EU leaders are meeting in Brussels to discuss possible action against Ankara on the Eastern Mediterranean crisis, the coronavirus, Brexit and the budget.
Fearing their credibility is at stake, European Union leaders are expected to consider extending sanctions on Turkey for its exploration of gas reserves in Mediterranean waters claimed by EU members Greece and Cyprus on Thursday. .
At their last summit in October, leaders proposed “a positive EU-Turkey political agenda” in Ankara, including trade and customs benefits and the prospect of more funds to help Turkey deal with Syrian refugees on its territory. if it ended its “illegal activities”. in the eastern Mediterranean.
But EU foreign ministers unanimously agreed this week that Turkey’s behavior has not improved. After chairing their videoconference on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said “in several ways the situation has worsened”.
“The stakes are very precise, very clear: the credibility of the European Union,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told reporters. He recalled that the leaders had declared in October that there would be consequences if Turkey “continued its delinquent behavior”.
“So now we will see if, as Europe, we are really credible in what we ourselves have agreed,” Mitsotakis said.
The 27 EU countries are divided over how best to deal with Turkey. France and Cyprus have pushed for tougher measures such as economic sanctions, but other countries fear further undermining the country’s already ravaged economy and destabilizing the region.
“France will keep a clear position,” French President Emmanuel Macron said before the summit. “We must be consistent with the decisions and our demands on Turkey last October, draw the consequences and we must defend the sovereignty and the stability of the EU states, in particular in the Eastern Mediterranean but also in the whole region.
Yet European diplomats fear that the bloc’s “credibility, values and interests” are at stake.
“We can’t say there is a problem in October and do nothing in December when things got worse,” one of them said ahead of the summit, according to the Associated Press news agency. He was not allowed to speak on the record as deliberations continued.
On Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the threat of sanctions and accused the EU, which Turkey is a candidate to join despite its membership negotiations being blocked, of acting “dishonestly” and of not keeping its promises.
“Any decision to impose sanctions on Turkey will not be of great concern to Turkey,” Erdogan told reporters.
About a year ago, the EU put in place a system to impose travel bans and asset freezes on people, companies or organizations linked to drilling activities “that have not been authorized by the Republic of Cyprus, in its territorial sea or in its exclusive economic zone or on its continental shelf ”.
Two officials are currently on the list: the vice president of the Turkish Petroleum Corporation and the deputy director of its exploration department. The idea would be to add more people or organizations to the list, diplomats confirmed.
It is not known whether more sanctions would slow Turkey down anyway. Steps have been taken in the past – cutting funds to prepare Turkey for EU membership and virtual freezing of its membership negotiations – but Ankara has only made its voice heard.
On top of that, Erdogan has shown his willingness to encourage Syrian refugees to cross the Greek and European border to make sure his demands are understood.
Turkey also plays a military role in Libya, an important point in Africa for refugees and migrants hoping to reach Europe.
EU leaders in Brussels will also discuss the coronavirus pandemic, budget issues and Brexit.