Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says Ankara has “the highest level of commitment” when it comes to improving ties with the European Union.
After a turbulent 2020, Turkey and the EU now have “a window of opportunity for renewed dialogue,” Turkey’s top diplomat has said.
“We believe a genuine Turkey-EU partnership can bring real changes in vital subjects, including migration, trade, energy, security, and defence, as well as Syria, Libya, the Balkans, Caucasus, and other issues,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday during an online meeting with his Dutch counterpart Stef Blok for the eighth bilateral Wittenburg Conference.
He said the EU “extended a hand to Turkey at the December summit” and Ankara “responded favourably” to the gesture.
Stressing the need to capitalise on this new chance for constructive dialogue, Cavusoglu, who visited EU officials in Brussels last week, said the two sides have “decided to work on a roadmap of concrete steps with timelines.”
Reaffirming Ankara’s readiness for “a true partnership as a candidate country,” he stressed that Turkey has “the highest level of commitment” when it comes to improving ties with the bloc.
Opened the annual Wittenburg Conference with my 🇹🇷 colleague @MevlutCavusoglu.— Stef Blok (@ministerBlok) January 27, 2021
Discussed matters of mutual interest like innovation, the EU-Turkey relation, security and regional stability. We face some tough dilemmas, and it’s important to keep on working together. pic.twitter.com/gZkwA8fjNb
Talks with Greece
Talks between Turkey and Greece, which resumed on Monday after five years of hiatus, were held in a very positive atmosphere, according to the Turkish foreign minister.
Resuming the exploratory talks as its former name, and consultative talks as it is called now – since it has been ongoing for a long time – was important for the resolution of disputes, said Mevlut Cavusoglu in a news conference with his Irish counterpart Simon Coveney in the Turkish capital Ankara on Wednesday.
Cavusoglu said the next talks will be held in Greece and its date will be announced later.
“Consultation on how to solve these problems will be beneficial for the two neighbours to reduce the tension at least for now and perhaps to find permanent solutions to these problems in the future,” he noted.
Exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece, meant to find fair and equitable settlements to issues in the Aegean, began in 2002.
After the 60th round of talks in March 2016, Athens suspended the meetings.
Bilateral talks continued in the form of political consultations, but did not return to the exploratory framework.
Plans for resuming talks foundered last year over Turkey's deployment of a seismic survey vessel in contested waters and disagreements over which topics they would cover.
The vessel was withdrawn to Turkish shores last year.
Ankara and Athens agreed this month to resume the talks in Istanbul, in a test of Turkey's hopes of improving its relations with the European Union, which has supported EU-member Greece and threatened sanctions on Turkey.
“We are also ready for the 5 UN meeting on Cyprus and the EastMed Conference, both of which were our proposals,” Cavusoglu earlier said, referring to a Cyprus meeting of both sides on the island, plus its three guarantor countries and the UN, as well as a proposed conference of all countries with coasts on the eastern Mediterranean, including Turkish Cyprus.
He said Turkey seeks “renewal of the March 18  Agreement in all aspects, which include the accession process, Customs Union update, visa liberalisation, migration cooperation, high-level dialogue, and counterterrorism cooperation,” referring to an agreement concerning the refugee crisis.
Turkey has said the EU has failed to uphold its obligations under the pact.
“We have already proven what this partnership is capable of during the refugee crisis of 2016. It was thanks to joint efforts by Turkey and the EU that we were able to manage Europe’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War II,” said Cavusoglu.
On relations with Ireland, Cavusoglu said they agreed on regular contacts at all levels and he will visit Ireland “as soon as possible.”
Stating that the last presidential-level visit from Ireland to Turkey was in 2010, he said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also likely to pay a visit to Ireland.
Cavusoglu highlighted deep-rooted relations between the two countries and said they aim to reach $3 billion bilateral trade volume, which stood at $1.5 billion last year.
He also appreciated Ireland’s support for Turkey’s accession process to the EU since the beginning.
After a year of ups and downs, Turkish leaders said they are hopeful for progress in relations with the EU this year and expect the bloc to take steps towards this end.
Turkey has been an official candidate for EU membership since 2005, but progress towards its accession has been stalled for years.
The top Turkish diplomat congratulated Ireland for becoming a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, and praised its efforts for delivering humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees.
Ireland supports EU-Turkey relations
For his part, Coveney said Ireland and the EU will continue to support Turkey in its efforts to host millions of Syrian refugees who have been fleeing the civil war in their country since 2011.
“Ireland is determined to support all efforts led by the UN to bring this terrible conflict to a peaceful and sustainable end,” he said.
On EU-Turkey relations, Coveney said: “It's clear that last year was a particularly difficult year for the EU-Turkey relationship as a result of a series of factors.
“Our aim is to ensure that the relationship improves significantly in 2021.”
He also called the resumption of talks between Turkey and Greece as “a positive step”.
Coveney said efforts to improve the relations between Ankara and the bloc have to be maintained, and added: “This relationship is simply too important to be allowed to drift into a negative space. A constructive and cooperative partnership is essential.”
Bilateral cooperation between Turkey and the Netherlands offers “huge potential” for both countries, Cavusoglu said.
“Apart from tulips, Turkish and Dutch people have many things in common; we are both enterprising, business-minded, and practical people,” he said.
The Turkish foreign minister, however, emphasized the need for “constant dialogue” between the two sides to “adapt to change.”
“We live in extraordinary times, and change is occurring faster than ever,” he said.
He said the Wittenburg Conference “is an indication of our will to continue high-level dialogue” and pledged to hold next year’s session in the Turkish resort city of Antalya.
Cavusoglu pointed out that the decision to start accession talks between Turkey and the EU was taken in December 2004, when the bloc’s presidency was held by the Netherlands.
“We count on the Netherlands’ support in that regard,” the minister said.
During the meeting, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok also hailed the two countries’ bilateral ties, saying that their partnership is “highly significant” despite some differences of opinion.
He said the Netherlands and Turkey enjoy a historic alliance and there are “very important cooperation matters” between the two countries in many areas.