of the church had proven there can be friendship, mutual understanding and goodwill between the Muslim and Christian countries.Regarding Turkish-EU talks, Borissov cited the rise of the far-right parties in Europe as one of the reasons for stalled negotiations.

"I think the migrant deal with Turkey is going well," he said, praising Turkey's fight against irregular migration since the deal.

"The migration flow to us has officially fallen to zero. We have great collaboration with Turkey on border checkpoints. Our border police and coast guard do a great job with their Turkish colleagues," Borissov said.

In March 2016, Turkey and the EU signed a deal to discourage irregular migration over the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of the nearly 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

He said the EU should not turn its back on Turkey. "The EU and Bulgaria are not just neighbors with Turkey, which has the largest military force in NATO in Europe, constituting the southern wing of NATO."

"Instead of turning our back on Turkey, we should redevelop diplomacy and good relations and maximize our trust in the south wing as much as possible," he added.Although it was one of the first countries to join the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1959, and applied for full EU membership in 1987, Turkey still has candidate country status. In the meantime, many countries in Europe have been accepted as EU members despite applying much later than Ankara. In 2005, accession negotiation talks with Turkey opened and since then, only one of 16 opened chapters of the Copenhagen criteria have been fulfilled and closed. In 2016, the European Parliament voted to suspend the accession negotiations.

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