EU is “deeply worried” about Turkey’s decision to pull out of a convention to combat violence against women, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday, warning Ankara that “human rights issues are nonnegotiable.”
Von der Leyen was speaking after wide-ranging talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
EU urges Turkey to respect human rights
The former German defense minister, who spoke to the media after the meeting, said “respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law are crucial for the European Union.”
Turkish President Erdogan ordered the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a European Council accord to combat domestic violence against women, in March.
“This must be an integral part of our relationship. Turkey must respect international human rights and standards,” she told journalists.
Von der Leyen said the move was “clearly the wrong signal right now.”
Brussels seeks to keep migration pact
Von der Leyen, who traveled to Turkey with European Council President Charles Michel, said the pair also raised the Turkish government’s adherence to a 2016 migration deal.
EU governments struck an agreement with Ankara that it would do more to stop human trafficking and accept returns from Greece.
The bloc would stump up humanitarian funds to help with the flow of large numbers of migrants.
Turkey cares for almost 10 million Syrian refugees both within Turkey and Syria, and Turkish officials have suggested they would need more financing to help.
“We expect Turkey to stand by its commitments and deliver on them, this includes preventing irregular departures and it also included resuming return operations from the Greek islands to Turkey without any delay,” von der Leyen said.
Erdogan met the two EU leaders in Brussels last month, where they expressed a commitment to preserving the 2016 refugee deal between the EU and Turkey.
What else did the talks cover?
Michel and von der Leyen discussed key economic and diplomatic incentives with Ankara.
The benefits on offer for Turkey include the modernizing of a customs union and the liberalization of visa rules.
Issues also included Turkey’s gas exploration project in the eastern Mediterranean and future talks about the divided island of Cyprus.
The road map for improved cooperation would depend on Erdogan acting to deescalate tensions with neighboring Greece and Cyprus.
Why are the talks being held now?
The 27-member bloc has been encouraged by conciliatory moves from Turkey in recent months.
These include the resumption of talks with Greece over a disputed maritime border and engagement on UN peace efforts with EU member state Cyprus.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the latest offer from the bloc “could be a new chapter in EU-Turkey relations” after relations hit a low point last year.
“The situation remains fragile, but the EU welcomes these forthcoming developments and gestures on the part of Turkey and has responded by extending its hand,” he said.
How keen are both sides to make progress?
For Turkey, the possible thaw in relations coincides with domestic economic troubles — and a tougher line from Washington after Erdogan’s ally Donald Trump was voted out of the White House.
EU members have been divided on how to proceed with Turkey. Cyprus, Greece, and France are urging a tough line while others, led by Germany, want more engagement.
An EU official told the our reporters that the meeting in Ankara would “not be the moment for negotiations, but will provide a framework” on progress. Any steps forwards would need to be “phased, proportionate, and reversible.”
“If Erdogan does not show himself to be cooperative then everything will be blocked,” the official told our reporters.
The EU has warned that sanctions are an option if Turkey restarts “illegal” energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.