EU chiefs in rare Turkey visit
Erdogan seeks to revamp relations with Brussels
Published: Apr 06, 2021 05:03 PM
The European Union's top two officials were expected on Tuesday to pay a rare visit to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan aimed at testing his avowed commitment to improve uneasy ties.

Years of disagreements over a growing list of issues threatened to boil over the summer of 2020 when Turkey sent navy ships to support an energy exploration mission in waters claimed by EU members Cyprus and Greece.

Tensions cooled somewhat when Turkey withdrew the vessels and in 2021 engaged in its first maritime talks with Greece since 2016. 

The bloc pulled back from its threat to sanction Turkey as a result.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and ­European Council President Charles Michel were to see how Erdogan intends to follow through on his repeatedly stated desire to "turn a new page" in relations.

The Turks say they want to move forward from "positive" talks held in a series of calls to "concrete action" - especially on migration.

But EU officials warn that any improvement depends on how will Erdogan - who was leader when Turkey formally opened talks to join the bloc in 2005 - act and whether he remains a constructive partner.

The possible thaw coincides with a toughening on Turkey from the White House, where the election of President Joe Biden saw Erdogan lose a ­personal friend in Donald Trump.

In a "carrot-and-stick" approach, the EU is dangling the possibility of updating the sides' customs union, visa liberalization, providing more money for refugees and increased dialogue with Turkey on several fronts.

But an EU official insisted that Tuesday's meeting "will not be a moment of negotiations" but rather a chance for the sides to lay out their terms for improved ties.

The meeting comes on the heels of Turkey's withdrawal in March from a treaty combating violence against women and the launch of a formal bid to shut down the country's main pro-Kurdish party.

Although Brussels condemned both decisions, EU leaders in March still reiterated their commitment to work with Turkey if the "current de-escalation is sustained."

Both sides have lists of grievances they want addressed.

A Turkish diplomatic source said that Ankara expects the modernization of 1995 Customs Union and greater emphasis on Turkey's candidacy status to join the EU.
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