The leaders of EU member states will meet in Brussels on Thursday for a two-day summit to discuss the bloc’s foreign relations. The situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and relations with Turkey are expected to be the main items on the agenda of the summit.
The situation in Belarus, the alleged poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and fighting in the Armenian-occupied region of Nagorno-Karabakh will also be discussed.
The European Union on Tuesday warned that all options were still on the table when it came to defending its interests if Turkey did not engage "constructively" in attempts to ease the territorial dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In his invitation letter, the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, said that a dinner on Thursday evening would be devoted exclusively to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and relations with Ankara.
"Our objective is to create a space for a constructive dialogue with Turkey to achieve stability and security in the whole region and to ensure full respect for the sovereignty and sovereign rights of all EU member states," he wrote.
"This will only be possible if Turkey engages constructively. All options remain on the table to defend the legitimate interests of the EU and its member states."
Another statement ahead of the summit came from Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday called for a balanced policy toward Turkey.
Addressing lawmakers during a budget debate, Merkel voiced concern over recent tensions, also underlining the importance of continued cooperation with Turkey on issues of common interest.
"Turkey is our partner in NATO. Turkey's achievements accommodating refugees are really amazing and remarkable; probably it is hosting the largest number of refugees worldwide," she underlined, adding that almost 4 million Syrian refugees live in the country.
The chancellor stressed that EU-Turkey relations are multifaceted, covering various areas of common interest. She signaled that her government would not support calls by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration to impose strong sanctions against Ankara.
"We have to weigh very carefully how we can contribute to resolving the disputes but also how we can find a way to strengthen our cooperation," said Merkel.
"We have to rebalance our relationship with Turkey but also continue our cooperation in many important areas."
Ahead of the summit, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Wednesday sent a letter to bloc leaders, reiterating Ankara's call for dialogue with Greece amid tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
"I would like to emphasize once again that we are ready for dialogue with Greece without preconditions," Erdoğan said in the letter addressed to the heads of EU institutions, as well as the leaders of member countries in the bloc, except for Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration.
Erdoğan underlined that relations with Brussels had always been a priority for Turkey and that "significant progress has been achieved in this regard, especially during our term in office."
He noted, however, that there have been "compelling challenges" in the six decades spanning the two sides' relations.
"Recently, our relations stand in the face of another novel challenge due to the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean."
In the Eastern Mediterranean, tensions have been running high for weeks as Greece has disputed Turkey's energy exploration.
Turkey – the country with the longest coastline on the Eastern Mediterranean – sent out drillships to explore for energy on its continental shelf, asserting its rights in the region, as well as those of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
To reduce tensions, Ankara has called for dialogue to ensure fair sharing of the region's resources.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also said Wednesday that Turkey expected concrete steps to be taken at the EU summit between Oct. 1 and 2 regarding issues including the updating of a 2016 migrant deal and customs union with the bloc, as well as visa liberalization.
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.
According to the deal, Turkey was promised a total of 6 billion euros ($6.77 billion) in financial aid, which was initially designed to be given to the country in two stages and to be used by the Turkish government to finance projects for Syrian refugees. Visa freedom for Turkish citizens was also a perk of the agreement. In addition, the customs union between Turkey and the EU was to be updated.
In exchange for these promises, Turkey took responsibility for discouraging migration through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
Despite significant developments controlling migration traffic, the EU has not delivered on commitments pledged in the deal.
Çavuşoğlu also said a majority of the bloc's member states understand Ankara’s demands in the Eastern Mediterranean, and many of them acknowledge Turkey's stance and reject the so-called “Seville Map,” in reference to Greece’s maximalist aspirations in the region.
“As decisions in the European Parliament are made on the basis of consensus, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration took the EU hostage with their veto threats, just like they vetoed sanctions against Belarus,” Çavuşoğlu said.
He criticized Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ administration of refraining from dialogue with Turkey, in a similar manner with his predecessor Alexis Tsipras.
“Like the previous (Alexis) Tsipras government, the Mitsotakis administration also refrains from dialogue with Turkey, even though Foreign Minister Dendias is a close friend of mine. They bow to the pressure from media, public opinion,” he said.
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