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Turkey's Erdogan asks EU to relaunch membership negotiations

In recent weeks, the Turkish leader has pressed western partners for a revamp in strained ties
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (not seen) give a joint news conference after talks at the presidential complex in Ankara, on 22 March, 2022 (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday asked the European Union to relaunch talks for Ankara to eventually become an EU member, on the eve of a summit focused on Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"We expect the EU to open quickly the chapters of the membership negotiations and to start negotiations on a customs union without yielding to cynical calculations," Erdogan said after talks with visiting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

The Turkish president's comments come as Ankara has emerged as a pivotal player in the war in Ukraine, reviving its place in institutions like Nato after years of tensions with western states.

Last month Turkey invoked the 1936 Montreux Convention to close the Bosporus straight to foreign battleships. It has also sold armed drones to Ukraine and is attempting to mediate an end to the fighting between Kyiv and Moscow.

Negotiations for Turkey's possible accession to the 27-nation EU, which began in 2005, have stalled in recent years over tensions between the two sides, with the EU accusing Turkey of moving away from the rule of law and other values on which the bloc is founded.

Turkey was Nato's wayward member, then came the crisis in Ukraine
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Relations between Ankara and EU states have been strained since the July 2016 attempted coup in Turkey. 

Erdogan was riled that many western states did not immediately denounce the attempted takeover. At the same time, the EU has criticised the crackdown on dissent and the attacks on freedom of speech that followed the failed putsch, as tens of thousands of people have been arrested, including journalists.

Despite these tensions, the bloc has worked with Ankara in areas of concern such as migration. In March 2016, the two sides signed a deal worth billions of euros that saw Turkey take back migrants from the Middle East.

But some of the promises of that agreement, including visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens, never materialised.

With Turkey's role in the Ukraine conflict in focus, Erdogan appears to have sensed an opportunity to attempt a reboot in strained ties with western states. Earlier this month he asked the EU to show Turkey the same “sensitivity” as displayed toward Ukraine in considering the country’s EU membership bid.

The Turkish leader has also pressed Washington to remove sanctions on Turkey's defence industry that were imposed after the purchase of the S-400 missiles system from Russia.

Tuesday's appeal comes during a week of heightened diplomatic activity in the region.

EU heads of state and governments are set to meet Wednesday in Brussels for a summit aimed at dealing with the fallout of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and on Thursday leaders from Nato countries are scheduled to meet for a crisis summit.