European Union Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi stressed during a visit to Ankara on Wednesday that Türkiye must make progress in terms of democracy in order to resume negotiations to join the EU.
Ankara obtained a pledge from Brussels to revive the stalled negotiations regarding its membership in return for stopping its obstruction of Sweden’s quest to join NATO.
After winning a new term in the presidential elections in May, Recep Tayyip Erdogan made mending broken relations with Western allies one of the priorities of his new term.
EU Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi visited Ankara to try to identify areas where the two sides could find common ground.
Varhelyi told reporters he hoped to find something concrete and positive that EU leaders could discuss at a Council of Europe summit in December.
“I think this partnership has huge potential,” he added.
However, he pointed out that “the accession negotiations are currently suspended,” adding, “For their resumption, there are very clear criteria that must be defined democracy and the rule of law”.
Türkiye, which has the status of an official candidate to join the European Union, had initially submitted its candidacy file to the European Economic Community, the predecessor of the European Union in 1987.
Later, Ankara submitted a request to join the European Union in 1999.
In 2005, negotiations officially began to obtain membership in the bloc, but these negotiations have stalled years ago.
Relations between Brussels and Ankara were greatly strained after the failed coup attempt in Türkiye in July 2016 and the subsequent crackdown on dissidents and journalists.
However, Ankara accuses Brussels of not seriously considering Türkiye’s membership issue, which will be the largest country in terms of the number of Muslims in the EU if it joins it.
Erdogan publicly raised the problem of the increasing number of his citizens whose requests to obtain European tourist visas are rejected, and accused Brussels of trying to turn his country into a warehouse for migrants.
Türkiye helped stem the migrant crisis in Europe when it agreed in 2016 to temporarily host millions of Syrians and others fleeing war zones in return for billions of euros in aid.
On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan accused Brussels of putting political obstacles in the accession negotiations.
“We expect the European Union to show the necessary will to improve our relations and to act with more courage,” Fidan said.
Last week, European Council President Charles Michel said the EU should prepare to admit new members from Eastern Europe and the Balkans by 2030.
Türkiye’s membership isn’t currently on the agenda of the bloc’s expansion wave, but it seems that the two sides agree on the need to modernize the customs union that they signed in 1996.
The customs union allowed preferential treatment for Turkish agricultural products, and also touched on coal and steel.
Ankara wants to eliminate tariffs on a wide range of products in order to boost its exports and trade.
On Wednesday, Erdogan said in a televised speech announcing the new Turkish economic program in the medium term, “We’ll intensify our efforts to modernize the customs union with the aim of adding a new dimension to our trade with the European Union”.