Bulgaria said yesterday it wants to use its EU presidency to improve the bloc's relations with Turkey "without hiding the problems", after ties soured over Ankara's crackdown following an attempted coup.
Bulgaria, which assumed the six-month rotating presidency on January 1, stressed the need to preserve the EU's deal with Ankara to curb record flows of asylum seekers, some of whom cross the Turkish-Bulgarian border.
"We believe Turkey is an important partner of Europe on many issues like refugees, terrorism, economy, energy. We should try to improve the relationship with them without hiding the problems," Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said yesterday.
"It is better to talk honestly -- (whether it is) realistic for Turkey to be a member of the EU or if it is not, what kind of relationship we should have with them."
The European Union has voiced serious concerns about human rights abuses in Turkey particularly during its sweeping purge of public services after the attempt to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.
Ankara's relations with Germany have hit a particularly low ebb, with Erdogan notably accusing Chancellor Angela Merkel of "Nazi practices" for refusing to let his ministers campaign in Germany.
French President Emmanuel Macron suggested after talks with Erdogan last week that Turkey should abandon its hopes of joining the EU because "recent developments and choices allow no chance for progress".
But Turkey remains an important player for the EU, not least for the March 2016 deal it struck with Brussels to help stem the flow of migrants into the bloc.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker repeated the bloc's position that with the crackdown Turkey was "moving away from its European ambitions".
"We are going to have to see now what kind of progress Turkey makes in the coming months but there will not be any progress while there are journalists in Turkish jails," Juncker said at a news conference in Sofia.