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Erdogan tells European Union that progress needed on improving Turkey-EU ties

Published: Updated:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told European Council President Charles Michel on Monday that progress was needed on improving ties between Ankara and the bloc, the Turkish presidency said, amid renewed tensions between Turkey and Greece over the eastern Mediterranean.

In a statement, the presidency said Erdogan told Michel in a phone call that Turkey expected "concrete steps" from the EU on holding a regional conference with eastern Mediterranean states, and that Greece was "continuing steps to escalate tensions in the eastern Mediterranean despite Turkey's well-intentioned approach".

The phone call comes after a Turkish ship set sail to carry out seismic exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, prompting Greece to issue a furious new demand for EU sanctions on Ankara in a row over offshore exploration rights.

The European Union's executive said last week that Turkey's government was undermining its economy, eroding democracy and destroying independent courts, leaving Ankara's bid to join the EU further away than ever.

Blaming "excessively" centralized presidential power for deteriorating conditions in freedom of speech, prisons and the central bank, the European Commission said the government was also exposing Turkey to "rapid changes in investors' sentiment".

"The EU's serious concerns on continued negative developments in the rule of law, fundamental rights and the judiciary have not been credibly addressed by Turkey," the Commission said in its annual report on the country.

"Turkey's (EU) accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill," it said.

A NATO ally, Turkey has been negotiating its EU membership since 2005 after economic and political reforms that made it an important emerging market economy and trade partner.

Although never easy because of disputed Turkish claims over Cyprus, talks rapidly unraveled after a failed coup in Turkey in July 2016 and President Tayyip Erdogan's ensuing crackdown on perceived opponents.

"In Turkey, the serious backsliding observed since the 2016 coup attempt continued," the Commission said.

There was no immediate comment from Turkey. Ankara has said in the past that EU criticism is unfair and disproportionate.

Turkey has since faced several years of harsh Commission reports, and the EU executive once again intensified its criticism, citing monetary policy, public administration and widespread corruption as failures of the Turkish government.

While the EU, Turkey's biggest foreign investor, relies on the country to house some 4 million Syrians fleeing civil war rather than let them proceed to Europe, Brussels also reiterated its threat to impose economic sanctions on Ankara over an energy dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean.

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