European Council President Charles Michel said Thursday that he contacted Turkish officials for planning a visit to Turkey in April.

Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke at a press conference after an EU leaders’ summit which was held via video link and completed in one day, although two days were planned.

Michel said they hope to improve relations with Turkey, noting that “at the same time, it is important for us that Turkey continues its positive and moderate attitude. We hope the dialogue will be fruitful.”

“We are in contact with the Turkish authorities for a visit to Turkey, probably in April,” he said.

Michel stressed that the Eastern Mediterranean is one of the priority issues for the EU and its member states, adding they are happy that tensions have been lowered and wish that this would continue.

He said they want a positive agenda with Turkey but added that this is conditional.

“If Turkey continues its moderate stance in the coming weeks and months, we, as the EU and its members, are ready to put more concrete proposals on the table. We want a more predictable relationship with Turkey.

“Topics in improving relations are the updating of the Customs Union, contacts between communities and the issue of travel and, of course, migration,” he added.

Michel said he hoped to discuss the issue again at the EU leaders’ summit in June and make formal decisions.

Assistance to asylum seekers to continue

European Commission President von der Leyen mentioned a video conference call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, saying that Turkey has taken a more constructive position, including relations with some EU countries, since the EU summit held in December.

“These are positive steps that we need to add to. But the reduced state of tension remains fragile for the time being,” she said.

Noting that they will follow a two-step approach in Turkey-EU relations, von der Leyen said they want progress on financing, high-level dialogue and updating the Customs Union on migration, especially for Syrian asylum seekers.

“If Turkey does not take a constructive position and returns to unilateral steps, provocations, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean, we will suspend this cooperation,” she said.

Addressing the issue of migration, she said that they want the readmission and return mechanism to start working again and that 6 billion euros in the Turkey-EU agreement of March 18, 2016 were tied to the contract.

“Turkey welcomes more than 3.6 million Syrian asylum seekers. There is also a significant contribution from the EU in providing schools to children, in medical issues, in infrastructure investments.

“There is no doubt that Turkey is shouldering the biggest part of the burden. We believe that our assistance in this humanitarian issue should continue. Talks on how to move forward will continue.”

Call for EU countries to ratify Istanbul Convention

Asked about Turkey’s departure from the Istanbul Convention and its views on the closure case against the HDP, one of the opposition parties in the Turkish political arena, Michel said the statement at the end of the summit emphasized human rights, the rule of law and democratic values, and that these issues are important in relations with Turkey.

Von der Leyen, speaking on the same subject, expressed regret over Turkey’s departure from the Istanbul Convention.

She called on EU members who have not ratified the Istanbul Convention to ratify it.

*Writing by Merve Berker

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