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Merkel calls for better EU-Ankara relations, but raises concerns over lack of rule of law & human rights violations in Turkey

Merkel calls for better EU-Ankara relations, but raises concerns over lack of rule of law & human rights violations in Turkey
Turkey is the EU’s immediate neighbor, as well as a major NATO ally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said, calling for closer cooperation between the bloc and Ankara. Still, Turkey’s domestic issues must be addressed.

Chancellor Merkel delivered a major speech before the country’s parliament ahead of an EU leaders’ summit scheduled to take place later on Thursday. Apart from speaking about the ongoing coronavirus crisis, Merkel touched upon the bloc’s foreign relations.

“The European Union needs to have good relations with its neighbors, particularly those outside our borders, particularly with NATO-member Turkey,” Merkel told the legislators.

Turkey is not just a NATO partner and an ally, they are our immediate neighbor and the second [most] populous country on the external borders of the European Union and it enjoys a great strategic importance.

Having a strong relationship with Turkey is particularly important to Germany itself, Merkel stressed, especially given how “many people in Germany are of Turkish descent.”

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Lately, Ankara has sent some positive signals to the EU, specifically by addressing the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. The region has been a major source of tension over the past few months, as Ankara sent oil and gas exploration missions into the waters, which are subject to overlapping maritime claims by Turkey, Greece and Cyprus.

“It’s good news that after rather provocative activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, with Cyprus and so on, there now have been some positive signals emanating from Turkey. And Turkey has even started a dialogue with Greece again,” Merkel noted.

Still, fixing EU-Turkish relations is not confined to the international field, and Turkey’s domestic issues must also be addressed.

We need to look at the domestic political situation in Turkey and we do expect Turkey to comply with the rule of law, which is not always the case and human rights are frequently not respected.

The situation got worse last Saturday, when Turkey decided to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, an international accord designed to uphold women’s rights. Ankara’s decision was condemned by Merkel, who described the move as a “very regrettable signal.”

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The withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention left a new dent in relations between the EU and Turkey. On Monday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that EU sanctions against Ankara, which the bloc has repeatedly threatened to impose, still remained a possibility. Maas did acknowledge the progress made in Turkey-Greece de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean, but said sanctions may follow if Ankara veers too far away from its “constructive course” in other areas.

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