Following an informal video conference on 25 March, members of the European Council adopted a statement on the single market and the Eastern Mediterranean that has a bearing on EU-Turkey relations.
Apart from concerns related to COVID-19, industrial policy, the digital economy and Russia, the members of the European Council clarified that they “held a discussion on the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and on the European Union’s relations with Turkey”. They welcomed the Joint Communication on the ‘State of play of EU-Turkey political, economic and trade relations’ prepared by the High Representative and the Commission (as requested by the European Council in December 2020).
Reacting to initiatives in Turkey aimed – amongst other things – at closure of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and targeting of its MP’s and party members, the statement recognised that “rule of law and fundamental rights remain a key concern. The targeting of political parties and media and other recent decisions represent major setbacks for human rights and run counter to Turkey’s obligations to respect democracy, the rule of law and women’s rights. Dialogue on such issues remains an integral part of the EU-Turkey relationship”.
Turkey requested ‘to abstain from renewed provocations or unilateral actions in breach of international law’
The ‘Statement of the Members of the European Council’ also called “on Turkey to abstain from renewed provocations or unilateral actions in breach of international law. Taking into account the Joint Communication, we reaffirm the determination of the European Union, in case of such action, to use the instruments and options at its disposal to defend its interests and those of its Member States as well as to uphold regional stability”.
Assistance for ‘refugees and host communities’
The ‘Statement of the Members of the European Council’ appreciated “Turkey’s hosting of around four million Syrian refugees”. It agreed “that the assistance of the European Union for the refugees and host communities be continued. We invite the Commission to present a proposal to the Council for the continuation of financing for Syrian refugees in Turkey, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and other parts of the region.
“On migration management, within the framework of the broader EU strategy encompassing all migratory routes, cooperation with Turkey should be strengthened, notably in areas such as border protection, combatting illegal migration, as well as the return of irregular migrants and rejected asylum seekers to Turkey, in accordance with the EU-Turkey Statement, applied in a non-discriminatory manner”.
Commitment to ‘a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem’
The ‘Statement of the Members of the European Council’ further noted that it remained “fully committed to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions (notably 550, 789, 1251). We look forward to the resumption of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations in which the European Union will participate as an observer, and will play an active role in supporting the negotiations, including by appointing a representative to the UN Good Offices Mission”.
Statement on Libya, Syria, the Southern Caucasus
The ‘Statement of the Members of the European Council’ briefly touched on EU-Turkey relations with regard to Libya, Syria, the Southern Caucasus: “Consistent with the shared interest of the EU and Turkey in peace and stability in their environment, we expect Turkey and all actors to positively contribute to the solution of regional crises such as Libya, Syria, the Southern Caucasus and will remain vigilant on this matter”.
De-escalation of tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean welcomed
In relation to previous concerns the European Council had raised concerning tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean that involved Turkey, the European Council’s statement welcomed “the recent de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean through the discontinuation of illegal drilling activities, the resumption of bilateral talks between Greece and Turkey and the forthcoming talks on the Cyprus problem under the auspices of the United Nations”.
It concluded: “Provided that the current de-escalation is sustained and that Turkey engages constructively, and subject to the established conditionalities set out in previous European Council conclusions”, the European Union was “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”. It invited the High Representative to “take work forward on the Multilateral Conference on the Eastern Mediterranean”.
The European Council urges the European Commission to intensify talks with Turkey
With regard to discussions concerning the the Customs Union, the statement clarified that the European Commission had been invited “to intensify talks with Turkey to address current difficulties in the implementation of the Customs Union”.
European Council ‘prepared to launch high level dialogues with Turkey’ on counter-terrorism
The ‘Statement of the Members of the European Council’ clarified that the European Council was “prepared to launch high level dialogues with Turkey on issues of mutual concern, such as public health, climate and counter-terrorism as well as regional issues. We invite the Commission to explore how to strengthen cooperation with Turkey on people to people contacts and mobility”. It did not publicly specify what the “issues of mutual concern” relating to “counter-terrorism” were.