Top officials of the European Union on Tuesday expressed readiness to work on concrete agenda with Turkey to push forward economy and migration cooperation between the two sides.
The remarks came after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, capital of Turkey.
“The EU is ready to present a concrete agenda to strengthen cooperation on economy and migration, and inter-societal ties,” Michel said at a press conference.
“The rule of law and respect for fundamental rights are core values of the EU, and we shared with President Erdogan our deep worries on the latest developments of Turkey in this respect,” he added.
The EU expects Ankara to respect the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which has ruled for the release of jailed businessman Osman Kavala and former co-chair of pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas, von der Leyen said.
She further elaborated the areas where Ankara and Brussels can improve ties.
Noting the EU is Turkey’s most important import and export partner, von der Leyen said they would focus on removing difficulties in Customs Union deal in a bid to increase bilateral trade and upgrade the agreement.
Secondly, climate change and public health will also be important topics in high-level dialogue, and thirdly, the EU wants to support Erasmus programs with Turkey for more mobility among people, she added.
Lastly, the EU official noted that they will continue supporting Turkey for the nearly 4 million Syrian refugees it has been sheltering, as part of a 2016 migration deal between Ankara and Brussels.
According to the deal, Turkey promised to prevent migrants and refugees from crossing to Europe in exchange for aid and other political conditions. The EU offered Turkey 6 billion euros (7.1 billion U.S. dollars) to help Syrian refugees.
However, Ankara wants to revise the deal and get more funds from the EU.
“A revised Turkey-EU migration deal together with the main provisions contained therein would go a long way toward addressing the refugee problem and revitalizing Turkey-EU relations with a positive agenda,” she stated.
Erdogan’s office issued a statement stressing that Turkey wanted the EU “to take concrete steps to support a positive agenda.”
The final objective of Turkey is a full membership of the EU, Erdogan’s spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said, referring to the accession talks that have been stalled for years.
Erdogan emphasized that the refugee problem should be handled with a sense of shared responsibility, his office said, emphasizing the need for urgent renewal of the migration agreement against the “instability and humanitarian crisis that a new wave of refugees in the region will cause.”
Ankara also called for the renewal of the Customs Union agreement, launching the visa liberalization process for free travel of Turkish citizens in the EU, people-to-people contacts, and high-level political consultations, Kalin said.
Last year, European leaders agreed to tacitly warn Turkey of sanctions regarding longstanding disputes with its NATO partner Greece over drilling rights in the east Mediterranean.
But Ankara and Brussels have found grounds for positive agenda in late 2019 after Turkey withdrew its seismic survey vessel which had been sailing for energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Ankara also initiated resumption of talks with Greece over a disputed maritime border.
Turkey has been knocking on the EU’s door for over 40 years and is currently a candidate country. However, accession talks have been frozen for several years because of some member countries’ opposition and the EU’s claim that Ankara failed to adopt its key political criteria.