Three European Union leaders will hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Bulgaria on Monday in a bid to mend frayed relations and ensure Turkey continues to prevent an influx of Middle East refugees.
European Council President Donald Tusk, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker will represent the European trading bloc at the dinner meeting with Erdogan in the Black Sea city of Varna amid fresh strains in EU-Turkey ties. EU heads of government last week slammed Turkey over its sea disputes with Greece and Cyprus, while Ankara accused countries in the European Union of interfering in Turkey’s domestic agenda.
“This is going to be a very difficult meeting because relations have extremely deteriorated,” Borissov said ahead of the Varna summit. “At the same time the meeting is loaded with many expectations,” he told reporters in Brussels on Friday.
EU Turkey relations soured last year, with concerns in Europe over Erdogan’s crackdown on political opponents and press freedom. Nevertheless, the EU bloc has been keen to ensure that Turkey continues to maintain an agreement to shelter asylum-seekers escaping conflict and poverty in the Middle East and has refused to formally pull the plug on long-stalled Turkish membership talks.
Erdogan, on the other hand, seeks to win concessions on visa-free travel and a customs union upgrade with his biggest trading partner, without committing to EU entry criteria on human rights and judicial independence. Turkey’s military operations in northwest Syria and the purchase of a Russian missile defense system have also strained relations with allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and drawn Germany’s harsh criticism.
On Friday, EU leaders “strongly” condemned Turkey for obstructing exploratory drilling off the coast of Cyprus and the ever more frequent clashes over Greece’s territorial waters. They also called for the release of two Greek soldiers who, Athens says, wandered off across the border during a routine patrol last month.
“Relations are non-existent, so we are starting from a very low point,” Asli Aydintasbas, an analyst at the London-based European Council on Foreign Relations, said in an email. “I do not expect much other than a discussion on the migration deal. It is certainly an improvement in itself that the summit is taking place.”
Bulgaria, which shares a 260-kilometer (160-mile) land border with Turkey and holds the rotating EU presidency until June, has repeatedly urged the 28-nation bloc to seek common ground with Erdogan and maintain its wavering refugee accord. Bulgaria’s relations with Turkey also came to a low ahead of its parliamentary elections a year ago, when Sofia accused Ankara of interfering in the poll and recalled its ambassador to Ankara.
Nevertheless, Turkey has invested about 860 million euros ($1 billion) in Bulgaria, becoming one of the biggest investors in the country, and more than 1,500 Turkish companies operate in the former communist country, which joined the EU 11 years ago.
Original article found on Malta Winds