Greece and Turkey sign 15 deals during ‘groundbreaking’ Erdoğan visit to Athens – Europe live | Europe – Freedom Voice


Greece and Turkey sign 15 deals in groundbreaking visit

Helena Smith

Helena Smith

In addition to the declaration on ‘good neighbourly relations’, 15 accords were signed by ministers representing Greece and Turkey in Athens today, in a sign, say analysts, of just how groundbreaking the Turkish president’s visit has been.

Among them was a 12-month visa programme that would allow the growing number of Turkish tourists to visit nearby Greek islands all year round without having to apply for permits.

“It’s a measure that brings our two peoples closer,” said Greece’s migration minister, Dimitris Kairidis.

He added:

It’s something that the other side, which has shouldered such a burden in the management of migration, wanted very much.

Turkey currently hosts an estimated 4 million refugees and asylum seekers – mostly from Syria – more than any other country.

The accord was agreed, the Greek minister said, in conjunction with the European Commission.

Turkish citizens presently do not enjoy visa-free travel to the 27 EU countries.

Ever more Turks have begun to holiday in Greece, with many heading for the Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast. Kairidis said the smaller isles without regular air or boat connections to Turkey had been included in the programme alongside more popular destinations such as Rhodes. Ten Greek islands were named in the accord.

A Turkish pleasure boat, aptly named Friendship, docked in Rhodes.
A Turkish pleasure boat, aptly named Friendship, docked in Rhodes. Photograph: Helena Smith/The Guardian

Key events

Denmark makes Qur’an burning illegal in public places

The Danish parliament approved a bill today that makes it illegal to burn copies of the Qur’an in public places, Reuters reported.

Breaking the new rules would be punishable by fines or up to two years in prison.

The screen in the Danish Parliament, Folketinget, shows the result after a vote for a new law against inappropriate treatment of writings of importance to religious communities, in Copenhagen, Denmark, December 7, 2023. After a debate lasting several hours, the law against the inappropriate treatment of writings of importance to religious communities, often referred to as the Koran law was adopted on Thursday afternoon.
The screen in the Danish Parliament, Folketinget, shows the result after a vote for a new law against inappropriate treatment of writings of importance to religious communities, in Copenhagen, Denmark, December 7, 2023. After a debate lasting several hours, the law against the inappropriate treatment of writings of importance to religious communities, often referred to as the Koran law was adopted on Thursday afternoon. Photograph: Ritzau Scanpix/Reuters

Greece and Turkey sign 15 deals in groundbreaking visit

Helena Smith

Helena Smith

In addition to the declaration on ‘good neighbourly relations’, 15 accords were signed by ministers representing Greece and Turkey in Athens today, in a sign, say analysts, of just how groundbreaking the Turkish president’s visit has been.

Among them was a 12-month visa programme that would allow the growing number of Turkish tourists to visit nearby Greek islands all year round without having to apply for permits.

“It’s a measure that brings our two peoples closer,” said Greece’s migration minister, Dimitris Kairidis.

He added:

It’s something that the other side, which has shouldered such a burden in the management of migration, wanted very much.

Turkey currently hosts an estimated 4 million refugees and asylum seekers – mostly from Syria – more than any other country.

The accord was agreed, the Greek minister said, in conjunction with the European Commission.

Turkish citizens presently do not enjoy visa-free travel to the 27 EU countries.

Ever more Turks have begun to holiday in Greece, with many heading for the Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast. Kairidis said the smaller isles without regular air or boat connections to Turkey had been included in the programme alongside more popular destinations such as Rhodes. Ten Greek islands were named in the accord.

A Turkish pleasure boat, aptly named Friendship, docked in Rhodes.
A Turkish pleasure boat, aptly named Friendship, docked in Rhodes. Photograph: Helena Smith/The Guardian

EU and China discuss balance in relationship

Speaking in Beijing after talks with China’s leadership, European Council president, Charles Michel, told reporters that “we need to make our trade and economic relationship balanced and reciprocal”.

The EU expects China “to take more concrete action to improve market access and the investment environment for foreign companies”.

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the EU and China have a “complex relationship” which “deserves frank and open discussions”.

She added:

This was certainly a summit of choices. It was an opportunity to explain clearly our concerns and our expectations to the Chinese leadership. And of course also to seek progress in key areas of our bilateral relationship.

The commission chief also said:

I’m glad that we agreed with President Xi that trade should be balanced between the two of us. Of course we also discussed the approach of de-risk not decouple … Europe does not want to decouple from China.

China’s president, Xi Jinping, second right, and the foreign minister, Wang Yi, third right, attend a meeting with the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, second left, the European Council president, Charles Michel, third left, and the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell, fourth left, during the 24th EU-China Summit in Beijing.
China’s president, Xi Jinping, second right, and the foreign minister, Wang Yi, third right, attend a meeting with the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, second left, the European Council president, Charles Michel, third left, and the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell, fourth left, during the 24th EU-China Summit in Beijing. Photograph: Dario Pignatelli/European Council Press Service/AFP/Getty

Greece and Turkey sign declaration on good neighbourly relations

Greece and Turkey have signed a joint declaration today to pursue good neighbourly relations.

The move comes during a much-watched visit of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to Athens.

“Geography and history has dictated that we live in the same neighbourhood.. occasionally in confrontation. But I feel a historical responsibility to utilise this opportunity to bring the two states side-by side, just as our borders are,” said the Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Reuters reported.

Erdoğan said:

There is no issue between us that is unsolvable. So long as we focus on the picture and don’t end up being like those who cross the sea and drown in the river.

Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, right, shakes hands with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after their statements at Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece.
Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, right, shakes hands with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after their statements at Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece. Photograph: Michael Varaklas/AP

Ruth Michaelson

Ruth Michaelson

The visit to Athens by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, signals the latest move of Turkish efforts at diplomacy that have seen Ankara rapidly reestablish relations with former foes across the region, including a lucrative rapprochement with the United Arab Emirates and newfound friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, amid efforts to rapidly forget the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.

The Turkish president has even met with Egyptian president, Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, after saying he would never talk to “someone like him”.

“If you look back at the past two years, a lot of these shifts are about efforts to ease the tensions that Turkey found itself in, it’s not sustainable economically, diplomatically or politically and it’s limiting for Turkey,” said Ziya Meral, a lecturer on diplomacy at Soas.

This trip is an expression of that easing, as the last thing that Europe or Nato needs is an escalation between two members over crucial sea routes, trade or energy. For the European Union, having Greece or Turkey working together on issues like crime, narcotics, and security is a good thing, as these are key areas.

Erdoğan’s visit to the Greek capital could provide a crucial signal to Washington, amid pushback over a potential $20bn (£15.9m) sale of F16 fighter jets to Ankara, held up by lawmakers who expressed concerns about Turkish overflights of Greek airspace as well as Turkey’s human rights record.

“By easing relations with Greece, this understanding could give way to a breakthrough in certain areas where particular congresspeople or senators leaning towards Greek interests might alter their status, which could lead to some positive outcomes in terms of Turkish interests in Washington,” said Meral.

While Erdoğan promised the dawn of a “new era,” on landing in Athens and efforts to double the two countries’ trade volume to $10bn, observers said his visit appears unlikely to heal deeper rifts over decades-long issues including the status of Cyprus or border disputes. Even so, his talks with Greek counterpart, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, and the prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, signalled a willingness to tackle some challenges together, particularly energy exploration in the Mediterranean or trade.

“While this visit is a welcome move, would it achieve a breakthrough on issues at a dead end, like Cyprus or the status of Aegean islands, I don’t think this is a magical solution for any of these problems. But if trust is reestablished and there’s a good rapport between leaders and wanting to trade more, it’s quite a good achievement – and it means one less conflict to watch,” said Meral.

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Greece’s Kyriakos Mitsotakis are holding talks in Athens.

Catch up here on why this visit has garnered so much attention.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (left) meets the Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in Athens, Greece.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, left, meets the Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in Athens, Greece. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty

Ten Cypriot nationals were detained by police outside the Turkish embassy in Athens this morning, Kathimerini reports. They had unfolded a banner and chanted slogans against the Turkish president’s visit.

Centre-left group says Orbán should not be allowed to ‘blackmail’ EU

Lisa O'Carroll

Lisa O’Carroll

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, cannot be allowed to “blackmail” the rest of the EU by threatening to block Ukraine membership talks unless it releases withheld funds to Hungary, centre-left MEPs have said.

“This is a make or break moment for the EU,” said Pedro Marques, vice chair of the Socialist and Democratic group in the European parliament.

“It is a wake up call for the leaders that we cannot continue allowing ourselves to be blackmailed by some authoritarian leader,” he added.

At a moment in which the US Congress has just outvoted a proposal by Joe Biden to continue to support Ukraine, we cannot put ourselves in a situation where the Ukrainians see that we are also not capable of continuing to assist them.

It also not acceptable, from my point of view, that anyone gets the perception that at the end of next week, Orbán got his way and got his €30bn in exchange for allowing the EU to continue to assist Ukraine.

He added: “It is simple we cannot trade money for values. It’s not acceptable.”

His warning ahead of a scheduled meeting between French president Emmanuel Macron with Orbán in Paris over dinner tonight.

The French leader is expected to tell Orbán that to block the opening of talks with Ukraine will undermine the EU’s strategy to fight Vladimir Putin.

“This is a test of Europe’s strategic autonomy,” said a diplomatic source. Orbán’s dissent will send a signal to Putin “but also to the Americans”.

Marques said the EU also needs to abandon its rule that decisions on enlargement should be unanimous, something that is supported by other member states.

“When you join the EU it means you are a democratic country. I guess we did not foresee that democracy could be corrupted from the inside,” he said.

Better to see ‘glass half full’, Erdoğan tells Greek president

Helena Smith

Helena Smith

The first meeting of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the Greek president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, appears to have gone well.

Greece’s public broadcaster, ERT, is reporting that Erdoğan told the Greek head of state that his visit to Athens hailed the start of a new era between the two countries, uneasy neighbours and historic Nato rivals.

“I believe this summit will be an opportunity for a new start in relations between Greece and Turkey,” the leader was quoted as saying.

He added:

Ministers of the two countries will have constructive meetings. We’ll discuss what steps we can take on all issues. Preparations have been made by ministers … I believe it will be better for the future of both sides to speak seeing the glass half full.

Sakellaropoulou said that despite the differences that separate the two nations, it was vital given unfolding events in the region to mend fences.

Greece’s president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, right, and her Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, during their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Greece
Greece’s president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, right, and her Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, during their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Greece. Photograph: Michael Varaklas/AP

Here are photos from Athens today, as Erdoğan meets the Greek leadership.

The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, welcomes the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece.
The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, welcomes the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece. Photograph: Louiza Vradi/Reuters
Greece’s president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, right, walk with her Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, left, before their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Greece.
Greece’s president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, right, walks with her Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, left, before their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Greece. Photograph: Michael Varaklas/AP

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has met Greece’s president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

Ruth Michaelson

Ruth Michaelson

Looking through the Turkish media, the headlines about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Athens today are not exactly on the front page or homepage of every newspaper.

Even so, the profound shift in his language towards Greece gets a mention in a few places, notably TRT Haber, a division of a state owned channel, which quotes from a recent interview Erdoğan gave to the Greek daily Kathimerini.

Underneath a headline that reads “Erdoğan: Greece is not Turkey’s enemy,” is the mention that both are “valuable members of an alliance,” in reference to Nato.

Never mind, perhaps, that the state-run news agency Anadolu also quoted Erdoğan complaining that the US had provided F16 fighter jets and munitions to Greece while “although we paid for them, F16s are not given to us,” as the US weighs a $20bn (£15.9m) sale of the jets and munitions to Ankara that faces opposition in Congress.

“It does not mean we have to back down just because the United States is doing this. We will visit our neighbouring country, sit down, and talk,” he said.

Erdoğan’s repeated mention of a “new page,” in relations and what he labelled the “win-win principle,” all signal a profound turnaround from a prolonged period of public barbs exchanged between him and Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, including Erdoğan mentioning at one point that Turkish-made missiles could reach Athens “if you don’t stay calm.”

TRT Haber now quotes him as saying that this was all simply a misunderstanding, adding that at one point “Western media is trying to distort my words.”

“We are neighbours, we will remain neighbours, we must mutually respect each other’s rights and vital interests. We show how embracing we are when we extend our hand of friendship,” he said.

Asked what he will say to Mitsotakis, a figure where relations deteriorated to the point that Erdoğan once said “Mitsotakis no longer exists,” for him just eighteen months ago, the Turkish president is keen to show that times have rapidly changed.

“I will tell him this: Kiryakos, my friend, unless you threaten us, we do not threaten you. Let’s strengthen the trust between the two countries.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) lands in Athens International Airport in Athens, Greece on December 07, 2023. Greek Foreign Minister Yorgos Yerapetritis and Turkish Ambassador to Athens, Cagatay Erciyes (R) welcomed President Erdogan. (Photo by Mustafa Kamaci/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) lands in Athens International Airport in Athens, Greece on December 07, 2023. Greek Foreign Minister Yorgos Yerapetritis and Turkish Ambassador to Athens, Cagatay Erciyes (R) welcomed President Erdogan. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

Erdoğan arrives in Greece

Helena Smith

Helena Smith

Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has arrived in Athens.

He is escorted by an entourage so big – at least eight cabinet ministers are travelling with him – two other planes have also flown in with the presidential jet.

Erdogan will head straight to the presidential palace to be greeted by Greece’s head of state Katerina Sakellaropoulou, a judge by profession who has not flinched in the past from expressing views when Turkey is perceived to have crossed ‘red lines’ on national issues. He will then hold talks with Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

As the bilateral is described as a ‘working’ visit and not an official tour – as was the case exactly six years ago to the day when the Turkish strongman flew into Athens – formalities are expected to be kept to a minimum.

But security measures are draconian – even metro stations have been closed until 6 PM – and the visit appears to be prepared, some would say stage-managed, down to the last detail.

Greek officials say they are braced for “every eventuality” including the famously unpredictable Erdogan crossing a ‘red line.’ The response, they say, is going to be: “Our differences should not produce crises.”

Erdoğan and Mitsotakis are slated to address the media around 1:30 – but will not be accepting questions!

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lands in Athens International Airport in Athens, Greece on December 07, 2023. Greek Foreign Minister Yorgos Yerapetritis and Turkish Ambassador to Athens, Cagatay Erciyes welcomed President Erdogan.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lands in Athens International Airport in Athens, Greece on December 07, 2023. Greek Foreign Minister Yorgos Yerapetritis and Turkish Ambassador to Athens, Cagatay Erciyes welcomed President Erdogan. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

Von der Leyen in China: ‘Differences’ must be addressed

Speaking in Beijing at the EU-China summit, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said at a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and European Council president Charles Michel that the sides will discuss how to rebalance the relationship.

She said:

How we can manage our relationship as well as the significant economic and geopolitical common interests we have matters to both the European Union and China. Because it has a direct impact on the prosperity and security of our people. At times, our interests coincide. When they do not, we need to address and responsibly manage the concerns that we have.

The commission chief also added:

We will discuss how to rebalance our economic relationship. China is the EU’s most important trading partner. But there are clear imbalances and differences that we must address. We both recognise the importance of de-risking and strengthening the resilience of our economies. That is why the European Union is working to ensure the security of its supply chains, critical infrastructure, and technological and industrial bases.

Ahead of his visit to Greece, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has taken a conciliatory tone – while underscoring that disagreements will persist.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting yesterday, he said:

We have had disagreements with Greece, and we will continue to have them tomorrow. This does not mean that we cannot find common ground as two countries that share the same seas.

The Turkish leader added:

Our goal is to improve and strengthen our relations and cooperation with the countries of the region, starting with our neighbors to respect our mutual interests.

Erdoğan plans ‘win-win’ approach in Athens after past feud

Helena Smith

Helena Smith

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, will be arriving in Athens today for the first time in six years, determined to move on with a “win-win approach” from the disputes and tensions left by his previous trip to the city.

The last time the Turkish leader visited the Greek capital – exactly six years ago to the day – what had been billed a historic tour descended into a verbal theatre of war as Erdoğan, dispensing with diplomatic niceties, went on the offensive.

Within an hour of stepping off the plane, he had: questioned the treaty delineating the borders between the two neighbours; raised the thorny question of war-split Cyprus; fulminated over the treatment of the Muslim minority in Thrace; and chastised the Greeks for their handling of Ottoman sites, a legacy of 400 years of Ottoman rule.

“We still haven’t forgotten it,” said one well-placed diplomat. “It was as if he was a boxer in the ring, throwing punches from beginning to end.”

From then on, bilateral ties only worsened, with the two Nato rivals nearly going to war over disputed undersea energy resources; Athens accusing its neighbour of “weaponising” migration and Ankara questioning the ownership of outlying Greek islands.

During Thursday’s visit – expected to last barely six hours – the famously unpredictable leader will put pugilism aside.

“We will go to Athens with a win-win approach,” Erdoğan told reporters aboard the presidential plane as he returned from the Cop28 climate summit.

“There, we will discuss both our bilateral relations and Turkey-EU relations in order to make decisions worthy of the spirit of the new era.”

Read the full story here.

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