World Bulletin / News Desk
Although the European Parliament’s rapporteur to Turkey is not happy about the recent linking of EU membership talks to the refugee crisis, she has claimed it may be an opportunity to mend ties between Ankara and the 28-member bloc.
Kati Piri was speaking to reporters in Istanbul on Friday at the end of a five-day visit to Turkey.
The Dutch MEP traveled to Izmir, Diyarbakir, Istanbul and the capital Ankara as Turkey’s relations with the EU enter a new phase following a summit in November.
When asked about the conflation of accession talks and the refugee crisis, Piri said: “I was not happy with this linkage.
“But it is clear that if the two parties sit on the table, both have their own demands,” she said, adding: “I think [Turkey] wisely used this in order to again put accession talks on the table.”
“We can use this as an opportunity to really build a better relationship; more constructive, high-level relationship between Turkey and the EU,” she added.
Faced with the worst migrant crisis since World War II, the EU is in the process of negotiating with Turkey on a refugee action plan.
The 28-nation bloc has offered Turkey funds to reduce the flow of asylum seekers coming into Europe in exchange for easier visa travel rules for Turkish citizens.
Turkey has spent about $8.5 billion since 2011 supporting more than two million Syrian refugees in the country.
Describing as “regrettable” that the refugee crisis was needed in order to restore momentum to stalled EU-Turkey relations, Piri added: “Now it is a fact that in this joint agreement, this has become an obvious link to the refugee question.
“Taking that as a starting point, I think we should welcome the fact,” she added.
The draft agreement states that both the EU and Turkey have agreed to re-energize accession talks and the opening of chapter 17 on the economy in December.
Since negotiations on Turkey’s accession into the European Union began in 2005, 13 out of 35 chapters, which must be completed in order for the country to join the 28-nation bloc, have been opened.
Noting that Turkey still needs to fulfill standards set for EU membership, Piri said: “Important reforms will [need to] be made especially in the field of fundamental rights and the rule of law.”
Turkey and Europe should not miss an “opportunity for a fresh start in our relationship”, she added.
Piri also added that the detention of two Turkish journalists -- Erdem Gul and Can Dundar from the Cumhuriyet newspaper -- was “a reason for growing concern in the European Parliament”.
The two journalists face charges of espionage and supporting terrorism after publishing stories on alleged arms smuggling to Syria.
Mentioning the ongoing tension in southeastern Turkey, Piri said that violence by the PKK was “unacceptable”.
“Arms must be laid down as violence cannot bring any solution to the Kurdish question,” she added.
“I strongly encourage the new government to go back to the negotiating table to realize the peace process,” she said.
Turkey has been carrying out operations against the PKK -- considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and U.S. -- inside and outside of the country since July 24.
Since then, more than 180 members of the security forces have been martyred and over 1,700 PKK terrorists killed in operations across Turkey and northern Iraq, including airstrikes.
During her visit Piri also met Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, EU Minister Volkan Bozkir, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, Deputy PM Mehmet Simsek, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas as well as local authorities, NGOs and trade unions.