VARNA, Bulgaria (Reuters) – EU leaders said talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan failed to answer a long list of concerns on Monday, including Turkey's intervention in Syria and the imprisonment of journalists in the country own land.
At a summit that called Bulgaria "very excited", the bloc pledged funds for a refugee agreement with Ankara, but disappointed Turkish demands for deeper trade or visa-free travel to Europe.
Despite criticism from European governments of what many see as Erdogan's growing authoritarianism, EU leaders left the door open for the blockade of Turkey, but said that only he could remove the barriers to accession ,
"I have raised all our concerns, knowing that it was a long list," said European Council President Donald Tusk after talks in the port city of Varna on the Black Sea.
"If you ask me if we have achieved some solutions or compromises, my answer is no," he added. "Our position is clear: only progress on these issues will enable us to improve relations between the EU and Turkey, including the accession process."
Erdogan, who has alerted the West to massive cleansing following a failed coup attempt in July 2016, remains an important ally in the US-led NATO alliance, fighting Islamic militants and targeting many fleeing war Syrians.
Turkey shares its borders with Iraq and Syria as well as its influence with Russia in the Black Sea region, but the EU is still the largest foreign investor and trading partner.
EU leaders, despite varying degrees of differences, called this geostrategic interest a common ground for enhanced cooperation with Turkey.
"While our relationship is going through difficult times, In In areas where we cooperate, we work well together, "Tusk told reporters.
During a two-hour dinner with "Slavic Salad", the turbot from the Black Sea and local wines, Erdogan said that he was EU counterpart for progress in the talks on a visa-free and deeper entry of the Turks press on customs union.
"We hope to have left the difficult times with the EU behind," said Erdogan. "Turkey and the EU are long-term strategic partners and it would be a serious mistake for the Union to push Turkey out of its enlargement policy."
Only on Erdogan's plea for EU funds under an agreement of March 2016, refugees from the The country's heads of state and government have shown their full support.
On the issue of accession negotiations with Turkey, which began in 2005 but then faltered for five years and effectively collapsed, they seemed to be talking to each other.
Brussels sees EU membership as a separate process geared to the rule of law, press freedom and economic reform. EU officials say Turkey has made it even harder to comply with EU membership following the coup against civil rights.
Objections to the Turkish military return north-west to the Syrian Afrin region, and a dispute over the Mediterranean gas with EU members Greece and Cyprus has led to maladministration.
Erdogan has struck more enemies in Europe over the last year for his hostile rhetoric, including the comparison of Dutch and German governments with the Nazis, and some call for an end to the accession talks.
Additional coverage by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Tulay Karadeniz in Varna; Letter from Alissa de Carbonnel and Robin Emmott; Arrangement of John Stonestreet and G Crosse