EU presses Turkey to maintain calm hoping for better ties

European Council President Charles Michel rings a bell to signal the start of the meeting during an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium, 24 June 2021. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

EU leaders on Thursday (24 June) pressed Turkey to keep de-escalating tensions with the bloc as they eyed improving ties with Ankara after a spike in tensions last year over the eastern Mediterranean.

The EU in March held out a string of incentives to convince President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to make good on pledges to mend fraught relations.

Since then Erdoğan has developed efforts to solve long-standing disputes with Greece — but there remain concerns in the EU after the failure to restart peace talks on Cyprus and over human rights in Turkey.

“At least the relations [with Tukey] haven’t deteriorated”, a EU diplomat said before the summit, referring to the situation in the end of 2020, which Council President Charles Michel described as ‘playing cat and mouse’.

Michel says Turkey should stop playing ‘cat and mouse’ with EU

Turkey has not de-escalated its stand-off with Greece in response to diplomatic outreach, European Council chief Charles Michel said on Friday (4 December) and warned that EU member states would now consider “the means at our disposal”, which most probably means sanctions.

As part of its strategy, the EU is readying a plan to provide Turkey with €3.5 billion in extra funding from 2021 to 2024 to help it host millions of refugees from Syria.

Leaders meeting in Brussels told the European Commission to present a formal proposal on the funds — part of a broader €5.7 billion package for Syria’s neighbours — “without delay”, the conclusions said.

Turkey currently hosts 3.7 million refugees from the conflict in Syria and has been used by the EU as a bulwark to help stem the flow of migrants into Europe.

A previous 2016 deal has seen Turkey receive four billion euros so far to keep a lid on arrivals coming into the bloc, with two billion euros more set to be disbursed.

The plan for the new funding is part of a range of enticements the bloc is using to try to keep Erdoğan on side.

Brussels is also dangling the possible modernisation of a customs union in front of Turkey and is moving to restart high-level talks on issues from health to security.

EU dangles carrots for Turkey if 'de-escalation sustained'

European Union leaders are ready to boost cooperation with Turkey if a “current de-escalation is sustained”, they said in a video summit on Thursday (25 March) following a spike in tensions.

But the statement from the summit said that “rule of law and fundamental rights in Turkey remain a key concern”.

It also said the bloc expects Ankara to keep contributing “positively” to resolving regional conflicts, with Turkey deeply involved in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as Syria.

And it insisted the EU remains committed to a “bi-communal, bi-zonal” solution for Cyprus after a push for two states from Ankara-backed Turkish Cypriot leaders helped torpedo efforts to restart peace talks. Officially the entire territory of the island of Cyprus is EU territory.

Turkey in contrast reaffirmed its position for a two-state solution.

Turkey says it will only join Cyprus talks with two-state proposal

Turkey will only join talks to resolve decades of dispute over Cyprus with a proposal to establish two states on the island, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said, adding previous failed proposals should not be on the agenda.

The island of Cyprus has been split since 1974, when Turkey occupied the northern third in response to a coup by an Athens-backed junta seeking to annex Cyprus to Greece.

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