By Mariya Cheresheva
On a visit to Ankara, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov pledged to normalise the troubled relations between the EU and Turkey during the country’s EU presidency in 2018.
During a joint briefing with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Tuesday, Borissov said that relations between EU and Turkey have deteriorated badly, but the two sides were “obliged to find a normal tone of conversation”.
Borissov argued that dialogue had become heated between the EU and Turkey because in recent months many EU countries have been holding elections and Turkey has held its constitutional referendum on increasing the president’s powers.
“Many things have been said which would not have been said under normal conditions. We must try to restore the relations [between the EU and Turkey] we had two years ago, when we signed the agreement [the EU-Turkey migrant deal, signed in March 2016],” he said.
Bulgaria’s prime minister thanked his Turkish colleague multiple times for protecting the country’s southern border from a migrant influx, while Yildirim said he appreciated Bulgaria’s solidarity after the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2017.
“You were the first one who came [on an official visit to Turkey] very shortly after that [the coup attempt],” Yilidirim told the Bulgarian leader, referring to Borissov’s visit in August last year during his previous coalition government.
At the time, Turkey used Borissov to pass a warning message to the EU that unless Brussels guarantees visa-free travel for Turkish citizens, Ankara could back out of its agreement to help stem the flow of migrants to the European bloc.
Borissov’s visit to Ankara, during which he was scheduled to have a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later on Tuesday, came after trips to Paris and Berlin last Tuesday and Wednesday, where he met the new French President Emanuel Macron and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and promised to work to normalise relations between Europe and Turkey.
He confirmed this commitment in front of Yildirim, explaining that Bulgaria will use its future EU presidency in the first half of 2018 to ease the tensions between Turkey and the EU which have steadily worsened after the attempted coup, notably during the campaign for the Turkish referendum in April.
“Bulgaria is small and cannot engage with Turkey’s accession to the EU, but we can insist on a good tone between our [EU] family and our neighbour. This is our aim,” he said.
While admitting that EU-Turkey relations were currently “very bad”, he expressed optimism that the situation will improve.