Turkey launches charm offensive to ease tensions with EU

Turkey is launching a new effort to improve strained ties with the European Union

BRUSSELS -- Turkey on Thursday launched a new effort to get its strained relations with the European Union back on track, as the country’s foreign minister visited Brussels looking to talk about migration and plan a series of high-level talks with the 27-nation bloc.

At a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said they would discuss a joint “migration declaration” that Turkey is proposing and prepare for a conference on developments in the eastern Mediterranean, where Turkish and Greek warships have faced off.

“We will also tackle important issues such as visa liberalization, modernization of the Customs Union and other concrete steps which will build the future of Turkey and EU together,” Cavusoglu said, referring to other incentives the EU has offered Ankara if it prevents migrants leaving for Europe.

Already last month, the EU said it plans to spend around 485 million euros ($590 million) over the next year helping refugees living in Turkey, by providing cash assistance to people to meet their basic needs and money transfers to help educate children.

Turkey is home to almost 4 million refugees. Around 70% of them are women and children and the overwhelming majority of people live outside migrant camps.

Cavusoglu conceded that “2020 was a problematic year” for EU-Turkey ties. He said it’s important now “to create a positive atmosphere and a positive agenda. But in order for that agenda to be sustainable. We need concrete steps by both sides.”

Borrell noted a recent “improvement in the overall atmosphere,” including an agreement on talks between Ankara and Athens, and he said that boosting flagging EU-Turkey ties is of “mutual strategic interest.” Their meeting was also aimed at setting up a visit to Turkey by top EU officials.