The recent visit of European Union’s (EU) top two officials to Ankara aims to reinvigorate a bruised relationship under new terms and conditions in line with a constructive agenda, experts said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel held talks in Turkish capital Ankara where they met with Turkish officials and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday.
This rare visit follows a EU leaders’ summit on March 25-26 during which they discussed a report on the future of Turkish-EU relations, and decided to continue negotiations on a “constructive agenda.”
Analysts said the visit in itself is important, coming after a tense couple of years.
“Since the latest EU summit, the bloc is trying to put more emphasis on its ties with Turkey, although conditions attached, such as the eastern Mediterranean,” foreign policy analyst and scholar Mustafa Nail Alkan told Xinhua.
Alkan, who is the head of the International Relations Department at Ankara’s Haci Bayram Veli University, said this visit shows that the EU is committed to continuing its relationship with Ankara on a positive agenda.
“The EU does not want to alienate NATO member Turkey, trying to keep it close to itself concerning crisis management in regions such as Libya, Syria and the South Caucasus,” Alkan remarked, adding that “Turkey needs the EU and vice versa.”
Brussels stressed that the de-escalation of tension in hydrocarbon explorations in the eastern Mediterranean and the resumption of the Turkish-Greek dialogue were positive steps and pledged to start the implementation of a positive agenda, including the modernization of the 25-year-old Customs Union and the renewal of a crucial migrant deal.
“Turkey has shown interest in re-engaging with the EU in a constructive way,” von der Leyen told reporters after meeting Erdogan. “We are ready to work on a new momentum in our relationship,” she added.
Michel for his part said that the EU has “a strategic interest” in developing a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey. “At the same time, we are determined to defend EU and member states’ interests and to promote our values,” he stressed.
Turkey is home to 4 million Syrian refugees and many more from elsewhere that want to reach Europe. In 2016, the EU agreed to pay Turkey 6 billion euros to prevent Syrian refugees from crossing to Greece from Turkey.
The deal has now come to an end but millions of refugees still live in Turkey.
“The refugee deal plays a significant role in this relationship, European nations are in need of Turkey in regards to prevent a new influx of Syrian refugees on their soil,” Alkan argued.
The bloc and Turkey have tensions over four main questions: the eastern Mediterranean, the Cyprus issue, regional conflicts such as Libya and Syria, and democratic standards.
The EU has been encouraged by conciliatory moves from Ankara over the past few months, including the resumption of talks with Greece over a disputed maritime border.
The tensions between NATO allies, Turkey and Greece, escalated last year. In late 2019, Ankara and Athens stepped up for the dialogue and held meetings on political and military levels aiming for de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean.
“There is a new paradigm in place in the relationship between Turkey and Brussels,” said Serkan Demirtas, a foreign policy analyst.
“The EU has established a stick-and-carrot based approach to ties with Ankara, forcing it to ease tensions arising from its hydrocarbon explorations in the eastern Mediterranean which have caused a crisis in relations last year,” he told Xinhua.
A European source in Ankara told Xinhua that the purpose of this visit is “to lay out mutual areas of differences and work on it together.” This source also emphasized the importance of trade and economic partnership between Turkey and the European bloc.
Turkish exports to the EU totaled around 70 billion euros and the country receives 58.5 billion euros of its foreign direct investment from EU countries, with the Netherlands having the lion’s share, the source added.
“Turkey has conveyed to the European party that it wants stalled accession talks to move on with the opening of new chapters,” Demirtas noted, indicating however that he doesn’t expect any breakthroughs on this issue.
In 2018, negotiations were frozen over what the EU called Turkey’s backsliding with regard to democracy and the rule of law.
“Nevertheless both parties have agreed to keep communication channels open in order to prevent relations to fall back on previous levels,” he added.