Quit “rambling” criticism and support Turkey, Erdoğan tells EU

The European Union would be making a “grave mistake” by cutting Turkey from its expansion policy, and should focus on their areas of common interest rather than providing “rambling and unjust criticism,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a high-level EU-Turkey summit in Varna, Bulgaria on Monday.

The summit was organised amid a period of high tensions between Turkey and a slew of EU countries over a range of serious diplomatic rifts. Most recently, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus have been at odds over the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean seas. 

“We didn’t achieve any kind of concrete compromise today,” European Council President Donald Tusk said. “But I still hope that will be possible in the future... Only progress on these issues will allow us to improve the EU-Turkey relations, including the accession process.” Tusk also added that he raised "all of our concerns, it is, as you know, a long list including situation like rule of law and press freedom, Turkey’s bilateral relations with member states, situation in Syria. Our meeting dedicated to continue our dialog… under difficult circumstances." Tusk said without progress on issues like freedom of press and rule of law in Turkey, he does not expect relations between the EU and Turkey get better.

EU expert and Ahval contributor Cengiz Aktar stated that there is no success at the end of summit. Aktar said, contrary to some opinions in previous days, updating the custom union or visa liberalization were not mentioned at the summit. Aktar added, "what happened was that the summit that Ankara has been asking for years occurred with no concrete results."

Dimitar Bechev, another Ahval contributor and a research fellow at the Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies, University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, agreed with Aktar and wrote for Ahval that "there was no breakthrough on issues of substance.  EU is unlikely to move on either the Turkish demand for an upgrade of the customs union or indeed the lifting of Schengen visas, absent improvements on human rights and rule of law in Turkey itself. Still, Erdogan played down the disagreements: «We hope that we have left a difficult period in Turkey-EU relations behind and it is a hight time to start updating the customs union." And "no final decision on the EUR 3 bn in refugee aid to be disbursed to Ankara either."

Erdoğan ignited months of nationalistic rhetoric and rising military tensions over the Aegean Sea when he suggested during a visit to Athens in December 2017 that the Lausanne Treaty, which defined the two countries’ borders, could be “updated”. 

Meanwhile, Ankara has taken a hard line opposing gas exploration around the island of Cyprus, saying that attempts to exploit the huge gas reserves near the island by the Greek Republic of Cyprus, which Turkey does not diplomatically recognise, would infringe on the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the Republic of Northern Cyprus, a de-facto state recognised only by Turkey.

Turkey has also attracted serious criticism from EU bodies for its military operation in Syria, and authoritarian policies targeting political dissent.

The tensions have led Turkey’s accession process, which entered the negotiation stage in 2006, to a quagmire. Members of the European Parliament voted to suspend negotiations in 2016, due to concerns over Turkey’s human rights record and rule of law.

"It would be a grave mistake for Europe, which claims to be a global force, to push Turkey out of its expansion policy," Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu quoted Erdoğan as saying during the summit.

"Our operations against terrorism not only to contribute to the security of ourselves and the Syrians, but also to the security of Europe," he continued.