In a follow-up to the recent European Council (25 March), Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on April 6 in Ankara, in the hope of giving the EU-Turkey relationship “new momentum”, writes Catherine Feore of EU Reporter.
Michel said he discussed the situation in the eastern Mediterranean and other areas of dispute. He said that although differences between the two sides remain, there were also new opportunities for peace and stability, especially in Libya. The EU’s key message in this regard was that all foreign fighters and troops must leave Libyan territory.
European Council President Charles Michel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Ankara, 6 April
On Cyprus, the EU remains committed to the relaunch of the UN-led process, which will restart in a few weeks’ time with an informal meeting.
‘Progressive, proportional, and reversible’
The key phrase in Michel’s statement following the meeting is that engagement will be “progressive, proportional, and reversible”. Von der Leyen underlined this point, saying that while the EU has seen the beginning of a road together, it would have to see where the road leads and would depend on a “clear commitment from Turkey to maintain positive momentum, the sustainability of what we’ve seen over the last weeks has to be proven”.
The Commission president summed up the discussions on four main areas of co-operation: The prospect of closer trade ties; high-level dialogues on climate and health issues, especially the use of the Digital Green Certificate, important to Turkey’s tourism sector and the mobility of Turkish citizens; enhanced people-to-people co-operation through Erasmus+ in particular; and, on refugees and migration, where von der Leyen underlined that the EU-Turkey statement of 2016 “remains valid and has brought positive results”.
On future funding for refugees, von der Leyen said that this should increasingly power better opportunities for refugees to earn their own livelihood. Von der Leyen will also be meeting with the Jordanian king today (7 April) to discuss a proposal on Syrian refugees that covers Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
‘Human rights are non-negotiable’
Von der Leyen described the discussion as “very frank” on what divides the EU and Turkey, with both EU leaders raising their concern about human rights and the rule of law.
Von der Leyen said she was deeply worried by Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention on protecting women and children from violence, especially since Turkey was a founding member of the Council of Europe. When asked about the convention by a journalist, von der Leyen said that they did not convince Erdogan.