Thank you Charles.
Indeed, Turkey shows interest in re-engaging with the European Union in a constructive way. We have come to Turkey to give our relationship a new momentum. And in this respect, we had an interesting first meeting with President Erdoğan. And indeed, we discussed four areas in-depth in which the European Union and Turkey would both benefit from enhanced cooperation.
The first area is the one where we want to strengthen our economic ties. The European Union is Turkey’s number one import and export partner. And European companies are a crucial source of investment. And Turkey, within the Customs Union, is an important partner in many crucial value chains we have.
To stimulate trade further, we will address the current difficulties we have without any doubts in the implementation of our Customs Union. And we will work to modernise our Customs Union’s framework. This Customs Union is a unique framework we have with no other country. Therefore, we are in addition looking into innovative ways not only to modernise the Customs Union, but also to boost public and private cooperation, with a focus on the green and the digital transitions.
The second area of enhanced cooperation are the high-level dialogues. Topic number one should be, in a high-level dialogue, the fight against climate change. This is our common concern and we all sense by now the danger that we are facing with increasing climate change and the follow-up consequences in our countries. Therefore, this should be one of the major topics in a high-level dialogue. The second one is for sure public health. We have been discussing the COVID-19 situation. We have been discussing the vaccination progress; the variants and of course topics like the Digital Green Certificate and other ones connected to the COVID-19 situation.
The third topic we have been discussing is that the European Commission will explore ways to strengthen cooperation on people-to-people contacts and mobility. The participation of Turkey in the European Union programmes such as for example Erasmus+ or Horizon Europe has proven very valuable in the past. And this is a cooperation we would be interested in expanding it to the coming years. I believe this is of benefit for the two of us.
And the fourth area of cooperation is concerning refugees and migration. The EU-Turkey Statement of 2016 remains valid and has brought positive results. This is mainly with regard to the Syrian refugees and their host communities in Turkey. But it is also true for combatting human trafficking and smuggling. Therefore, we expect Turkey to stand by its commitments and to deliver on them. This includes preventing irregular departures. And it also includes resuming return operations from the Greek islands to Turkey without any delay. This is for us a crucial commitment and it would be a major show of goodwill that this migration cooperation does work.
On our side, we will continue to support refugees and host communities. By this, we are supporting Turkey that is hosting four million refugees in living up to this challenge. Basic humanitarian needs, education and healthcare will remain priorities. But EU funding should in the future increasingly power better opportunities for refugees to earn their own livelihoods.
I am very much committed to ensuring the continuity of European funding in this area. Our support is a sign of Europe’s solidarity to Turkey and an investment in shared stability. And this is not only concerning Turkey, but this is also true as well for other important host countries, for example Lebanon or Jordan. I will travel to Amman later this afternoon to discuss these topics with the King of Jordan. The Commission will soon make a proposal that reflects these principles.
Last but certainly not least: We are aiming for an honest partnership. And that means that a partnership between the EU and Turkey enables us to strengthen what brings us closer but also to be very frank and to address what divides us. Today Charles Michel and I clearly underlined that respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law are crucial for the European Union. This must be an integral part of our relationship. Turkey must respect international human rights rules and standards, to which by the way the country has committed itself – as a founding member of the Council of Europe.
I am deeply worried about the fact that Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention. This is about protecting women and protecting children against violence. And this is clearly the wrong signal right now. The European Union will never hesitate to point out further negative developments. This is also true for unilateral action against EU Member States like Greece or Cyprus.
In sum, we want to move forward towards much better relations in the future. But we are at the beginning of this road. And the weeks and months ahead will show how far we can go on this road together.