By Burak Akinci
ANKARA, March 28 (Xinhua) -- The uneasy Turkey-EU summit in the Bulgarian city of Varna on Monday has not produced any breakthrough, underscoring the eroding perspective of Ankara's full membership to the bloc amid a shared willingness to restore dialogue, said local experts.
Ahead of the summit, there was no reference to Turkish accession talks which were launched in 30005 but have totally been frozen since the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey which was followed with a massive crackdown.
Though Erdogan insisted that Turkey still wants "full membership" of EU, Turkey is aware that such an option is off the table. Instead, it is seeking deeper trade ties with the bloc and visa-free travel to Europe.
Disputes on the degradation of democratic institutions in Turkey since the botched coup and over energy exploration in the Mediterranean between Ankara and EU member Cyprus as well as the refugee crisis have deeply strained ties in recent years.
The Turkish army's offensive in northern Syria to push Kurdish militia off its borders also added fuel to the fire in recent weeks.
Experts agree that rather than pushing towards a dead-end full membership option, both parties are convinced that they have to forge a relationship based on common interests.
Turkish President Erdogan told reporters after the Varna summit that Turkey and the EU "agreed to accelerate relations," while adding that it would be "self-deceiving" to say all negativities have been left behind.
"I told them that a constructive attitude towards Turkey, instead of unfair criticism and double standards, would help reconcile our ties and facilitate the (resolutions) of issues," he said quoted by the Turkish press on board his presidential plane returning to Ankara.
Erdogan also added that he had raised with European leaders Ankara's expectation to start negotiations to update the Customs Union, signed in 1995.
Even though the accession talks have effectively collapsed, there is also little willingness to pull the plug on ties all together, pointed out this expert.
"The accession track will remain in place until the environment improves enough in Turkey and in Europe to revitalize this process, which is not imminent," added Ulgen.
This fact was confirmed in Varna by European Council President Donald Tusk, who told reporters after the summit, "If you are asking me if we achieved some solutions or compromises, my answer is no."
"Our position is clear," he said adding that "only progress on our issues will allow us to improve EU-Turkey relations, including the accession process."
Erdogan has been severely criticized by western countries for a massive crackdown since the coup attempt. But his country, located in a strategic and volatile region, remains a crucial NATO ally in the fight against Islamic extremists in the aftermath of the Syrian civil war.
The EU is still Turkey's biggest trade partner and foreign investor. Three billion euros of fresh cash is expected to be allocated to Turkey to lengthen a deal on its taking in Syrian refugees.
EU leaders mentioned geostrategic interests as common ground for greater cooperation with Ankara, despite differences, predicting a form of relationship that would evolve into a kind of partnership based on strategic priorities, such as energy, security and terrorism issues.
"While our relationship is going through difficult times, in areas where we do cooperate, we cooperate well," Tusk added.
"The dialogue has surely improved and it has benefits for us and the European part," said a source close to the government to Xinhua. "We have to trust each other to continue in this path," he added.
For Hurriyet Daily Ankara representative Serkan Demirtas, the Varna meeting signals the beginning of a "new form of relationship" between Ankara and Brussels, one that does not include Turkey's full membership.
"The EU will be very hesitant in delivering Turkey's demands on visa liberalization, upgrading the customs union and opening new negotiation chapters. A visa waiver for Turkish nationals and modernized Customs Union may be part of the new model that the EU will propose to Turkey in the coming period. This model suggests a transactional approach short of full membership," he told Xinhua.
"The perspective of Turkey's membership is now out of the agenda," he added, saying that after the Brexit, there is no room for Turkey in Germany and France's vision of the EU for the coming years.