EU chiefs and Erdoğan hold a videoconference

(This article has been updated from paragraph 12 with Turkish Presidency's statement.)

Ahead of the European leaders’ summit on March 25-26, top EU officials hold a videoconference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday.

Charles Michel, the president of the European Council and Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, underlined the significance of the continuance of de-escalation in relations and further enhancement over confidence building between two parties, in order to maintain a more positive agenda, a EU statement revealed.

Two EU members, Greece and Cyprus are embroiled in a political standoff with Turkey over territorial claims and potential hydrocarbon resources in the region.

Tension between the EU and Turkey escalated last year over Turkey’s hydrocarbon drilling activities in the disputed eastern Mediterranean waters, which EU considers to be “illegal.”

At a December summit, EU leaders agreed to impose sanctions on Turkish individuals involved in the gas drilling activities but stopped short of targeting the Turkish economy or government directly. EU leaders delayed wider measures until March.

According to a joint statement of Michel and von der Leyen, the three discussed the previous EU summit held in December and the current state of EU-Turkey relations, as well as the situation in the eastern Mediterranean and the upcoming Cyprus talks in late April.

EU chiefs and President Erdoğan also discussed the situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey and regional conflicts in Libya and Syria, it said.

A possible visit of Michel and von der Leyen to Turkey in the aftermath of the EU summit, was also in the videoconference’s agenda.

Some Turkey experts criticised the meeting for not addressing the human rights issues in Turkey via social media.

“Erdoğan has calculated, probably rightly, that tensions over the eastern Mediterranean are a serious sticking point for the EU, and that Turkish human rights abuses…are not,” Howard Eissenstat, Turkey historian and expert tweeted on Friday.

 

According to a Turkish presidency statement regarding the videoconference, Erdoğan said that all mechanisms should be operated and high-level dialogue processes should be restarted in order to improve the cooperation between the EU and Turkey.

Visa liberalisation, the Customs Union’s revision and a renewal of accession talks are essential, Erdoğan said, adding that the burden of asylum seekers and irregular migration on Turkey is also escalating.

Reiterating Turkey’s call for an international conference on eastern Mediterranean, “the EU summit should not be allowed to be abused by Greece and Cyprus on the pretext of unity and solidarity,” Erdoğan said.