ANKARA/ BRUSSELS

Just days from what could be a pivotal EU summit, Turkey’s president and the head of the European Commission on Monday discussed EU-Turkey relations and updating the 1995 Customs Union with the bloc, said Turkish officials.

In a phone call with Ursula von der Leyen, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for starting talks on updating the Customs Union as soon as possible without preconditions, according to a statement from Turkey’s Communications Directorate.

Turkey has done its part, and now it is the EU’s turn to take “concrete steps,” Erdogan told von der Leyen, the statement added.

Turkey has long pushed for an update to the 25-year-old deal, saying that doing so would benefit both the EU and Turkey.

According to the statement, Erdogan also said the Turkish people have long been waiting for visa liberalization – something promised but never delivered under a 2016 migrant deal between the EU and Turkey – and stressed the importance of implementing the deal with all its elements as well as strengthening the deal.

Turkey and the EU in March 2016 signed a refugee deal which aimed to discourage irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of nearly 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Turkey has said falling numbers of migrant crossings show it upheld its part of the deal, but the EU failed to keep its half, including visa liberalization and financial aid for refugees.

EU Commission head had ‘good conversation’ with Erdogan

Von der Leyen had a “good conversation” with Erdogan, the top EU official wrote separately about the phone call.

“We discussed the state of EU-Turkey relations, COVID-19, Trade and Customs Union, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, migration and developments in Afghanistan,” von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.

The conversation came ahead of an EU summit this Thursday and Friday where EU leaders are expected to discuss the bloc’s relationship with Turkey.

However, earlier Monday EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters that the summit would focus mostly on ties with Russia, and would not discuss Turkey in depth.

Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel visited the Turkish capital Ankara in April.

After talks with Erdogan, Michel said the bloc was ready to present a concrete agenda to strengthen cooperation on the economy and immigration.

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