Concrete steps must be taken to maintain the positive trajectory of relations between Turkey and the European Union, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Thursday.
Speaking at a joint press conference with the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Brussels before a scheduled meeting, Çavuşoğlu said: "It is important to establish a positive atmosphere in the Turkey-EU ties and concrete steps are needed to make it sustainable."
Adding that 2020 was a problematic year for Turkey-EU relations due to a joint declaration after the December summit, Çavuşoğlu said: "But since then both sides have expressed will, in order to create a positive atmosphere for the developments of ties between the two sides."
During a meeting in Brussels on Dec. 10, EU leaders decided to draw up a list of Turkish targets to sanction over what they described as Ankara's "unilateral actions and provocations" in the Eastern Mediterranean.
For his part, Borrell said that Turkey and the EU started the year on a positive note and that the bloc welcomes the resumption of talks with Greece over hydrocarbon rights in the Eastern Mediterranean but added that the EU has human rights concerns.
"We have seen an improvement in the overall atmosphere ... we strongly wish to see a sustainable de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean," he told reporters.
Çavuşoğlu arrived in Brussels Wednesday to hold a series of high-level diplomatic meetings in the EU’s capital, hoping to normalize ties between Turkey, a candidate for full EU membership, and the bloc and further cooperation in several fields.
After a tumultuous year in Turkey-EU relations marked by disputes over drilling rights and maritime borders in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey's leaders have said that they hope for progress in 2021 and expect the bloc to take definitive action to this end.
Çavuşoğlu is in Brussels to present Ankara's views and expectations on several bilateral issues, in addition to global and regional topics, during meetings with officials from the EU, NATO and Belgium.
Relations between the EU and Turkey were strained last year over the Eastern Mediterranean crisis. Turkey and EU member Greece have been at odds on several issues. Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims made by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Instead of opting to solve problems with Ankara through dialogue, Athens has, on several occasions, refused to sit at the negotiation table and opted to rally Brussels to take a tougher stance against Turkey.
In order to solve the dispute in favor of all countries, Turkey last year proposed to hold a conference with the participation of each Mediterranean nation, including the Turkish Cypriots, yet no concrete answer has been given by the EU to the proposal.
As part of efforts toward a solution, NATO members Turkey and Greece engaged in deconfliction talks last year, designed to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents in the Eastern Mediterranean. The process included the creation of a hotline between Athens and Ankara to facilitate conflict resolution at sea or in the air.
Çavuşoğlu will meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, and the two are expected to exchange views on the issue.
Other issues at the top of the Ankara-Brussels agenda are visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, an update to the customs union and the fight against terrorism.
The EU-Turkey Customs Union is a trade agreement that came into effect on Dec. 31, 1995, following the March 6, 1995, Decision of the European Community-Turkey Association Council to implement an association between the two parties in which goods may travel between the two entities without any customs restrictions. The customs union does not cover essential economic areas such as agriculture, services or public procurement.
In addition, a policy to handle migration and possibly the renewal of the March 18 statement struck by Turkey and the EU in 2016 are key issues on the agenda for this week's meetings. Turkey has frequently voiced that years have passed since the deal was made and that conditions have changed, requiring a new road map to tackle the issue of irregular migration.
In March 2016, Ankara and Brussels signed an agreement to reduce the number of migrants taking the dangerous Aegean Sea route to Europe and to find a solution for the influx of migrants heading to EU countries.
Under the deal, Turkey was promised 6 billion euros ($6.77 billion) in financial aid to be used by the Turkish government to finance projects for Syrian migrants. Visa liberalization for Turkish citizens was also a perk of the agreement. In addition, the customs union was to be updated.
Turkey has recently reiterated that it is part of the bloc and sees its future in the EU, while it will continue efforts toward full EU membership.
Turkey has had the longest membership negotiation process with the bloc. The country signed an association agreement with the EU's predecessor European Economic Community (EEC) in 1964, which is usually regarded as a first step to eventually become a candidate. Applying for official candidacy in 1987, Turkey had to wait until 1999 to be granted the status of a candidate country. For the start of the negotiations, however, Turkey had to wait for another six years, until 2005, a uniquely long process compared with other candidates.