We had today the 54th
meeting of the EU-Turkey Association Council
, the highest joint body overseeing our relations. I would like to thank you, Mevlüt [Çavuşoğlu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey], and all your team for an extremely productive and frank meeting. I know that “frank and productive” or “frank and constructive” might sound as we have had divergences. This was not the case – there are issues on which we do not see eye to eye at 100%, but it was indeed a very fruitful and a very positive meeting. I would like to thank you for this, and our respective delegations that have worked intensively to prepare it during the last months. The fact that we have had this meeting today after almost four years is in itself extremely important; I am happy we had this meeting today.
We discussed the European Union-Turkey relations, we exchanged views on a range of issues, as I said, in a honest and open atmosphere. We reaffirmed the importance we attach to our relations with Turkey, which is a candidate country and a partner of strategic importance for the European Union. The agenda of today’s meeting reflects the many common challenges we are facing, we share the same region. We have discussed in a constructive way issues we converge on and even more so issues where we have different views.
Systematic delays, detentions and insufficient evidence, and criminal prosecution of people exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression and right of assembly cast doubts as to whether the judicial process in Turkey respects the principle of the presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial. These principles are the pillar of our common European values, as is the application of pre-trial detention in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.
We have discussed all of this, we are very well aware of the marks left by the attempted coup in Turkey in 2016 and we do recognise the very serious security concerns that Turkey has and the very serious security threats that the country has faced and continues to face. But we also see that the state of emergency is now behind us and we hope that soon all related measures will be something of the past. Because we see the Turkish society’s aspiration to get back to full normality and this, we believe, is in the interest of the citizens of Turkey and for the sake of stability and economic development of the entire country which is something to which we attach enormous importance, as friends and partners of Turkey.
Today’s discussion was important. We look forward to further engagement on key issues over the coming period, including on energy, that could and should be a “bridge of cooperation” and not an issue that causes discord or tensions.
The comprehensive and regular EU-Turkey political dialogue, which allows us to regularly review a broad range of foreign policy issues of common interest, is also crucial. For me, let me say, it is particularly important in this period of time because we are living in very volatile times for our common region. This makes it even more relevant for Turkey and the European Union to have constant exchanges on foreign and regional policies.
I believe an excellent example of our cooperation has been the Third Brussels Conference on the future of Syria and the region
we held yesterday here in Brussels – a conference to which Turkey has contributed both in terms of preparation and in political terms. Let me also say, it is also a Conference that got to a record number of pledges, part of which also benefits Turkey as a host community of so many Syrian refugees, something on which the European Union-Turkish cooperation has been essential and continues to be essential. The Conference yesterday strongly commended Turkey for continuing to provide protection and access for Syrian refugees to national services, including health, education, labour market, social as well as municipal services. The Conference helped mobilising international and European support to this immense effort that Turkey is doing.
But let me say that not only our cooperation is key when it comes to refugees in Syria, but also when it comes to the political solution to the crisis in Syria. Today we discussed perspectives for that as well, the European Union and Turkey have been constantly exchanging on the developments of the Syrian crisis over these years and we’ll continue to do so even more in the months to come, to support the UN-led political process to solve the war there.
In the Association Council, we also condemned all terrorist activities and attacks that Turkey suffered from. In this context we have pledged our continued support to Turkey’s fight against terrorism. As you know, for us, any counter-terrorist actions must be in full respect of the basic principles of democracy, respect for human rights and international law. Our counter-terrorism cooperation is key and is founded on our common concerns and values.
We also discussed the perspectives for the future, eventual resumption of talks under UN auspices on the Cyprus issue and we reiterated the full availability and readiness from the European Union to accompany and support these talks in any possible and useful manner, whenever the UN will deem it ready to restart.
Overall, it is has been an important and useful meeting for sure not the first one and for sure not the last one. We are looking forward to further exchanges at different levels.
Before I conclude, let me say something that is not strictly related to our meeting but I am sure that Mevlüt [Çavuşoğlu] will share the same concerns and sorrow for the news we have received from New Zealand, concerning the terrorist attacks against two mosques. I have been in contact with the Prime Minister of New Zealand [Jacinda Ardern]; it is a country that is geographically far away, we could not probably find a more geographically far-away place in the world. But it is a country that is close to us, for many different reasons, for culture and values first and foremost, and I have expressed to the Prime Minister all our sympathy, our condolences and our support in the difficult moment that the authorities and the people of this country are facing and in particular, the need to strengthen our cooperation to make sure that hate does not spread further in our societies.
With this sad note unfortunately, but I know that I also speak on behalf of all of us, I will finish by thanking you, Mevlüt [Çavuşoğlu], for the good cooperation these days.
Q: Can we consider that after four years the EU and Turkey have at least resumed its institutional relations – with the EU meaning the High Level Political] Dialogue, the [EU-Turkey] Association Council, Committees… What is the way forward from now on? What can we concretely expect in the EU-Turkey relations in terms of achievement and not only in terms of dialogue?
First of all, yes, today’s meeting was important because – as you said, and as we all said – it was the first after almost four years and it is the highest institutional body that reviews all our different strands of cooperation and relation. I would expect now that this continues in a regular manner, which obviously will concern the Commissioner and the High Representative that will follow the ones that are currently serving in this mandate. I would expect that this now happens on a regular basis.
But I want to stress one thing that is very important to me: all over these years – even if we did not have and Association Council meeting – we had constant channels of dialogue and cooperation ongoing. I cannot remember one single year, not even one single semester without having had meetings at different levels – for sure the two of us at our level constantly on different topics. What was missing was the highest institutional body of our institutional framework for cooperation and we are happy to have resumed it.
But dialogue, cooperation, exchanges in the easiest fields of cooperation and the most difficult ones have always continued on the similar note that you can see today, which is frankness on the points where we have different views, convergence and cooperation – I would say and very strong cooperation – where we see eye to eye. And this dialogue and this cooperation has never been interrupted, all through my mandate. And I am sure not only of the continuity of this institutional process, but also of the frequency as well as of our informal contacts that continue. Obviously, my personal hope would be to see in the future less and less items on the divergence list and more and more items on the convergence and cooperation list. I think this is possible.
Q: Regarding the vote in the European Parliament: right before the voting session started, the Turkey Rapporteur, Kati Piri [Member of the European Parliament], met with several people and some of them are wanted by Turkey. And they are openly pro-PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] people and they are wearing T-shits with the PKK leader [Abdullah] Ocalan’s picture on them. How do you feel about that? Do you think that the European Parliament should take this issue more seriously, since there were several MEPs greeting these people and they also wanted an amendment, which wanted the PKK delisted from terrorist organisations?
Let me start by restating what I have stated repeatedly both here in Brussels, in Strasbourg during debates in the European Parliament and in Ankara: the PKK is and remains listed by the European Union as a terrorist organisation. It is not for me to comment on either the work of the European Parliament, which is a different institution, nor on single activities of Members of the European Parliament, as we believe in the division of powers and we try to respect it as much as possible, including on the European level. But it is clear that the PKK remains on the list of the European Union and is considered by the European Union as a terrorist organisation. This is not subject to discussion among Member States and I have reassured our Turkish friends at all times that this is the case. We are always ready to intensify our cooperation, including on counter-terrorism, as I said, in the framework of the way in which we, the European Union, try to undertake counter-terrorist activities, which is always in the full respect of human rights and the rule of law.
Q: Are the European Union institutions going to take any steps in terms or recognising and addressing islamophobia as a form of racism and discrimination? There have been so many incidents, especially in the past several years. Are you going to make any calls to the Member States in this regard?
Actually, I see this not too much as a foreign policy issue. This is a very much an internal issue. As Mevlüt [Çavuşoğlu] said: it is inside our societies unfortunately and worryingly in different parts of the world – the raise of hate speech and the lack of recognition that diversity in our societies is a plus. This can concern Muslims, this can concern Jewish, this can concern LGBTI people, this can concern minorities of all sorts, Catholics and Christians in many parts of the world. I believe we have a common responsibility and a common duty – and this is the common European Union approach – to protect, preserve and promote diversity in our societies and to make sure that no hate speech and no hate activity is carried out under no circumstances against anybody in our societies.
Q: Which are the red lines for the EU when it comes to human rights protection and the rule of law in Turkey?
Personally, I do not like the expression “red lines” – you will forgive me for this. There are very clear and very open positions that the European Union – and me personally – has expressed over the course of these years and I think that the clarity of the respective positions in a dialogue is what counts. Our position has always been very clear on the need to have full respect of human rights and the rule of law in Turkey. We have understood very clearly and very well the challenges and threats that Turkey has faced in the months and in the years after the attempted coup. We have always insisted on the reaction to be in the framework of the full respect of human rights and the rule of law together with the Council of Europe. And I personally – as Mevlüt and I have met for the first time in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly that he was presiding at the time – have always insisted on the fact that this is not even so much rooted in the candidate status of Turkey, but in the fact that Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe and as such has an intensified dialogue with the Council of Europe’s institutions on this point, with whom we have always triangularly worked to make the situation improve.
Rather than “red lines”, I would talk about very clear positions [expressed] privately and publicly and a common work – on our side, for sure, and together with Turkey’s authorities and with the relevant other institutions like the Council of Europe – to try and improve the situation. Because to me what is most important is not just to define positions, but to try to improve the situation in a concrete manner. And I have heard very clearly today the commitment that the Minister [of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu] has expressed on the reform process that has been undertaken now. We are looking forward to receive the results of that. And the fact – as I said in my opening remarks in this press conference – that the state of emergency is now behind us makes me hope that the situation will improve in the coming months.