Top European Union officials will meet Turkish autocratic President Tayyip Erdoğan in Bulgaria on March 26 to discuss EU-Turkey relations as well as regional and international issues, an EU spokesman said on Tuesday.
The meeting in the city of Varna will take place against a background of hostility between Turkey and the bloc and diplomats in Brussels acknowledged that the meeting had been agreed to only reluctantly by some on the EU side, according to a report by Reuters.
The report said Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov will host Erdoğan as well as Donald Tusk, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, and the head of the bloc’s executive European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, for a dinner.
“This will be a good opportunity to jointly assess matters of mutual interest and recent developments in your country, including in the area of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, which remain fundamental to the fabric of and prospects for the EU-Turkey relations,” the two top EU officials said in their invitation to Erdoğan.
Ties between Ankara and the EU have gone from bad to worse since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 in Turkey and over Erdoğan’s verbal assaults on Germany and the Netherlands, two of the bloc’s member states.
However, the EU also depends on Turkey, NATO’s second-biggest army, for support in the security field and for keeping a tight lid on immigration from the Middle East. This reality had swayed the EU to agreeing, with some reluctance, to Ankara’s push for the top-level meeting, diplomats said.
Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. Previously, on December 13, 2017, The Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.
A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, said Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Dec. 2, 2018. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “Even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”