EU President Donald Tusk, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker EU and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet at a summit on March 26 at the Bulgaria’s resort city of Varna in Bulgaria to discuss how to move the relationship between the two sides forward, on the basis of mutual respect and common interests. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will lead a large delegation that will include Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, EU Minister Ömer Çelik, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi and Trade Minister Bülent Tüfenkçi.
The EU and Turkey” will assess matters of mutual interest and recent developments in Turkey, including in the area of rule of law and fundamental freedoms,” a statement by the European Council issued on Thursday said.
The already strained Euro-Turkish relations took another bad turn followed the recent Turkish aggressive acts against EU member states Cyprus and Greece.
On Thursday, the leaders of the European Union criticised Ankara for “continued illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea.”
The European Council called on Turkey to respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources in accordance with the EU and international law.
The Council’s conclusions also expressed “grave concern” over the continued detention of EU citizens in Turkey, including two Greek soldiers, and calls for the swift and positive resolution of these issues in a dialogue with member states.
The soldiers were arrested on espionage charges on March 2 after entering northwestern Turkey and they have been waiting for their case to be heard.
The soldiers say they accidentally passed into Turkish land. Turkish state media reported that military sketches were found on the soldiers.
Turkish government reacted with anger to the EU statement.
“Such wordings solely based on the Greek Cypriot and Greek claims are unacceptable and create an opportunity for some other countries to hide behind them as well,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday, adding the EU cannot be an objective actor on the Cyprus dispute.
Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik said on Twitter on European Council conclusions: “When solidarity takes over legality and equity, then no one can talk about legitimacy. Solidarity is meaningful only when it is legitimate.”
MACRON – ERDOGAN
French President Emmanuel Macron and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan showed convergence on the need to pursue “close dialogues” to come out with political alternatives to end hostilities in Syria and handle Cyprus crisis, the French presidency said Saturday in a statement.
According to Xinhua, during Friday’s phone conversation, both leaders agreed that “deep and intense exchanges will continue in the coming days on Syria”, the statement said.
Macron also “recalled the strategic importance of our partnership with Turkey, especially on the fight against terrorism and in addressing all regional crises, as well as our attention to Turkey’s security interests”, it said.
Differences tainted the two NATO allies’ diplomatic ties after Ankara launched, in January this year, a military offensive to eradicate Kurdish insurgents in Afrin, northern Syria near Turkish borders.
A biggest critic to the operation, Macron warned Turkey of the risks of an “invasion” that “poses a real problem” by “not respecting the Syrian sovereignty”.
Expressing concerns over the situation in Syria, Macron told Erdogan “to give top priority to the fight against the Islamic State” in Syria and respect “without more delay” commitment to halt hostilities throughout Syria and build a lasting political solution.
The two leaders also discussed the situation in Cyprus after Turkish warships blocked Cypriot offshore drilling in the east Mediterranean, further fuelling tension between Cyprus and Turkey.
Macron “expressed his willingness to continue close dialogues with Turkey on the situation off Cyprus and in the Aegean Sea”, according to the statement.
As it was reported by Cyprus News Agency, President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, has said he was satisfied with the “strong expression of solidarity on the part of the EU”, as regards the conclusions adopted by the EU28 on Turkey`s unlawful activity against Greece and Cyprus.
Speaking to the press in Brussels, after the European Council, he pointed out the fact that “for the first time there is an unprecedented condemnation of Turkey`s continuing illegal activity in the Eastern Mediterranean”, stressing that by “the term Eastern Mediterranean we mean the Exclusive Economic Zone”.
The President of the Republic stressed that the conclusions of the European Council demonstrate `full solidarity and support both towards Cyprus and Greece” and that “it is the first time that Turkey`s constant illegal activity is strongly condemned and this is particularly important ahead of the session of Varna “.
“At the same time, Turkey is called upon to stop the acts of unlawful interference and to respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus for the exploration and exploitation of its natural resources in accordance with international and European law,” the President said.
He added that “another element of equal importance is the need for Turkey to observe both international law and good neighborly relations but at the same time it is also called upon to normalize its relations with the EU Member States including the Republic of Cyprus ”
“At the same time, there is a strong concern about the continued detention of European citizens by Turkey, including the two Greek military men, calling for an end to the unacceptable situation,” he said.
“Finally, the European Council stresses that it will continue to monitor Turkey`s actions, with regard to the conclusions and their findings, on all the unlawful violations,” he pointed out.
President Anastasiades explained that “the most important thing is that the Conclusions and the positions expressed will be transferred in a uniform way by the European Council President Donald Tusk and the European Union to those who will participate in the Varna meeting, in order to make progress on the issues listed on the agenda, Turkey should respond both to the findings or conclusions and to its Cyprus – related obligations” the President said.
He added that “another element is the fact that the EU will be vigilant following the implementation (or not) of what the conclusions are about.”
“I hope that Turkey will finally realize that if it does not change tactics and behavior and get in line with European standards, I do not see that there could be progress in what matters to both the EU and us and all of us,” he said and clarified that `we are neither against Turkey`s European perspective nor against a dialogue between the EU and Turkey, as long as Turkey respects and demonstrates that it respects both European principles and values, as well as the acquis and the international law and that will be for the benefit of all. ”
The President of the Republic warned that “unlawful actions, unilateral actions, threats and blackmail do not give a chance to improve EU-Turkey relations, nor do they give a perspective to the efforts made since 2005 for a smooth accession process”. ”
He said that that Turkey should start behaving based on the goals it has set, in order to have a European perspective.
Replying to questions, the President noted that the fact that the EU condemns unambiguously “is an even more supportive intervention and reinforcement of Cyprus` efforts to implement, as a sovereign state, its energy planning.”
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday urged Ankara to abandon the rationale of constant provocations with Greece.
Speaking to reporters at the end of a European Union leaders’ summit, Tsipras said the unanimous condemnation of Turkey by the European Council over its aggressive stance toward Greece and Cyprus was the most powerful European message yet to Ankara.
“With [Cyprus] President [Nicos] Anastasiades we presented [to EU leaders] the escalating actions of Turkey,” he said, adding that Turkey’s behavior has changed “in a way that should concern us.”
Greece, he said, will always try to keep lines of communication with Turkey open and back its EU accession course. He added, however, that he made it clear to his fellow leaders that Greece is determined to defend its territorial integrity “against any threat.”
Referring to the two Greek soldiers detained in Turkey, Tsipras said Athens would “continue bilateral efforts through bilateral channels” to resolve the issue but also depends on the “open mobilization” of its EU partners for support.
The two soldiers were detained early this month after accidentally crossing the border into Turkey in bad weather.
Tsipras added that he received assurances from European Commission heads that they will raise the issue with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the EU-Turkey Summit in Varna that begins on Monday.
However, the harassment on Thursday of a Chinook helicopter carrying the head of the Hellenic Army and other senior military officials by two Turkish F-16s just a few hours after the EC’s condemnation of Turkey is seen in Athens as yet another indication that Ankara is intent on creating an atmosphere of constant tension.
The incident was the latest in a long string of Turkish transgressions in the Aegean, including military threats against Cyprus if it exploits its natural gas reserves.