EU, Turkey call for concrete steps to improve ties

The European Union and Turkey emphasised the need for concrete steps to improve relations on Thursday, after clashing over a number of regional issues in recent months.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu began a two-day visit to Brussels on Wednesday, meeting with senior EU figures.

Speaking alongside EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Çavuşoğlu said 2020 had been a difficult year for relations, but that the two sides had shown “political will for a more positive atmosphere”.

“But in order for this to be sustainable we need to take concrete steps,” he said.

Turkey remains at loggerheads with EU members Greece and Cyprus over access to hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. In December, EU leaders agreed to extend sanctions against officials in charge of Turkey’s drilling operations in the disputed waters.

Çavuşoğlu said discussions with EU counterparts would include preparations for a multi-lateral conference on the eastern Mediterranean, as well as an update to the EU-Turkey migration deal, moves towards visa liberation and reforms to the customs union - all long-standing Turkish demands.

Borrell welcomed recent improvements in the tone of relations, but said: “intentions and announcements need to be translated into actions”.

“We strongly wish to see a sustainable de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean, but in the wider region also,” he said.

EU countries, most notably France, have publicly criticised recent Turkish military interventions in conflicts including Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Borrell’s public comments included no mention of the Human Rights situation in Turkey, another reoccurring point of contention, but those concerns appear to have been subsequently added to an official transcript. Politico reported.

“We remain concerned about the situation in Turkey from the point of view (of rule of law and human rights situation) because it is an important neighbour,” he said in the document.

Earlier on Thursday, the European Parliament called for the immediate release of imprisoned Kurdish opposition leader Selahattin Demirtaş and civil-society figure Osman Kavala, in line with rulings by the European Court of Human Rights.