European Council President Charles Michel and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday for talks on a reset in relations. After meeting Erdogan in Ankara, Michel spoke to reporters about the EU's deep concern over human rights in Turkey.
“The rule of law and respect of fundamental rights are core values of the European Union, and we shared with President Erdogan our deep worries on the latest developments in Turkey in this respect, in particular on the freedom of speech and the targeting of political parties and media,” Michel said.
State prosecutors last month opened a closure case against Turkey's second-largest opposition party. While Ankara withdrew in April from the Istanbul Convention, a European treaty that legally protects women.
Emma Sinclair of the New York based Human Rights Watch has been calling for a tougher stance by the EU.
“The EU has to start believing in its own capacity to speak out on what is going on and to look at the crisis to actually condemn what's going on in much stronger terms,” Sinclair said.
But Michel and von der Leyen did welcome Turkey's talks with EU member Greece to resolve territorial disputes over the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, which are believed to have vast energy reserves. The EU officials said talks with Turkey would start on modernizing a customs union agreement, a key Ankara demand.
Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based Edam research institute says the custom union talks will give the EU new leverage, which is important as Turkey's EU membership bid is all but dead.
“The accession track has remained stalled, dormant and dysfunctional in the last few years and the EU has very little leverage given that there are very few avenues of positive engagement,” Ulgen said.
The EU officials also said they expect Turkey to fully honor its commitment to a migration deal, including accepting migrants and refugees back from Greece. Ankara is pressing for more EU funds to help accommodate nearly four million Syrian refugees, a demand that von der Leyen said the European Union was ready to consider.