EU leaders visit Turkey to lay out terms for ties, not to negotiate

A meeting between European Union Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will test Erdoğan’s commitment to improving ties with the EU, Agence France-Presse reported on Tuesday.

Michel, who heads the European Council, and European Commission chief von der Leyen will be looking at what specifically Erdoğan intends to do to turn a new page in relations, and any improvement depends on Turkey remaining a constructive partner, AFP said.

Visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens, an updated customs union deal with the EU, more funding for Turkey under a refugee agreement and advances to Turkey’s accession talks are among outstanding issues.

The talks will not be “a moment of negotiations”, rather a chance for the two parties to lay out their terms to improve relations, AFP cited an unnamed EU official as saying.

EU leaders have condemned Turkey’s recent withdrawal from the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, aimed to combat violence against women, and a move by Turkish prosecutors to shut down the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). But at a summit in late March, the EU committed to engage with Turkey “provided that the current de-escalation is sustained and that Turkey engages constructively”.

Turkey’s focus in the talks will be the customs union agreement and its EU candidate status, as well as better conditions under the refugee accord, AFP cited a Turkish diplomatic source as saying. “The EU hasn’t yet fully lived up to its commitments to the (refugee) deal,” the source said.

Turkey wants a transactional relationship with the EU and to keep its options open, diversifying its allies in a multi-polar, more divided world, AFP cited analyst İlke Toygur of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs as saying.

Turkey’s involvement in the Libyan conflict on the side of U.N.-recognised Government of National Accord and the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Caucasus contributed to tensions with the EU, AFP said. But with ceasefires reached in these areas, the focus has turned to Cyprus, it said. The island has remained divided since 1974, when Turkey launched a military incursion following an attempted coup to unite it with Greece.