EU holds uneasy summit with Turkey

VARNA, Bulgaria – The European Union holds an uneasy summit with Turkey on Monday, when it is likely to provide Ankara with fresh cash to extend a deal on Syrian refugees but deflect Turkish demands for deeper trade ties and visa-free travel to Europe.

With the bloc critical of what it considers to be Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism at home and his intervention in Syria’s war, Brussels had hesitated to agree to the summit.

But host Bulgaria viewed the meeting at the Black Sea port of Varna as a rare chance for dialogue with the country that remains a candidate for EU membership despite years of stalled talks.

EU leaders also cited Turkey’s importance as a NATO ally on Europe’s southern flank and in curbing immigration to Europe from the Middle East and Africa.

“I am looking with mixed feelings towards the Varna summit because the differences in views between the EU and Turkey are many,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who will represent the bloc along with European Council President Donald Tusk.

“It will be a frank and open debate, where we will not hide our differences but will seek to improve our co-operation,” Mr Juncker told reporters on Friday after a two-day EU summit that discussed Turkey.

At that meeting in Brussels, leaders condemned what they said were Turkey’s illegal actions in a standoff over eastern Mediterranean gas reserves with bloc members Greece and Cyprus.

But in a familiar pattern of public recrimination, Turkey’s minister for EU affairs, Omer Celik, said Ankara viewed the summit as “an important opportunity to move our relations forward” and that he expected “the same positive and constructive approach from the EU”.

Mr Erdogan will seek more money for Syrian refugees, a deeper customs union and progress in talks on letting Turks visit Europe without visas, a Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson said.