EU foreign ministers unanimously condemned Turkey’s military action in north-eastern Syria on Monday (14 October), asking all member states to stop selling arms to Ankara. However, they stopped short of an EU-wide arms embargo pushed for by Germany and France.
In a joint statement, the EU28 “urged Turkey again to cease its unilateral military action in North-East Syria and to withdraw its forces.”
Josep Borrell, Spanish Foreign Minister and incoming EU foreign affairs chief, said in an interview with the Associated Press that the 28 member states “have unanimously decided to condemn…in strong terms what in the end is a military attack.”
EU foreign ministers also expressed a readiness to curb weapons exports to Ankara, saying that they “commit to strong national positions regarding their arms export policy to Turkey,” while also agreeing that a working group should meet later this week to coordinate and review member states’ positions.
Despite the strong words, EU national governments can still issue licenses to allow arms sales to Turkey, although they will have to take into account issues such as the impact of regional stability, a fact that led some to question the substance of Monday’s statement.
Pressed by reporters on these concerns, Mogherini spoke about a “clear commitment” from member states on “strong national positions,” with regards to the incursion in Syria.
Mogherini referred to the UN’s security council resolutions on restricting the sale of arms to certain nations worldwide and made clear that Turkey was not on such a list.
With the decision, EU ministers also sought to avoid forcing an EU framework upon NATO members, Mogherini added.
With a complete embargo, NATO member Turkey would have also been placed in a category with countries such as Russia and Venezuela. The ministers were not prepared to take such a step, diplomats said.
The EU exported €45 million in arms and ammunition to Turkey last year, including missiles, according to the EU’s statistics office Eurostat. Italy has so far been the main vendor, followed by Spain, the UK and Germany. EU sales of aircraft to Turkey, although not all military, amounted to €1.4 billion last year, with France leading the list as the top seller.
“We do not wish to support this war and do not want to make arms available,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters at a meeting with EU counterparts in Luxembourg.
“This offensive is going to cause serious humanitarian devastation,” said France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, urging a “firm position on arms exports to Turkey”.
Over the weekend, Paris and Berlin suspended weapons sales to Turkey, a NATO ally, while Finland and the Netherlands said earlier they were also stopping arms exports, in what EU diplomats said could be the first step in a series of EU sanctions aimed at persuading Ankara to halt the fighting.
Spain, Austria and Belgium joined Germany and France on Monday in backing an arms embargo on Turkey over its Syrian offensive but top exporter Italy had yet to declare its position, leaving an-EU wide ban in doubt.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on the sidelines of the meeting that “in the next few hours, Italy too will sign a ban on the export of arms to Turkey”, while Belgium also said it backed stopping arms exports.
Despite criticism from its NATO allies, Turkey has so far shown little sign of relenting its military offensive, putting the military alliance in a difficult position.
Earlier on Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that the military alliance should not lose its unity in the fight against Daesh (IS), in light of Turkey’s actions.
EU foreign ministers proposed to call a meeting of the coalition to counter Daesh, which also includes Turkey.
Moreover, the EU28 agreed that in the light of Turkey’s ongoing illegal activities in the Mediterranean, they reaffirm their solidarity with Cyprus in respecting its sovereignty and sovereign rights according to international law.
Nicosia has been calling on its EU partners to take action after Turkey dispatched two vessels to drill in waters considered by Cyprus to be part of its exclusive economic zone, while Ankara insists its actions to be in line with international law.
[Edited by Samuel Stolton]