In the end next to nothing was agreed at Monday’s eagerly-awaited EU-Turkey leaders’ meeting in Bulgaria. The two sides agreed to carry on talking in order to resolve their differences but whether this will ever happen is open to debate.
The dinner was still described as a “good meeting” by Commission President Jean Claude Juncker as “we were able to talk in all frankness and openness.” And the talking would continue, considering nothing was agreed. “We will have, as we have in the past, many, many meetings and the chance to resolve the problems between Turkey and Europe.”
President Erdogan offered no answers to concerns about Turkey’s intervention in Syria and his repressive rule, which has led to mass purges and the jailing of journalists, but he still tried to give a positive sheen to the meeting. “We hope to have left the difficult times with the EU behind,” said Erdogan who recognises his dependence on Europe, especially now that Turkey’s economy is in trouble.
Half of Turkey’s exports go to the EU, with total trade of more than €130 billion; the EU also accounts for two thirds of foreign investment in Turkey. Erdogan brought up the issue of EU membership negotiations that have effectively collapsed in order to reassure the business community in Turkey, after the recent downturn of the economy, that the country was still looking to the West. “Turkey and the EU are long-term strategic partners,” he said by way of reassurance.
European Council President Donald Tusk said only progress on the issues raised, on which there was none, “will allow us to improve EU-Turkey relations, including the accession progress.” But the two sides will keep talking because the EU depends on Turkey for keeping Syrian refugees out of Europe. There are currently 3.5 million refugees in Turkey and it secured €3 billion in financial help from the EU for keeping them, with another €3 billion on the way. The meeting might have achieved no progress but mutual dependence will keep the two sides talking.
The Cyprus government will also have been pleased that Turkey’s prevention of drilling in the Cypriot EEZ was on the “long list of concerns” Tusk raised at the dinner. The solidarity he sought from fellow members was evident at Monday’s meeting, even though Tusk also mentioned that for the EU, a Cyprus settlement was important as it would improve not only Cyprus-Turkey relations but also Greece-Turkey relations.
Although nothing was agreed, the meeting worked, in the words of a Turkish observer, as a “fence-mending exercise.” This was all that could have been expected.