By Sorwar Alam
Ankara expects a better relationship with the European Union under Malta’s presidency of the bloc, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Friday.
Speaking at a joint news conference in the Maltese capital Valetta, Yildirim said the Mediterranean island nation had always supported Turkey’s EU membership bid without preconditions.
Yildirim was on an official visit where he met his Maltese counterpart Joseph Muscat.
The pair discussed bilateral ties, the future of Turkish-EU relations, plus the agreement to renew a Turkey-EU customs deal, Yildirim said.
Yildirim also said he hopes new chapters on Turkey’s EU membership accession would be opened under Malta’s presidency, which concludes this June.
- Cyprus talks
Regarding Cyprus reunification talks, the Turkish prime minister reiterated Ankara’s unanimous support for a peace deal on the island.
He said the Turkish Cypriot community has been “paying the price” for a failure to reach a settlement.
The eastern Mediterranean island was divided into a Turkish Cypriot state in the north and a Greek Cypriot administration in the south after a 1974 military coup was followed by the intervention of Turkey as a guarantor power.
Cypriot issues remain unsolved despite a series of discussions which resumed in May 2015.
Recent UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva came to a sudden halt on Thursday after an apparent walkout by Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades.
- Press freedom
Yildirim also dismissed European criticisms of the state of press freedom in Turkey.
“Freedom of speech and the press are universal rights… But we have to distinguish two aspects:
“On one hand, freedom of speech and freedom of the media, and on the other hand, the abuse of freedom of the media in order to engage in terrorist activities,” Yildirim said.
The Turkish premier said Ankara has been fighting against “so-called journalism” and reporters who used their identity to support terrorism.
“We are fighting against those who claim to be journalists but provide logistical support to terrorists or who use their press cards to help terrorists.
“So the facts on the issue in Turkey are being misrepresented,” Yildirim said.
He called on Europe to open new accession chapters on the media in order to discuss the issue comprehensively.
“I want to say to those who criticize Turkey in these regards: ‘Let’s open new EU chapters on it, then discuss it.’
“So here is my official call to EU officials: If freedom of speech and the rule of law are so important for Europe, let’s open negotiations on Chapters 23 and 24 on the media, the press and justice.
“So that way we can respond to what the EU actually wants to know... We are ready to discuss everything,” he added.
- Bilateral agreements
During his official visit, Turkey and Malta signed two agreements on healthcare, plus the family and social affairs sector.
They also discussed bilateral cooperation in maritime affairs and other sectors, including the teaching of foreign languages.
On regional issues, they also discussed the refugee problem, a solution in Syria, and how to overcome the instability in Libya, Yildirim said.
The Turkish prime minister said the EU should develop a new approach to Turkey and take faster steps to implement refugee agreements and visa-free travel for Turks to go to Europe.
He said he hoped cooperation between Turkey and other EU states in the fight against terrorism would be developed under Malta’s EU presidency.
- Turkey-Malta Business Forum
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Later in the day, the premier also spoke at the Turkey-Malta Business Forum.
Yildirim said that Turkey wants to improve bilateral relations between the two countries.
“There has been a serious decrease in the trade volume between the two countries. This is a temporary situation related to the global economic crisis. I think we have the opportunity to make a quick recovery on this,” Yildirim said.
Yildirim’s visit is the first to Malta from Turkey at the prime ministry level.
“As of today, more than 500 Turkish investors are doing business with an investment volume of $1.3 billion. Our banks have been operating since the ‘90s. We can do much more important projects with Malta,” Yildirim said.
Mentioning Turkish mega-projects such as the Marmaray underwater rail tunnel, and the Eurasia Tunnel -- a roadway tunnel connecting Istanbul’s European and Asian sides -- Yildirim said: “Malta has the intention of combining its main island with the island of Gozo. We can jointly build a tunnel similar to our Eurasia Tunnel.”