The European Union and Turkey have pressed each other to take concrete steps to improve relations long strained by disagreements on a number of issues, including energy and migration.
Turkey, which remains an official candidate for EU membership despite tensions, faces the threat of economic sanctions from the bloc over an oil dispute with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean, but the background music between Brussels and Ankara has improved since the new year.
“We have seen an improvement in the general atmosphere,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday, welcoming Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Brussels for talks.
“Intentions and announcements must be translated into actions.”
The improved tone between the two sides follows a video conference between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on January 9, both stressing the importance of the bilateral relationship.
Cavusoglu said he hoped von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the head of the European Council who represents the 27 EU member states, would visit Turkey after an invitation from Erdogan.
“It is, of course, important that there is a positive atmosphere in Turkey-EU relations, but for this to be lasting we need to take concrete steps,” Cavusoglu added.
EU-Turkey Eye 2021 reset
The past year has proved particularly difficult for Turkey-EU relations, with an upsurge in the long-standing dispute between Turkey and Greece and Erdogan in conflict with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
But hopes have grown for a more harmonious 2021, with Ankara and Athens now on the verge of resolving their disagreement during exploratory talks in Istanbul on January 25 and Macron and Erdogan having exchanged letters in which they agreed to resume talks. aimed at reestablishing links.
This month’s meeting between Turkey and Greece will be the first since negotiations between the two concerned NATO neighbors were suspended in 2016 after 60 rounds of failed negotiations dating back 14 years.
Plans to resume talks last year failed after a disagreement over the Turkish seismic exploration vessel, Oruc Reis, deployed in the disputed waters. The ship has since returned.
The two countries disagree on the limits of their continental shelves, energy rights, air space and the status of certain islands.
Their dispute threatened to turn into open conflict when Turkish and Greek warships collided in August while observing Oruc Reis as he searched for oil and gas in the waters west of Cyprus.
Turkey rejects maritime border claims from Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, saying Ankara supports all issues being resolved through international law.
The EU, in turn, has threatened Ankara with sanctions, including on arms exports, on several occasions since August last year.
France-backed Greece and Cyprus want to punish Turkey for what they see as provocative oil and gas exploration by Turkish ships, but other EU member states Germany and Italy , are reluctant to move forward with sanctions against Ankara.
EU leaders will decide in March to impose sanctions.
Turkey remains a major destination for EU trade and investment and on which Brussels relies heavily to prevent refugees and migrants from entering the bloc.
More than a million people entered Europe in 2015, most of them Syrian refugees disembarking in the Greek islands, triggering a major political crisis.
The EU has since disbursed billions of euros in aid to refugees in Ankara in order to halt entries into the bloc. Turkey is now home to nearly four million refugees. About 70 percent of them are women and children and the vast majority of people live outside migrant and refugee camps.
Cavusoglu said Thursday he would discuss a joint “migration statement” Turkey is proposing with Borrell.