EU eyes cooperation with Turkey if ‘de-escalation sustained’

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European Union leaders agreed at a video summit on Thursday that they are ready to boost cooperation with Turkey, if “current de-escalation is sustained” following a spike in tensions, Agence France-Presse reported.

Relations with Ankara were on the table as the bloc plots a way forward after ties suffered last year over Turkey’s gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

The summit conclusions said the EU “is ready to engage with Turkey in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner to enhance cooperation in a number of areas of common interest” and leaders could take further decisions in June.

But that was only “provided that the current de-escalation is sustained and that Turkey engages constructively.”

On the table is the prospect of meeting Turkish ambitions for top-level talks, preliminary moves to modernize a customs union and progress towards a potential liberalization of visa rules.

However, the conclusions also said the EU was prepared to renew sanctions “to defend its interests and those of its member states” if Ankara backtracks.

The carrot-and-stick approach comes as the EU tries to build on recent conciliatory moves from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and after it put on hold sanctions over drilling in Cypriot waters.

The bloc has been encouraged by the resumption of talks with Greece over a disputed maritime border and by plans to restart UN peace efforts for divided EU member state Cyprus.

But leaders remain deeply wary of Erdogan, and there are major concerns over Ankara’s recent moves to shut down an opposition party and its departure from a treaty on violence against women.

“We expect Turkey to respect the standards of the rule of law,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said ahead of the summit.

Funding for refugees 

EU members are divided over their approach to Turkey, with Cyprus, Greece and France urging a tough line while others, led by economic powerhouse Germany, pushing for more engagement.

Any delay in stepping up cooperation could frustrate Erdoğan, who urged “concrete results” from the summit in a call with EU chiefs Michel and Ursula von der Leyen on Friday.

Turkey is pressing Brussels to update a deal struck five years ago to stop large-scale migrant arrivals in the EU, many of them fleeing from the war in Syria, in return for billions of euros in aid.

The bloc is refusing to reopen the agreement but the summit told the European Commission to come up with a proposal on more funding for Turkey for housing millions of refugees.

A report by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell laid out the strategy for the bloc’s approach on Ankara.

It outlined areas for cooperation, but said the EU could look to target Turkey’s key tourism sector if Ankara escalates tensions.

“The last month we have seen positive developments on the part of Turkey, but the situation remains fragile,” Borrell said at the start of the meeting.

“I have identified a couple of measures in a double-track approach. On one hand positive measures and on the other hand measures that can be taken if the situation could become worse.”

A European diplomat insisted that there would be “increased vigilance during the coming months” to determine if Turkey is living up to the bloc’s demands.

“If a setback is observed, the EU will be able to defend its interests,” the diplomat warned.

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