Turkey and us: our support for refugees, and much more

Turkey and us: our support for refugees, and much more

I am flying back from an official visit to Turkey: together with Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides, I met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Mavlut Cavusoglu, and of European Affairs, Volkan Bozkir. But we also met with the leaders of all parties – government and opposition – and with students and professors of the Middle East Technical University of Ankara.

We have spent months to define an agreement on how to manage the refugee flows together, in a human and sustainable way. This trip was the opportunity to take stock of the implementation of commitments we have taken: on our side, we are supporting Turkey with projects aimed at hosting refugees, with a focus on the education of Syrian children to avoid that a whole generation gets lost; while Turkish authorities have agreed to dismantle the smuggling networks and strengthen their control of the flows – the flow of refugees, but also of migrants using the Turkish route to reach Europe.

Still, our relations with Turkey could not be limited to this one issue, although crucial for the both of us. This visit was important first and foremost to tackle the whole set of common priorities for Turkey and the EU: the diplomatic work to end the war in Syria and begin a transition in Damascus; the fight against Daesh, with cooperation on anti-terrorism and against foreign fighters; a solution for the Cypriot issue; the search for a new regional balance to contain and defuse Middle Eastern tensions; the relaunch of the peace process between Israel and Palestine; economic and energy cooperation.

And more: the membership negotiations, starting with chapters 23 and 24 on the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, fundamental rights and freedoms including press and association freedom. It was important to extend our talks beyond the institutional setting: I had frank conversations with political parties and the academic world, which is so vital and so under stress in these very weeks.

Our meetings also focused on the very serious situation in the South-East of Turkey: there is urgent need for a ceasefire and to immediately restart the Kurdish peace process. Today I was supposed to head to the South-East, in Mardin, to meet the mayor, the governor and to visit an EU-funded project to support refugees. Unfortunately our flight got cancelled, and the trip had to be postponed, but I had long phone calls with both local leaders.

Now I am arriving in Brussels: later in the evening I will take part in one of our regular meetings between Socialist Commissioners and the S&D group in the European Parliament. Tomorrow the Commission will discuss, among other things, proposals to manage and preserve Schengen.