EU chiefs in rare Turkey visit to revamp relations

ANKARA (AFP) – The European Union’s (EU) top two officials were set to pay a rare visit yesterday to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan aimed at testing his avowed commitment to improve uneasy ties.

Years of disagreements over a growing list of issues threatened to boil over last summer when Turkey sent navy ships to support an energy exploration mission in waters claimed by EU members Cyprus and Greece.

Tensions cooled somewhat when Turkey withdrew the vessels and this year engaged in its first maritime talks with Greece since 2016.

The bloc pulled back from its threat to sanction Turkey as a result.

European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel will now see how Erdogan intends to follow through on his repeatedly stated desire to “turn a new page” in relations.

The Turks said they want to move forward from “positive” talks held in a series of calls to “concrete action” – especially on migration.

But EU officials warn that any improvement depends on how Erdogan – who was leader when Turkey formally opened talks to join the bloc in 2005 – acts and whether he remains a constructive partner.

The possible thaw coincides with a toughening on Turkey from the White House, where the election of United States (US) President Joe Biden saw Erdogan lose a personal friend in Donald Trump.

In a “carrot-and-stick” approach, the EU is dangling the possibility of updating the sides’ customs union, visa liberalisation, providing more money for refugees and increased dialogue with Turkey on several fronts.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. PHOTO: AFP