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EU heads seek ‘new chapter’ with Erdogan on Turkey visit


Max Delany and Christian Spillman

The EU’s top two officials head to Turkey on Tuesday to lay out to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the bloc’s conditions for improved ties after a dip in tensions.

European Council president Charles Michel and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen will hold out the prospect of key economic and diplomatic gains for Ankara, including more funding for Turkey’s hosting of millions of Syrian refugees. But the roadmap for relaunching cooperation — agreed by EU leaders at a summit last month — depends on Erdogan acting constructively and continuing to de-escalate tensions over Turkey’s gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean. An EU official said Tuesday’s meeting in Ankara “will not be the moment for negotiations, but will provide a framework” on the way forward. The bloc has been encouraged by conciliatory moves from Ankara over the past few months, including the resumption of talks with Greece over a disputed maritime border and steps to restart UN peace efforts for divided EU member state Cyprus.

Brussels’ approach entails the possibility of modernising a customs union, liberalising visa rules, more money for Syrian refugees and a resumption of high-level dialogues on topics from security to health.

But any steps would be “phased, proportionate and reversible”, and if Ankara backtracks then the EU has warned it could slap painful sanctions on the country. “If Erdogan does not show himself to be cooperative then everything will be blocked’’, the official warned.

Convincing the Turkish leader to accept the conditions will not be easy and he has already pressed the EU to move faster towards “concrete results”.

But analysts and diplomats say Erdogan has become more pliant in the face of economic woes at home and a toughening line from Washington after his ally Donald Trump was voted out of the White House.

EU members have been split over how to handle Turkey, with Cyprus, Greece and France urging a tough line while others, led by economic powerhouse Germany, want more engagement.

Ankara formally opened talks to join the bloc in 2005 but that process has become frozen as Erdogan tightened his grip over the country. The bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell insists the latest offer of cooperation from the bloc’s leaders “could be a new chapter in EU-Turkey relations” after last year’s nadir. — Reuters

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