09 Apr 2018

Post-Varna EU-Turkey Relations. Neither a break-through nor a break-up

The long-awaited European Union (EU) – Turkey summit that took place in Varna, Bulgaria on March 26th ended on a rather bitter, if unsurprising note, with European Council President Donald Tusk admitting that European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and himself “didn’t achieve any kind of concrete compromise (…).”

And room for compromise there was aplenty. On the agenda were the rule of law in Turkey, fight with terrorism, migration flows, and Turkey’s involvement in Syria and in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. For the Turkish side, most important issues involved visa-free movement for its citizens, revival of accession talks, and an upgrade of the EU-Turkey customs union.The list of complaints and expectations was therefore long and the talks themselves, as anticipated by Commissioner Juncker ahead of the meeting, “frank”. The most recent bone of contention was Turkey’s conflicts with Cyprus and Greece. In mid-February, an Italian oil company drill ship commissioned by the Cypriot government to explore for natural gas resources in disputed waters south‑east of Cyprus was confronted by a Turkish warship. The following month, two Greek soldiers were imprisoned after trespassing onto Turkish territory near a border town of Edirne. The soldiers claim they did so unwittingly as they got lost in bad weather during a border patrol. Ankara, however, imprisoned them on suspicion of espionage (as of Sunday, April 8th, both were still under arrest). The EU called Turkey’s actions “illegal” and assured it stands united behind Cyprus and Greece.


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European Council President Donald Tusk, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speak during a news conference at the EU-Turkey summit, in the Black Sea resort of Varna, Bulgaria, Monday, March 26, 2018. Photo by: Petko Momchilov/Impact Press Group/NurPhoto (Credit Image: © Impactpressgroup.Org/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press)