EU heads visit Turkey to test water on fixing broken ties

April 17, 2021

The EU’s two top officials are due to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday on a rare visit aimed at reviving battered ties.

Brussels is expected to offer incentives towards establishing a roadmap to cooperation as agreed by EU leaders last month.

What are the talks likely to cover?

European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen were expected to offer key economic and diplomatic incentives to Ankara.

The benefits on offer for Turkey could include the modernizing of a customs union and the liberalization of visa rules.

A resumption of high-level dialogues on issues such as security and health is also likely to be on the cards.

Brussels is expected to offer more funding for Turkey’s hosting of millions of Syrian refugees.

The roadmap for improved cooperation would depend on Erdogan acting to de-escalate tensions with neighboring Greece and Cyprus.

Issues could include Turkey’s gas exploration project in the eastern Mediterranean and future talks about the divided island of Cyprus.

Why are the talks being held now?

The 27-member bloc has been encouraged by conciliatory moves from Turkey in recent months.

These include the resumption of talks with Greece over a disputed maritime border and engagement on UN peace efforts with EU member state Cyprus.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the latest offer from the bloc “could be a new chapter in EU-Turkey relations” after relations hit a low point last year.

“The situation remains fragile, but the EU welcomes these forthcoming developments and gestures on the part of Turkey and has responded by extending its hand,” he said.

Erdogan met the two EU leaders in Brussels last month, where they expressed a commitment to preserving the 2016 refugee deal between the EU and Turkey.

How keen are both sides to make progress?

For Turkey, the possible thaw in relations coincides with domestic economic troubles — and a tougher line from Washington after Erdogan’s ally Donald Trump was voted out of the White House.

EU members have been divided on how to proceed with Turkey. Cyprus, Greece, and France are urging a tough line while others, led by Germany, want more engagement.

An EU official told the AFP news agency that the meeting in Ankara would “not be the moment for negotiations, but will provide a framework” on progress. Any steps forwards would need to be “phased, proportionate, and reversible.”

“If Erdogan does not show himself to be cooperative then everything will be blocked,” the official told AFP.

The EU has warned that sanctions are an option if Turkey restarts “illegal” energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.