At the press conference after today’s Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell proceeded to an introductory statement on the subject of Turkey:
“Today we also discussed the issue of Turkey, perhaps the most important issue of the day, as it will also be discussed by the leaders at the European Council. We discussed with the Ministers the issue of our relations with Turkey in view of the Report that we prepared jointly with the Commission for the European Council next Thursday. In general, the Report was seen as a good basis for the leaders’ discussion, although some Ministers made additional assessments. As acknowledged in the Report, since last December we have seen some moves by the Turkish leadership which are in the right direction, but also steps to de-escalate in the Eastern Mediterranean. Drilling in the Cypriot EEZ was halted and research vessels were withdrawn. Statements have been toned down and the Turkish authorities expressed their interest in a strong relationship with the EU.
“Nevertheless,” the High Representative continued, “the prospect of de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean remains fragile and de-escalation efforts must continue. At the same time, the internal situation in Turkey is a matter of serious concern, including threats to ban one of the major opposition parties, the HDP, and Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Violence against Women but also against domestic violence. You will have seen the statements I issued regarding these developments. I expressed our serious concerns, we condemned them. We also expressed our fear that such measures would derail Turkey from the European path. We agreed with the Ministers that it is important to continue to encourage positive developments. On the other hand, there was broad agreement that it is important to keep all options at the table, if needed. As part of the preparations for the European Council, I will also meet tonight with the Turkish Foreign Minister with whom we will discuss the Report in order to inform the leaders about it. The Council concluded that it did not take a decision on the Report on Turkey, because it is certainly up to EU leaders to decide.”
Asked about the remarks made today by the Ministers in the report he submitted and whether the latest developments in Turkey are likely to freeze the positive agenda, Borrell said that the recent developments in Turkey with the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention and the banning of a political party should be taken into account. “When we say that there have been positive developments such as the issue of drilling, discussions on the demarcation of maritime zones, this is clear. There has been improvement. But at the same time there are other issues like the ones I mentioned above that we can not consider positive,” Borrell added, stressing that this amalgamation was taken into account by the Council and positive and negative approaches were proposed.
“We want to have the best of relations with Turkey as a candidate country, as a neighbor, as an important country but at the same time to defend the interests of the Member States and the values of the Union,” Borrell said, noting that the Ministers examined the report and unanimously expressed their positive assessment. The High Representative stressed that the Council had not decided on the report as it would be discussed by the European Council this week, underlining that there had been some comments on specific issues that would be left to leaders to consider and thus refrained from going into detail.
Asked about the period for which Turkey’s behavior will be considered and whether he will discuss the Cyprus issue in his meeting with Mevlut Cavusoglu tonight, Borrell stressed that of course he would discuss the Cyprus issue and, in the coming weeks and maybe until the summer, the EU will be closely monitoring Turkey’s behavior by setting some milestones, such as talks on resolving the Cyprus issue, exploratory talks with Greece, the situation in Libya and the situation inside the country. He added that various indicators related to Turkey’s behavior will be monitored to ensure that it wants to be seriously involved in the negotiations that are taking place, such as support for Syrian refugees. /ibna