‘Good relations with Turkey essential for the EU, but human rights are not negotiable’

Turkey is important to the European Union and a good relationship with the country is therefore essential. This is what Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and President of the European Council Charles Michel said after a meeting with President Erdogan. However, they also talked about human rights and criticized the Turkish decision to leave the Istanbul Convention (against violence against women).

Von der Leyen and Michel visited Erdogan to tighten up the ties, after Turkey and Greece had a conflict last year over oil and gas drilling and maritime borders in the Mediterranean. The EU imposed sanctions on Turkey. Recently, the Member States decided not to step up sanctions further, as tensions between Turkey and Greece have again been somewhat reduced.

Success story

The President of the Commission stressed the importance of a good relationship between Turkey and the EU. It therefore announces that Turkey and the EU will improve trade relations. The visit is seen by both Turkey and the EU as a ‘restart’ of the relationship.

โ€œ For Turkey, this visit is a success story,โ€ says correspondent Mitra Nazar. โ€œThe media are talking about a new path and a positive future in terms of economic links between Turkey and the EU. From the government‘s point of view, this is quite the way they imagined it.โ€

Charm Offensive

her view, it is therefore in Ankara’s interest to get the relationship with the European Union right. Early this year, Erdogan launched a charm offensive to restore the clouded relationship. Turkey is in a deep economic crisis and cannot afford a continuing quarrel with the 27 Member States. โ€œThat is why we saw Turkey take a step back in the conflict in the Mediterranean at the end of last year.โ€

But it is also in the EU‘s interest to restore the relationship because of the migration deal. โ€œAnd Erdogan knows that damn well. He has an asset in his hands, namely four million refugees who are being taken in Turkey. The EU wants Turkey to continue to receive it. This gives Erdogan a good negotiating position,โ€ says Nazar.

A spokesman for Erdogan also told Turkish media that the President told the EU bosses that Turkey’s ultimate goal is to join the EU. The country has had that ambition for years. However, according to sources within the EU, this is far from being discussed and will depend much on how Turkey will act in the future.


The big question that depended on this visit was whether the subject of human rights would be discussed. Both critics in Brussels and opposition in Turkey called on Von der Leyen and Michel to address Erdogan on issues such as the recent withdrawal from the Istanbul Treaty, and the growing pressure on opposition in Turkey. Particularly serious steps taken recently by Erdogan to ban the large pro-Kurdish opposition party HDP are of concern.

Von der Leyen, unsuccessfully, asked Erdogan to revise the decision on the Istanbul Convention. According to Von der Leyen, they also discussed in detail the violation of human rights. โ€œHuman rights cannot be negotiated, and we have made this very clear,โ€ says Von der Leyen.

According to human rights organisations, the EU should be much more critical of Erdogan, and expressing concern alone is not enough. In February, the Turkish leader launched a much-discussed action plan to improve human rights.

โ€œ That plan was received with raised eyebrows in opposition rings. There is a reference to the many journalists and opposition members who are in prison. First see then believe, it is said,โ€ says Mitra Nazar.