Relations between the European Union and Turkey have not been at their best over the past year. Tension between Brussels and Ankara has been expressed through criticism, sanctions and threats. However, European leaders agreed on Thursday to reach a rapprochement with Erdogan in order to improve these relations and renew the migration agreement dating back to 2016.
Turkey is key to the refugee crisis and Europe must cooperate with Ankara in seeking solutions to this humanitarian tragedy. "As I said, until now, there have been good and positive ones and others which are not good nor positive, and we have to continue following closely the situation in order to be sure that Turkey also is in a positive mood and wants to engage seriously in the negotiations," said Josep Borrell, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Policy. Borrell has prepared the analysis on which the text on rapprochement between Brussels and Ankara is based. "Provided that the current de-escalation is sustained and that Turkey engages constructively, the European Union is ready to engage with Turkey in a phased, proportionate, and reversible manner to enhance cooperation in a number of areas of common interest and take further decisions at the European Council meeting in June," said a statement following discussions at a virtual EU summit.
It also seeks to "strengthen" cooperation with Turkey to combat irregular migration and facilitate the return of migrants who are illegally in Europe. The plan on the migration agreement includes increased funding to Ankara. "The Commission will also rapidly prepare options for continued funding for refugees and host communities in Turkey," says Josep Borrell. Most of these European funds are earmarked for projects for the integration of Turkish children, training or infrastructure.
On the economic front, the EU-27 have asked the European Commission to modernise the customs union with Turkey. EU leaders are also willing to negotiate on health, climate change and terrorism.
The countries most at odds with Erdogan, such as Cyprus, Greece and France, support this rapprochement that would modify the migration pact, but with conditions. "The migration agreement must be kept separate from day-to-day relations with Turkey, and the fund cannot be an instrument to reward or punish Erdogan's government", declared a diplomatic source. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, also stressed that "If Turkey does not move forward constructively, if it returns to unilateral actions or provocations, in particular in the Eastern Mediterranean, of course, we would suspend this cooperation". "However, we also know this process of de-escalation remains fragile", von der Leyen declared.
Erdogan has been quick to respond to this rapprochement. Ankara has criticised the conditions, but pledges to cooperate and promises to respond with 'positive steps' to the European leaders' measures.
The EU is thus trying to reconcile with the Erdogan regime after the Mediterranean gas crisis in Greece. As a result of this confrontation, Brussels imposed sanctions on the state oil company involved. However, Erdogan assured that 'any decision on sanctions against Turkey does not concern him'. The crisis in the Mediterranean is not the only one that has affected relations between Turkey and the EU. This rapprochement will also attempt to put aside the criticisms and threats that were experienced during the most serious stage of the refugee crisis and which have been accentuated by Erdogan's ultra-right-wing drift. The dismissal of Naci Abgal, former head of the Turkish Central Bank, demonstrates the lack of independence of Turkish institutions and the president's influence. In politics he continues his crusade against the Kurds. Last Sunday the HDP party announced that its pro-Kurdish deputy Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu had been arrested. Gergelioglu has been active in denouncing human rights violations in Turkey. On the social front, Erdogan has abandoned the Istanbul Convention against male violence, a decision that was greeted with disappointment in Brussels. "We cannot but regret deeply and express incomprehension towards the decision of the Turkish government to withdraw from this conventiont," said Borrell.