Back on Track? – Time for EU and Turkey to Improve Ties After Tumultuous 2020

Written by | Tuesday, January 26th, 2021

The European Union and Turkey have pressed each other to take concrete steps in order to improve relations, as EU foreign policy chief on Thursday (21 January) welcomed Turkish foreign minister to Brussels for talks aimed at tackling disagreements over a number of issues including energy and migration. Turkey, which remains an official candidate for EU membership despite the tensions, is facing the threat of economic sanctions by the bloc over a hydrocarbons dispute with Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean, though the relations between Brussels and Ankara have taken an upturn since late last year. “We have seen an improvement in the overall atmosphere,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday as he welcomed Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Brussels for talks, adding that “intentions and announcements need to be translated into actions.”
The improved tone between the two sides follows a video conference between the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on 9 January with both stressing the importance of the bilateral relationship. The Turkish minister said he hoped von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the head of the European Council, would accept Erdogan’s invitation to visit Turkey. “It is, of course, important for there to be a positive atmosphere in Turkey-EU ties, but in order for this to be sustainable, we must take concrete steps,” Cavusoglu added. After the longstanding dispute between Turkey and Greece and Erdogan feuding with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, there are now hopes for a more harmonious 2021, with Ankara and Athens now set to address their disagreement at exploratory talks in Istanbul on 25 January 25 and Macron and Erdogan having exchanged letters in which they agreed to resume talks aimed at mending ties.
Greece and Turkey, both NATO neighbours, are at odds about the limits of their continental shelves, energy rights, air space and the status of some islands. Their dispute threatened to spill into open conflict when Greek and Turkish warships collided last August while shadowing Turkish seismic exploration vessel Oruc Reis as it surveyed for oil and gas in the waters in the west of Cyprus. Ankara rejects the maritime boundary claims of Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, saying Ankara is in favour of resolving all issues through international law. The EU, in turn, has threatened Ankara with sanctions, including on arms exports, various times since August last year. Greece and Cyprus, strongly backed by France, want to punish Turkey for what they see as provocative oil and gas exploration by Turkish vessels, but fellow EU member states Germany and Italy are reluctant to go ahead with any sanctions on Ankara.

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