Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has embarked on a historic visit and busy schedule in Brussels to consolidate Turkey-European Union ties after a rough patch in 2020 by visiting officials from all main EU bodies, including the commission, council and parliament as well as NATO’s secretary-general.
During his three-day visit that started Wednesday, Turkey’s top diplomat met with EU parliamentarians, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and European Council President Charles Michel. Though a meeting was not scheduled with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, she participated in Çavuşoğlu’s meeting with Vice President Margaritis Schinas, which was read by diplomatic circles as a reciprocal move by the bloc and a will to redress ties with Ankara.
“The European Union has a strategic interest in the development of a cooperative and reciprocally beneficial relationship, anchored in values and principles. The meeting between J. Borrell and M. Çavuşoğlu permitted a cordial, frank and thorough exchange of views in order to advance in this direction,” the EU said in a written statement late Thursday following a meeting that took more than three hours, which was also perceived as a positive signal.
EU officials and Turkey were able to set a positive agenda for the year 2021 and mutually address concerns as well as expectations for the future. However, Ankara still believes that a positive atmosphere on its own will not be enough and wants to see concrete actions and the fulfillment of previous promises.
Relations in 2020 were beset by developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, which became largely a field of dispute over drilling rights and maritime borders.
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.
During a meeting in Brussels on Dec. 10, EU leaders decided to draw up a list of Turkish targets to sanction.
Turkish diplomatic sources stated that during the busy diplomatic meetings in Brussels, EU officials were told to urge Greece to take a more constructive approach favoring dialogue and negotiation to solve all its issues with Ankara.
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 regarding 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.
Yet, the Eastern Mediterranean dispute has not been the sole obstacle for furthering ties between Ankara and Brussels. The migration issue and Turkey’s candidacy for full EU membership are other bilateral issues that have been shelved for years.
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.
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. Yet Turkey did not undertake the difficult task of shouldering increasing migration from Syria only for the sake of financial assistance but has also demanded visa liberalization for Turkish citizens; likewise, the customs union was to be updated.
Ankara now in 2021 also wants to advance in accession talks that have been frozen for years especially due to the failed coup attempt by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) in 2016, which forced Turkey to adopt security-based policies. In this regard, 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. Diplomatic officials are now working on a road map to take steps toward membership and focus on reforms that will include the areas of the rule of law, freedoms and rights as well as the economy, which are expected to realign the interests of Ankara and Brussels.
With this aim, Çavuşoğlu also met with Oliver Varhelyi, EU commissioner for neighborhood and enlargement, on Thursday.
“Good discussion on EU-Turkey relations with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu today. I hope we are turning the page in our relationship and will cooperate together on issues of strategic interest in a constructive and mutually beneficial way,” Varhelyi wrote on Twitter.
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.
Meanwhile, Çavuşoğlu and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also met on Friday at the alliance’s headquarters.
"Should further strengthen unity and solidarity within the Alliance," Çavuşoğlu said in a Twitter post after the meeting.
"Turkey assumes critical and leading roles in ensuring the Alliance's deterrence and defense. Will continue to support NATO Missions in Afghanistan and Iraq," he added.
Should further strengthen unity and solidarity within the Alliance.
Turkey assumes critical and leading roles in ensuring the Alliance's deterrence and defense.January 22, 2021