Turkey is ready to set a "positive agenda" with the EU, using a long-term perspective to help get relations with the bloc back on track, the Turkish president said on Tuesday.
Meeting with the ambassadors of EU member states, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he expects the envoys to support "turning a new page" in Turkish-EU relations.
"It is in our hands to successfully transform EU-Turkish relations in 2021," he told the gathering at the official Cankaya Palace in the capital Ankara.
"Just as our country's nearly 60-year membership process is a strategic choice for us, the EU’s acceptance of our country to full membership will also be an ontological choice for the future of the union."
Though Turkey first sought EU membership decades ago, it was only in 2005 that it officially became a candidate for full membership, and in recent years the accession process has stalled.
Erdogan highlighted that 2020 was not an easy year for Turkish-EU relations, adding that some EU member countries aimed to resolve the bilateral problems with Turkey “in the halls of the EU."
"The Turkey-EU agenda has been abused by hiding behind the pretext of unity [and] solidarity," he said.
Turkish officials have criticized Greek efforts to turn bilateral issues into Turkish-EU issues, stressing Ankara's willingness to sit at the negotiating table with Athens to resolve their differences through dialogue.
Erdogan also reiterated the need for the EU to tackle the menace of anti-Muslim prejudice in their countries, saying: "In addition to threatening the security of nearly 6 million people living in Europe, Islamophobia is turning into a big black hole in terms of European values."
The gathering with the president followed a similar meeting Tuesday between Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, with the EU ambassadors.
After a year of ups and downs, Turkish leaders have said they hope for progress in ties with the EU this year, and expect the bloc to take clear steps towards this end.
Erdogan also called for transformation of the Eastern Mediterranean from a "competition area" into a "cooperation basin" to serve the region's long-term interests.
He said that Turkey has made significant contributions to Europe's energy supply security with its energy projects.
"We’re not demanding anything we’re not entitled to in the Eastern Mediterranean. We are trying to protect the legitimate interests of our country and our nation regarding the hydrocarbon resources in the region," he said.
The most concrete indicator of the EU's "strategic blindness" attitude is the Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus issue, he said, adding that Turkey faced "serious injustice" over both issues.
He also questioned the EU role in helping resolve the Cyprus issue, pointing to the bloc's recent lack of contact with the Turkish Cypriot side.
Instead of getting stuck on "failed models" for the Cyprus issue, we need to discuss new and realistic alternatives, he said.
Turkey has recently stressed that efforts for a “federal” solution to the divided island of Cyprus have proved hopeless, and any future talks must focus on two separate, sovereign states on the island.
As announced Monday, after a five-year hiatus, Greece and Turkey on Jan. 25 will resume exploratory talks in Istanbul amid tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The issue of energy rights and maritime boundaries are set to dominate the talks.
Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected the maritime boundary claims of Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration in the region, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.
Ankara last year sent several drill ships to explore for energy in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting its own rights in the region, as well as those of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving all outstanding problems in the region through international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue, and negotiations.
Erdogan emphasized that the coronavirus pandemic has already left "deep pain" in almost every country of the world, marks which will not be erased for years.
"The process we are going through has once again reminded us that all humanity is in the same boat, regardless of religion, language, race or region. We have all seen that we can be successful in combating the pandemic thanks to global solidarity and cooperation," he said.
During the pandemic, Erdogan said, Turkey provided medical support to 156 countries and 11 international organizations, without any discrimination, including its “European friends."
He underlined that along with bringing over 100,000 of its citizens back to the country by emergency evacuation flights due to the pandemic, Turkey also evacuated more than 5,500 foreigners from 67 countries.
Turkey also helped 38,000 foreign nationals in Turkey who wanted to return to their home countries, he added.
"We did all this not because we expected a financial response, but because we felt responsible for the human family."
Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has gained momentum worldwide in recent weeks, Erdogan said that successes in vaccination efforts have raised hopes.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.