Softened stance: Erdogan promises to put EU ties ‘back on track’

A day after announcing fresh diplomatic talks with rival neighbour Greece, Turkish president offers an olive branch to the EU and France.

Erdogan said he was hoping for 'goodwill' from the EU after ties between Ankara and the bloc soured in 2020 [File: Presidential Press Office/Handout via Reuters]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he wants to improve relations with the European Union, following a longstanding dispute with Greece and recent feuds with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

During a televised meeting with EU ambassadors on Tuesday, Erdogan softened some of his toughest rhetoric and took a conciliatory tone.

“We are ready to put our relations back on track,” Erdogan told the ambassadors, whom he addressed from his presidential compound in Ankara. “We expect our European friends to show the same goodwill.”

On Monday, in another sign of easing relations, Turkey and Greece said they were willing to resume exploratory talks regarding their disputes over contested East Mediterranean waters and other issues.

“We believe that the exploratory talks … will be the harbinger of a new era,” Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Regarding France, a country which Erdogan has severely criticised in recent months over its foreign policy and fragile relationship with the Muslim world, he added: “We want to save our relations with France from tensions.”

Last year, Erdogan said Macron needed “mental checks” over his plan to reform Islam in France, while Turkey’s foreign policy in the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya and parts of the Middle East irked several EU countries.

But as Ankara and Athens looked set to address their longstanding disputes at the exploratory talks in Istanbul on January 25, hopes have risen for a more harmonious 2021.

This month’s meeting will be the first since negotiations between the two uneasy NATO neighbours were suspended in 2016 after 60 fruitless rounds of talks stretching back 14 years.

Plans to restart of discussions last year foundered after disagreement about the Turkish seismic exploration vessel, Oruc Reis, deployed to disputed waters. The ship has since returned.

The two countries are at odds about the limits of their continental shelves, energy rights, air space and the status of some islands.

Their dispute threatened to spill into open conflict when Turkish and Greek warships collided in August while shadowing Oruc Reis as it surveyed for oil and gas in the waters in west of Cyprus.

Turkey rejects the maritime boundary claims of Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, saying Ankara is in favour of resolving all issues through international law. The EU, in turn, has threatened Ankara with sanctions, including ones on arms exports, various times since August.

Turkey’s drive to join EU

Meanwhile, Ankara and EU officials are about to launch a rare round of shuttle diplomacy that could set their relations on a more cooperative course.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit Brussels on January 21 while European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel are expected in Turkey by the end of the month.

Erdogan noted on Tuesday that Turkey’s drive to join the EU – formally launched in 2005 but effectively suspended – could gain fresh impetus after the UK’s departure from the bloc.

“The uncertainty increased with Brexit could be overcome with Turkey taking its deserved place in the EU family,” Erdogan said.

“We have never abandoned full membership (goal) despite double standards and injustice.”

Turkey’s accession talks have been sidelined by European concerns about Erdogan’s human rights record.

“It is in our hand to make the year 2021 a success in Turkey-EU relations,” he said on Tuesday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies