EU’s Mogherini visits Turkey “to step up engagement” and highlight interests

Visit by Federica Mogherini, Johannes Hahn and Christos Stylianides to Turkey. from let to right: Johannes Hahn, Member of the EC in charge of Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, and Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish Prime Minister. (EC Audiovisual Services, 08/12/2014)

Visit by Federica Mogherini, Johannes Hahn and Christos Stylianides to Turkey. from let to right: Johannes Hahn, Member of the EC in charge of Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, and Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish Prime Minister. (EC Audiovisual Services, 08/12/2014)

As announced last week through an official European Union statement, EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini and two other senior EU officials are visiting Turkey this week.

The High Representative of the EU, together with Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement, Negotiations Johannes Hahn, and Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, has held meetings yesterday with the President of the Republic of Turkey, the Prime Minister and other Ministers, as well as with representatives of the business community and civil society. Further visit to Gaziantep and Kilis refugee camps, is expected to take place today.

The two-day meeting has a key strategic importance for the EU-Turkey relations, in many aspects. “The visit to Turkey next week”, said Mogherini on December 5, “is a strong indication of the strategic importance of the EU-Turkey relationship and our desire to step up engagement in view of shared interests and common challenges”.

Mogherini’s visit comes just days after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin visited Ankara with a delegation of ten ministers to promise a substantial increase in trade and closer relations, while trying to even sharp differences over the crises in Syria and Ukraine. During the same visit Mr. Putin announced the cancellation of the South Stream gas pipeline to Europe, which was meant to supply southern Europe with natural gas via Bulgaria, circumventing Ukraine, saying, instead, that Russia would work with Turkey on a gas hub.

Russian leaders like Gazprom’s chief executive Alexei Miller formally cited a European lack of commitment, and some “obstructionism”, as the reason for halting the project, after the EU withdrew permission to build it through Bulgaria. While in Ankara visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyp Erdogan, Mr. Putin has also reportedly promised Erdogan a discount of 6 percent on future gas supplies.

Now it’s completely clear why the European Union wants to cement ties with Turkey, which has a crucial position in the international arena for the EU-Asia relations, following Mr. Putin’s recent “moves”. The fight against Islamic State has surely been a key point of discussion, with the EU is urging Turkey to cooperate more closely.

Indeed the need for closer cooperation in the fight against Islamic State militants and other militant groups and efforts to halt the flow of foreign fighters are a crucial point of discussion in the 08-09 December meetings. Many sources report that nearly 3,000 European nationals have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight against the IS, and EU member states need Turkish help to stop the flow of foreign fighters across its borders.

The EU visit to Turkey gives a strong signal on how things and relationships between the bloc and Ankara will be managed in the future. The more commitment on foreign policy the EU requires, the more Turkey will expect as reward, and this makes perfect sense. Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Mogherini said her visit will accelerate relations between Turkey and the EU. “Our top priority will be Turkey’s EU accession process”, Ms. Mogherini said. “We aim to work with Turkish government officials to give the process a concrete step and move forward”, she added.

Turkey’s talks about joining the EU began in 2005 but have long been effectively stalled, mainly due to Turkey’s dispute with EU member Cyprus and increased skepticism in some European nations about admitting such a populous, largely Muslim country. Moreover, Ankara has been provoked by Brussels’ insistence on human rights protections, especially after the brutal suppression of the demonstration in Taksim Square in May 2013 and the attempt to shut down major social networks like Twitter and YouTube last March.

Turkey is now called to demonstrate a huge work as the enhancement of democracy and human rights is under development, but the role that Turkey can play on matters like the ones discussed above will accelerate the process for sure.

“We are committed to moving forward EU-Turkey relations and keeping the accession negotiations on track”, Commissioner Hahn declared in the statement. “However, further reforms are needed to provide solid ground for progress“, he added. “To achieve this, we need to have an even closer and deeper relationship with Turkey”.

It seems that the EU is flirting now with Turkey given the Russian warm approach. A situation similar to what happened with the Ukranian flirt initially. Hopefully the results this time will be milder though.

But apart from Napoleonic politics, the EU has a difficult and serious task ahead; to convince the EU citizen about the benefit of having the 80 million powerful muslim country in the bloc.

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