The European Union is expected to put more pressure on Turkey to join the fight against the Islamic State as well as to support Western sanctions on Russia during this week’s visit of a high-level EU delegation to Ankara. The boss of the European diplomacy, Federica Mogherini, Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides, and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn started their two-day official visit in Turkey yesterday (8 December), making it one of the most high-profile EU visits for many months. Ms Mogherini stressed that “the visit … is a strong indication of the strategic importance of the EU-Turkey relationship and our desire to step up engagement”.
Turkey has been in formal negotiations to join the EU for nine years but the accession process has slowed down due to resistance of some EU member countries as well as political hurdles, most notably the conflict over the divided island of Cyprus. Yet, the EU leadership currently puts a lot of hope into the mutual relations trusting that Turkey’s new president and prime minister as well as the new EU Commission will be able to revive the EU-Turkey ties. Brussels moreover believes that this visit will be the beginning of more regular high-level talks on strategic interests.
Interestingly, the EU visit in Turkey comes in the wake of a state visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. During his visit to Ankara, Russian President decided not to continue with the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline project and pinpointed Turkey as a likely partner for another pipeline project. In addition to issues related to gas and Russian business interests in Turkey, the Europeans want to discuss also the need for closer cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State and its militants. Brussels has been alarmed by a number of Europeans going to fight in Syria with the ISIS or similar groups. Turkey has become an important transit point for many of these fighters. Whereas the Brussels wants Ankara to help identify European Islamist fighters, Ankara thinks that Brussels should do more to prevent these fighters to travel to the region in the first place.