Turkey says EU needs to stop "playing for time"

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: NATO Foreign Ministers' meeting in Brussels

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's foreign minister said the European Union needs to stop "playing for time" and should take concrete steps to improve positive momentum in ties, a day before an EU summit where the bloc's leaders will discuss relations with Ankara.

The EU threatened sanctions on Ankara over a row between Turkey and EU member Greece last year over maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean, but halted the plans after a more constructive tone from President Tayyip Erdogan.

According to a draft statement EU leaders are set to agree at the summit, the EU is ready to deepen trade ties with Turkey but will maintain the threat of economic sanctions if Ankara moves against its interests.

"Positive steps were taken from Turkey and the EU. Instead of playing for time and making conditional remarks, the EU now needs to take concrete steps in certain areas," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Brussels after a NATO meeting.

"The issues of visa liberalisation and the modernisation of the customs union need to be realised," he said. "The EU has to keep its promises," he added, referring to pledges under a 2016 migrant deal under which Turkey curbed migrant flows to Europe in exchange for financial aid.

The summit will build on a report by EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell and the European Commission that calls for "modernisation and expansion of the scope" of the customs union. Cavusoglu and Borrell held talks in Brussels on Tuesday over Turkey-EU ties.

At Thursday and Friday's summit, EU leaders will say Turkey deserves more financial support for hosting millions of Syrian refugees and more high-level diplomatic talks.

The EU is also expected to provide new funds from 2022 for the more than four million refugees in Turkey, if Ankara respects human rights and showed greater flexibility over the divided island of Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean.

Cavusoglu said Turkey, a guarantor country for the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, had a constructive approach ahead of next month's U.N.-led talks over the island, but added "we are very determined to protect Turkish Cypriots' rights."

Turkey has a long-standing bid to join the EU but it has languished for years due to opposition from within the bloc

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Daren Butler and Angus MacSwan)