Varna Summit, the Turkish press & the issues to be raised

Varna Summit, the Turkish press & the issues to be raised
The EU-Turkey leaders' meeting will take place on March 26 at the Evksinograd residence in Varna, Bulgaria. It will bring together European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, all outlets highlighted.

President Erdogan will lead a large delegation that includes Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and the Minister of European Union Affairs and Chief Negotiator for Turkish Accession to the European Union, Ömer Çelik. While all pro-government outlets called the meeting a leaders’ summit, some outlets said that, in a statement, Brussels called it a working dinner to assess matters of mutual interest and recent developments in Turkey. Most outlets underlined the “illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea and its involvement in Syria” emphasis of the statement.

Erdoğan states his readiness for the summit and speaks of certain footage

President Erdoğan said he’s prepared for the EU-Turkey summit in Varna and will show some footage to EU leaders at the meeting. “Our problem is terrorism, we’re not invaders,” Erdoğan said in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, adding that the examples of invaders are Western. Erdoğan also cited Mosul, Aleppo, and Gazza as examples of devastation caused by other countries, before telling the audience, “Those in the West are trying to give us advice. Keep your advice to yourself. There is video footage of all of them. We will meet tomorrow in Varna, I am prepared, I will show them. We will stand firm, will not compromise,” said Erdoğan, without saying whatfootage will show. The Turkish media claimed Erdoğan will show Tusk, Juncker, and Borissov footage from demonstrations in EU countries illustrating Ankara’s thesis that the EU offers a haven for “terrorists,” such as the PKK and Gülen movement supporters. Erdoğan added, “In our history there is justice, not cruelty. That's what we did in Afrin. We are with the oppressed. You see what happened in Eastern Ghouta, right? They came to crush. We came to revive. That’s our difference.”

The top three issues Turkey will raise at the summit will be reviving the stalled accession talks, granting visa liberalization to Turkish nationals, and upgrading the Customs Union, issues cited as Brussels’ promises in return for Turkey keeping Syrian refugees on its soil in a 2016 agreement, all outlets said.

President Erdoğan will also reiterate his disappointment with the pace of the delivery of financial assistance the EU promised for Syrian refugees in Turkey, they added. The escalating tensions in the Mediterranean and Aegean, strongly condemned by the European Council a few days ago, and Turkey’s ongoing military operation in Afrin, northwestern Syrian, which the EU voiced concern about, will also be tough topics, the outlets added. The fight against terrorism, especially the PKK, Gulen movement (FETO), and far-left groups, will also be on the table, the outlets stressed. Erdoğan several times accused the EU of not showing the necessary solidarity against the military coup and of protecting the coup suspects and aiding PKK supporters, they noted.

Most mainstream and opposition outlets wrote that the EU side will stress the worsening state of the rule of law, press freedom, and the continued crackdown on dissident politicians, academics, and journalists.

Some of today's headlines 

Pro-government dailies: Aksam, “Turkey to give [EU] message of determination for fight against terrorism in Syria at Varna”, Vatan, “Trust test with the EU”, Yeni Birlik, “Critical day”,  Yeni Akit, “Negotiation time with the EU” Dirilis Postasi”, “Turkey asks EU to take constructive stance”, Milat, “Turkey expecting steps to repair trust”, Yeni Safak, “First meeting in 10 months, Erdogan’s bag is full”.

Mainstream dailies - Hurriyet, “Critical meeting in Varna”, Haberturk, “Varna juncture in Turkish-EU relations”, Milliyet,“Bag full of unkept promises.

Opposition dailies - Left-wing Birgun, “'Take the money and keep the refugees summit’ in Varna”, Kemalist Korkusuz,“Critical meeting in Varna”, Nationalist Gunboyu, “Turkey’s condemnation [of EU Council statement] poisoned the air. Summit will be tougher than expected.”

Many outlets reviewed President Erdoğan’s statements last week on the summit. The Turkish leader pointed at Europe's attitude towards Turkey, which, he said, is far from having good intentions, especially as far as terrorist groups' wide range of activities in EU states are concerned. Turkey's president said all terrorist groups that work against Turkey are very active and respected in Europe and are given free weapons that are used against the country. He also complained of missing financial support for refugees promised by the EU, stressing that although the second part of the payment has already been discussed, Turkey still hasn’t gotten the full first payment. "I will say here they are. If you’re going to give it, then give it. If you won't, then be honest about it by saying, 'Sorry, but we won’tbe able to give it’," Erdoğan said, adding that he will share photos and videos of refugees at the summit.

The state-run Anadolu Agency reads: “Turkey-EU Summit to be held in Bulgaria on Monday,” “Ankara expects from the EU updates on the Customs Union agreement, visa liberalization, acceleration of financial assistance to Syria, and concrete steps to combat terrorism. Turkey wants the EU to show a more constructive attitude for the ‘trust facility.’ Brussels states considering the differences between the two sides at the summit will not be easy, and it aims to strengthen relations.”

Mainstream HDN: “Turkish, EU leaders to meet in Varna,” reads, “The leaders of the EU and Turkey will meet … to discuss ways to revitalize longstanding processes between Turkey and the bloc, namely upgrading the Customs Union agreement, requirements of a signed migrant deal, the fight against terrorism, and Turkey’s accession to the bloc. The meeting will build on the previous leaders’ meeting that took place on May 25, 2017.” The outlet quoted an EU diplomat saying, “Junker and Tusk cannot give any promises on behalf of 28 countries regarding the Customs Union issue. Turkey has to convince [German Chancellor Angela Merkel] first in order to launch these talks. Germany has given some positive signals, but sure they will expect Ankara to take some steps with regards to the rule of law in the country.” The daily, quoting a Turkish official, said, “In Varna, the Turkish leader will ask EU officials to reiterate Turkey’s position as being a candidate for full membership to the bloc and give up speculations by some member states for an alternative model of partnership with Turkey. The HDN also quoted the same EU diplomat, saying, “The summit comes before the Commission’s Progress Report. The mood of this report would be conveyed to President Erdogan.”

The summit is important in terms of re-aligning Turkey’s relations with the union. Visa liberalization and updating theCustoms Union are among the top issues being focused on by the business world, financial daily Dünya (circulation around 46,000) reported. The daily quoted many business figures including TÜSİAD head Erol Bilecik and TİM head Mehmet Büyükekşi. Read More

Sunday’s left-wing Cumhuriyet’s lead story, “Worthless bargain,” by diplomatic correspondent Duygu Guvenc argued, “There will be a historic meeting in Bulgaria, at a time when Turkish-EU relations are in a deadlock. Both sides, before the summit, are talking deliberately. Turkey wants to regain trust by presenting the public and the markets a ‘We are continuing with the EU’ photo. Although the EU is talking aboutdemocracy, which it calls it basic values, its main agenda is refugees. Freedoms are on the table, the economy is behind the curtain.” The report continued: “Varna, where the Ottomans and Crusaders faced off 474 years ago, will host a historic meeting on relations with the West. Turkey is expecting Brussels to take steps on updating the Customs Union and visa liberalisation. The EU wants Turkey to take steps on the rule of law and fundamental freedoms and to make an opening with all its members, including the ‘Greek Cypriots.’ At the March 22-23 summit, EU leaders condemned Ankara, calling its activities in the Aegean and Mediterranean illegal. Turkey in return announced that the EU could no longer be a third party in Cyprus talks.

Views of diplomats and high officials

On expectations for Varna, a senior Turkish diplomat said: "As there is not much left on the table, relations are now like surgery."

A senior EU diplomat said, “Varna is a very important turning point for solving problems between the union and Turkey." The EU diplomat also pointed to the importance of continuing the process which started with Germany and Austria to include the Netherlands. The EU described Varna as a "leaders’ meeting" rather than a "summit.”

Former EU Minister Egemen Bagis said relations between Turkey and the EU will be fixed after Varna. “Turkey is an irreplaceable country for the EU. 70 percent of energy resources that the EU needs are inside Turkey’s borders. Europe needs to cooperate with us to reach these energy resources. Europe also needs our workforce.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he is approaching Varna with mixed feelings, many outlets reported. Juncker specified that the quantity of EU-Turkey problems had not stopped growing but the EU was willing to strengthen cooperation with Ankara.

European Council President Donald Tusk said: “The European Council strongly condemned Turkey's continued illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. This issue will be raised in Varna, where we hope to have a wide-ranging discussion on EU-Turkey relations and on the way ahead. I am aware that it will not be an easy meeting. The EU is concerned not just with the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean. Certainly a number of other complicated issues will be discussed in Varna, including developments in Turkey and its actions in Syria. Still, we are neighbours and we need to find a way to talk to each other openly and cooperate in areas of common interest.”

The outlets also quoted Bulgarian PM Borissov, saying, “The meeting in Varna is likely to be one of the last opportunities to maintain dialogue … Hosting the meeting will be a great responsibility for Bulgaria, a demonstration of trust, but at the same time, there are great expectations. Every country has firmly declared that dialogue with Turkey, in this case in Varna, should continue.”

Germany and other EU member states have provided Ankara with more than €80 million in technology to protect and monitor its borders, a study by Spiegel and the European Investigative Collaborations Network said, many outlets reported. The reports said, “The EU, as part of the IPA regional development program, transferred €35.6 million to Turkish Otokar for the manufacture of armored vehicles military vehicles, the so-called Cobra II, which are now being used on the Turkish border with Syria. The Aselsan armaments group, majority-owned by the Turkish state, was commissioned to allocate armored and non-armored tracking vehicles for €30 million to control the Greek-Turkish land borders. In March 2016, the EU and Ankara reached an agreement whereby Europeans were called upon to pay initially €3 billion to Turkey in exchange for ‘restraining’ refugees in the country and preventing them from continuing their journey towards the EU. The money should normally have been given to the Syrians in Turkey, but €18 million wasgiven to a Dutch firm which built six patrol boats for the Turkish Coast Guard."

EU Minister Ömer Çelik underlined that the statement on Turkey in the EU Council conclusions adopted just before the summit is unacceptable. “It is so unfortunate that the people who told us that the Greek Cypriots and Greeks were responsible for the failure of the Crans-Montana talks for a Cyprus solution have made such a statement,” Çelik said. He called Varna an important opportunity to move relations forward. “We will go to Varna with a sincere, well-intentioned and constructive understanding. We hope to see the EU side bring the same approach,” he added.... / IBNA

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