The EU has warned Turkey against backsliding on human rights issues while praising its acceptance of Syrian migrants, as Brussels and Ankara held talks about their relations and the situation in the eastern Mediterranean.
The head of the European Council, Charles Michel, said on Tuesday that he and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had held “frank” discussions with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The EU welcomes bilateral exploratory talks between NATO allies Turkey and Greece over their disputes in the eastern Mediterranean relating to energy and territorial claims, including around Cyprus, Michel said.
He told reporters after the meeting that the EU also appreciates Turkey’s hosting of 4 million refugees who have fled civil war in neighboring Syria, and said the bloc would continue its assistance with the situation.
However, Michel also noted that he and von der Leyen had shared their “deep worries” with Erdogan over developments in Turkey that the bloc believes could undermine the rule of law and respect of fundamental rights.
Ankara’s attempts to ban the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) over its alleged links to the outlawed PKK militant group, and Turkey’s withdrawal from a Council of Europe treaty to prevent violence against women raised “serious concerns” among EU member states, Michel said.
He added that differences remain between Turkey and the EU over regional and foreign policy, but that the two parties held common ground over a peaceful solution to the conflict in Libya.
Von der Leyen told reporters after the meeting that she and Michel made it clear to Erdogan that “human rights issues are non-negotiable.”
Ankara is yet to comment on the talks with the EU. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in March some member states had made “narrow-minded allegations” against Turkey, but welcomed general efforts to improve Ankara-Brussels relations.
Turkey, one of the EU’s largest trading partners, is officially a candidate country to join the bloc, although accession talks have effectively been frozen since 2018.
Last month, it was reported that the EU decided against further sanctions against Turkey’s state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation over activities in the eastern Mediterranean.
Brussels had imposed new sanctions on Turkish officials over gas drilling in the region last year and warned of further similar measures in March.
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