Turkey is a geopolitical player in the region and its sphere of influence is increasing, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said over the weekend.
Responding to a question on Turkish-EU relations during the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, Borrell said that despite the difficulties in relations between Turkey and the EU over the last two years, ties are now improving.
Emphasizing Turkey's importance, Borrell said the EU should further develop its relations and ties with the country.
Turkey's strategic importance is far more crucial now than in the period before the Russia-Ukraine war, he added.
Turkey is an "important" country for the European Union, another EU official also said at Antalya Diplomacy Forum.
Speaking at a panel titled "Europe's neighbors, Europe as a neighbor," Oliver Varhelyi, EU commissioner for neighborhood and enlargement, commented on Turkey's EU membership process.
"I think Turkey is not only a key partner but also a very important friend. It was a difficult decision to suspend Turkey's membership process," he said.
Varhelyi also noted that Turkey is an important partner for Europe when it comes to the issue of illegal migration and a major economic partner.
Countries in the Balkans that want to join the EU have made progress on different levels, Varhelyi said, adding that countries applying for membership should complete their economic, social and political processes to ensure real integration with the bloc.
In response to Varhelyi's remarks on the suspension of Turkey's EU membership process, Deputy Foreign Minister and Director of EU Affairs Faruk Kaymakcı underlined that there has been no "suspension" and that the negotiation process continues.
After some major disagreements in recent years, both the EU and Turkey voiced their intentions last year to set a positive agenda, still, further efforts and actions are needed. Turkey has reiterated that it is part of Europe and sees its future in the EU, stressing that it will continue to work toward full membership. Turkish officials have also said that they hope for progress and expect the bloc to take definitive action to this end.
European Union leaders said the bloc is ready to support a concrete and positive agenda with Turkey, especially in economic cooperation and migration, after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan received the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in Ankara to discuss bilateral ties and seek a way forward after tensions rose last year.
Turkey and the EU in March 2016 signed a refugee deal that aimed to discourage irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of nearly 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Ankara has said the falling numbers of migrant crossings show it upheld its part of the deal, arguing that the bloc failed to keep up its half, including visa liberalization and financial aid for refugees.
Turkey has the longest history with the union and the longest negotiation process. The country signed an association agreement with the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community (EEC), in 1964, which is usually regarded as a first step to eventually becoming a candidate. Applying for official candidacy in 1987, Turkey had to wait until 1999 to be granted the status of a candidate country. Turkey then had to wait another six years for negotiations to begin in 2005, a uniquely long process compared to other candidates. Since then, the process seems to have stalled.
The three-day high-level Antalya Diplomacy Forum in the resort city of Antalya concluded on Sunday. The event brought together participants from 75 countries, including 17 heads of state, 80 government ministers and 39 representatives of international organizations.