Tukey continues still hopes to one day join the European Union, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a summit with EU leaders in Bulgaria’s Black Sea coastal city of Varna.
Turkey first gained EU candidate status in 2005 but has failed to make any significant progress over the last 13 years as Erdogan has lurched towards an authoritarian style of governing and worsening relations with the West.
The relationship between Brussels and Ankara is at its lowest point for decades. Following a foiled attempted coup in July 2016, Erdogan initiated a massive purge of the public sector, firing or jailing hundreds of thousands of political opponents or anyone who refuses to follow his conservative Islamist vision for Turkey. Among the thousands of those arrested are journalists who are critical of the Erdogan regime, many of whom hold an EU passport.
Ankara demands visa-free travel in the EU, which it views as a precondition to Turkey’s further cooperation in disrupting the refugee flow into Europe.
Erdogan, however, said EU membership remains a strategic goal for Turkey. The EU also wants to reboot its relationship with Turkey but would require progress in the negotiations over Cyprus. In recent weeks, tensions have been on the rise in the Eastern Mediterranean as Turkey refuses to recognise the Republic of Cyprus’ right to exploit natural resources within Nicosia’s exclusive economic zone.
Erdogan has sent mixed and often lukewarm signals about his desire to foster a closer relationship with Europe. In October 2017, he said Turkey would not give up on negotiations but said he saw “no need” for membership.