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Thank you dear Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu], thank you for your warm welcome. It is the second time that I am visiting Turkey in the last four months. I have not come more frequently due to the coronavirus. I hope that in the future, once the pandemic will stop imposing constraints, we will be able to increase our contacts, our conversations because we have a lot of things to talk [about], a lot of problems to solve and the common endeavour of improving the relation between Turkey and the European Union.
Many thanks for your welcome and for this first opportunity to discuss many pressing issues. You have been making references to many of them, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, regional issues such as Libya and Syria, and the overall state of play on EU-Turkey relations which we cannot say are passing through the best moment and [on which] we have to work together in order to improve them.
I am here today to hear the views of the Turkish government on these pressing issues and to look for a way forward ahead of an important debate that we are going to have next week at the European Member States Foreign Affairs Council, and before that at the European Parliament that also wants to have a discussion about the role that Turkey is playing in the Eastern Mediterranean, and on the EU-Turkey relations. I thought that before having these two important debates, it would be good to reach out to my Turkish friends in order to know better which are their positions and which can be the prospects for the future.
Turkey is not only a close neighbour for the European Union, especially for some Member States – it is clear it is a closer neighbour to Greece than to Portugal for example, or Ireland – but it is a key partner, it is a candidate country for accession, and the fact that we in Europe discuss extensively and frequently about Turkey just reflects the importance that we attach to this relationship.
The advantage of our talks, dear Minister [[of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu], is that we can talk openly, frankly, in a constructive approach. Because currently the situation is far from being ideal. There are many serious issues that require our immediate attention. I want to change for the best the dynamics in our relationship because I believe that we have a mutual interest to get out of this situation and chart a new and positive trajectory, avoiding any kind of incident that could spark more troubles.
First, the Eastern Mediterranean is a key region for Europe. It is time to tackle this, in order to create a way forward, conductive to confidence building, dialogue, good neighbourhood relations, stability and security. And this cannot be done by unilateral actions but requires cooperation and dialogue.
The COVID-19 requires cooperation, unhappily it has not been the case worldwide, there is more confrontation than cooperation, but among us we should try to look for more cooperation than confrontation. I will have also the opportunity to discuss with the Minister of Defence [of Turkey, Hulusi Akar]. We are going to talk about the deterioration of the situation in the Aegean Sea, in the Eastern Mediterranean and what it means for EU-Turkey relations.
We talked about the role of Turkey in Libya and the Libyan conflict, and the commitments undertaken by all participants in the Berlin Conference and in the Berlin Process. I think all Berlin participants need to support constructively a peaceful settlement of the Libyan conflict, which is the only responsible way to end the Libyan crisis. We share the same interest on Libya going back to stability and peace and we have to work genuinely in full respect of all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
The Minister [Çavuşoğlu] has made references to many specific issues. I do not think this press conference has to be the continuation of our dialogue and [of] me trying to answer all the questions that he has raised. All of them are part of our intensive dialogue, that will continue.
Let me just say that I understand the preoccupations of Turkey about the travel restrictions. I just want to say that Turkey has not been included in this list because we are adopting a progressive lifting of the travel restrictions on non-essential inbound travel. Only 15 countries have been selected to be part of this list, the approach that the Commission’s services in charge of these issues has followed is based on objective criteria related primarily to the health situation. These criteria are objective, applying them is not a mechanical exercise, it involves some qualitative judgement that is not set in stone. It will be revisited at least every two weeks, taking into account the evolving health situation.
Moreover, not being on the list does not mean a complete travel ban. Citizens and people with an essential reason to come to Europe should be allowed to travel. As I said at least every two weeks we are going to reassess the situation according with the data provided by the health authorities of the states with which we would like to open our borders as soon as possible.
Thank you Minister.
Q. Turkey is complaining that the EU does not fulfil its obligations regarding the migrant deal between Ankara and the EU. You have said that Turkey and the EU needed to rebuild trust. Is the EU planning to work towards that call in terms of securing financing for the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey and the visa-free travel for Turkish citizens?
I came here in order to look for the de-escalation that the Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu] has mentioned and to ask for any agreement, any process of a negotiation that could help to solve these controversies. We are in the case of a disagreement between neighbour countries about the delimitation of waters and it has to be solved by agreements among them.
This is a big disagreement between Turkey and Greece and between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus – which Turkey does not recognise, but is a Member [State] of the European Union, which has shown its full solidarity and support. But, at the same time, we want to look for a solution that could satisfy both parts.
This is what we have been talking about: To launch negotiations between Turkey and Greece, in one case, and to look for an agreement in order to share the revenues of the hydrocarbon exploitations between the two communities on the island of Cyprus [in the other case]. On that, the European Union will be as much helpful as possible, taking into account that Greece and Cyprus are Member [States] of the European Union. About this issue, the European Council has already taken a position and it will [be] discuss[ed] again on the next meeting. My presence here is a way of preparing this meeting and to try to look for solutions.
I am very happy of what the Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Tukey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu] has said, that on the Turkish side there is no intention of an escalation and provoking new situations of tension, and neither it is on the side of the European Union.
On the 2016 [EU-Turkey] Statement, it is clear that this is not just an agreement about financing Turkey for the help provided to the refugees. This is part of a wider agreement where many other issues were considered and many of them have not been implemented. Because in the meantime, from 2016 until now –so four years-, there has been disagreement and political divergences between the European Union and Turkey that have created the current situation.
It means that we have to sit again and discuss about an update of this Statement, that is reaching an end, and look for a new one in which we can put altogether all the issues that affect our relationship. Migration is an important issue, but not the only one. We have to try to satisfy both parts in the fulfilment of a new approach that takes into consideration the issues that Turkey wants to put on the table. And it is very understandable. From visa [liberalisation], partnership, EU membership, borders, customs modernisation, the geopolitical [issues] of the conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean, the cooperation in Syria and the cooperation in Libya.
I think that Turkey has become a regional relevant actor and the European Union has to set up again an approach that takes into account all the issues that are part of this complex relationship. That is the purpose of the European Council when it will discuss [about it]. And, for sure, it is my personal engagement, because I think that our relationship with Turkey has become one of the most important and pressing issues of the foreign policy of the European Union.
Q. A few minutes ago, Mr Borrell made a definition of relations between the European Union and Turkey and said that the current situation is far from being ideal. At this point, what should the European Union do more concretely in order to make progress in the relations? And what should Turkey do?
The first way of solving problems between neighbours that want to be good neighbours and that have a strong interest in cooperation is to sit and talk, not to take unilateral actions that make the situation still worse. We look for a frank, open and cooperative approach for discussion. This has to be done according to a set of principles and targeting some specific issues. Not everything will be solved at the same time.
Everything is related with everything, it is a complex set of issues, but what I think we have to do –and my travel here is maybe a way of preparing that- is a round of negotiations and talks, some of them bilateral with some Members states, others between Turkey and the European Union and others in a format that includes more countries, institutions or communities like the Republic of Cyprus plus the Turkish community in Cyprus, plus Turkey, plus Greece, plus the European Union, plus the United Nations. There are several procedures, meetings, conferences. Some of them we have to wait for the elections -like in the Turkish community of Cyprus in October- others can start, if there is political will, as soon as possible, because we do not need to wait for these elections. In general [we want] to open a process of putting on the table the differences and trying to solve them identifying the problems, which is the first step to look for solutions.
A last word about what Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mr Mevlut Çavuşoğlu] said. You can be sure of one thing. When I am saying that we have to have a comprehensive approach to all things that are part of this complex relation is not to finish the relation, it is to improve it. We cannot abolish geography, whatever happens, Turkey will be a central actor in the Eastern Mediterranean, a neighbour of Europe and an important partner. It is impossible to finish our relations. We have to have relations and they have to be the best possible [ones].
When I say that everything is related to everything, I mean that migration pressure from the Eastern Mediterranean of Syrian refugees going through Turkey is the consequence of the war in Syria. In order to manage what we call migration, but in fact we are talking about refugees, we have to deal with the conflict in Syria, where Turkey plays an important role. We cannot say one thing is independent from the other, because these people are trying to go to Europe through Turkey because there is a war in their country. We have to face the political solution to the war in order for these people to be able to move back home. That is what I mean when I say that things are related, in a positive way, in order to try to look at the root causes of the problem we are facing.
Link to the video: will be available soon