After months of tensions between Turkey and the European Union, Turkey seems to be moving towards rapprochement again. Foreign Minister Cavusoglu is visiting Brussels to discuss the future of the EU-Turkey relationship.
In December, EU leaders decided to impose more sanctions on Turkey for continuing gas drilling in disputed waters in the Mediterranean. The sanctions were aimed only at top managers of oil companies, and some EU countries did not go far enough.
Turkey got rid of it with a warning. Gas drilling and other activities in the Eastern Mediterranean must stop altogether, was the message, otherwise more serious measures would follow.
Taking place of UK
The Turkish visit to Brussels is seen as an attempt for reconciliation. This preceded a series of statements by senior Turkish government officials.
Cavusolgu said in the first week of January that his country is heading towards the EU with a ‘positive agenda’. “Turkey wants to turn a page in its relationship with the EU in the New Year,” said President Erdogan in a video conference with EU Commission President Von der Leyen.
And last week Erdogan went even further by suggesting that Turkey can fill the gap left by the United Kingdom. “Uncertainties that have increased by Brexit can only be removed if Turkey takes its rightful place in the European Union,” he said. Turkey is a candidate country for membership of the Union, but negotiations on this have been on hold for years.
On Monday, the German Foreign Minister Maas visited Ankara. He praised Turkey for taking good steps in the right direction, “not only with words but also with deeds”. He mentioned the withdrawal of the barbaros from Cypriot waters. That ship was drilled for oil and gas. This resulted in strong criticism from the EU, which stands behind its Member State Cyprus.
Whether the return of the ship also means that the Turkish oil emission has finally stopped, is doubtful. The ship would initially have returned to the port because of bad weather. Turkey also pulled back a research vessel before an EU summit where sanctions against Turkey were discussed. Later the ship was sent back to sea.
Better Wishes for Macron
Erdogan has also approached the countries with which it has the greatest conflicts, such as France. When President Macron tested positive for the coronavirus at the end of December, Erdogan wrote him a letter to wish him well. Erdogan also invited him to talk to each other again.
With Greece, Turkey will be on the table next week to talk about maritime borders and disagreement in the Eastern Mediterranean. Those conversations were silent for five years.
Both Turkey and the EU have an interest in improving the relationship. The EU needs Turkey for migration policy, a continuation of the 2016 EU Turkey deal, and the European Union is Turkey‘s largest trading partner. The country is struggling to bind foreign investors and is struggling with serious economic problems.
Approach does not guarantee waiving sanctions
There is no guarantee that the rapprochement will lead to the EU’s rejection of tougher sanctions against Turkey. The EU not only has problems with Turkey because of illegal oil and gas drilling, but also the long-standing Cyprus conflict weighs heavily.
Turkey supports the Turkish Cypriots in Northern Cyprus. Erdogan reiterated in November that Cyprus should be divided into two separate states. That did not work well with EU Member States Cyprus and Greece.