Tue, Mar 27, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Turkey’s Erdogan meets EU chiefs amid tensions

‘ILLEGAL ACTIONS’:EU members on Thursday last week condemned Turkey’s arrest of two Greek soldiers and its promise to block Cyprus from exploring for oil and gas

AFP, VARNA, Bulgaria

People protest against Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Varna, Bulgaria, yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday met the leaders of the EU’s top bodies for a potentially stormy encounter that would seek ways to repair an increasingly fractured relationship.

EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker are to talk with Erdogan at the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Varna with a litany of problems clouding their discussions.

Topics including the crackdown in Turkey after the July 2016 failed coup, Turkish demands for visa liberalization and the near-endless saga of Ankara’s own EU membership bid are expected to loom high.

While all the leaders were hoping at least a more harmonious mood music would come out of the working dinner, a row over Greece and Cyprus added a new shadow days before the talks.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council, said it was expected to be “a very difficult meeting.”

However, both sides — with a joint interest in improving security cooperation and economic relations — would also not want the talks to fail.

“The Varna summit will provide a platform to relaunch the dialogue between the two parties, even though no real breakthrough is expected in concrete terms,” said Jana Jabbour, professor of political science at Sciences Po university in Paris and the author of a book on Turkish foreign policy.

Temperatures were raised after EU leaders last week condemned Turkey’s “illegal actions” toward Greece and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea.

Ankara hit back at the “unacceptable comments” and said the EU had lost its objectivity on Cyprus, which is divided between the Greek-majority internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north.

The statement on Thursday last week by the 28 EU members meeting in Brussels condemned Turkey over Ankara’s arrest of two Greek soldiers and its promise to prevent the Cypriot government from exploring for oil and gas.

Turkish EU Minister Omer Celik said Turkey could not accept such statements by the EU.

“This issue will be raised in Varna, where we hope to have a wide-ranging discussion on EU-Turkey relations and on the way ahead,” Tusk said.

Juncker said he was “looking with mixed feelings toward the summit because the differences in views between the EU and Turkey are many.”

However, he added that “we will have a frank and open debate with President Erdogan.”

Ankara and Brussels had in March 2016 agreed a controversial deal to stop the flow of refugees, in what was seen as a landmark in cooperation and which Turkey hoped would yield visa free travel to Europe.

So far this incentive has not been realized and Erdogan is expected to press this strongly in the talks.

“Turkey considers it [visa liberalization] a priority”, Jabbour told reporters.

However, “it would be delusional to believe that the EU would grant Turkey concessions on this matter,” she added.

In contrast to the evening meeting with the EU leadership, Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to make a full two-day visit to Turkey early next month.

Ankara’s long-stalled bid to join the EU would also be discussed during the summit, but Western diplomats and analysts agree meaningful steps are unlikely.

Even Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey did not have “any expectations right now from the EU regarding the membership process.”

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