The European Union’s efforts in the Eastern Mediterranean are focused on de-escalation and dialogue because it is in no one’s interest to have an accident there amid the escalating crisis between Greece and Turkey, an EU official said on Wednesday (2 September).
Asked by EURACTIV at the European Commission’s midday briefing if there is a Plan B in case there is an accident because of the high concentration of warships in the Eastern Mediterranean, EU spokesperson Peter Stano said:
“We are focused on doing whatever we can to prevent the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean from escalating into something that actually no one wants to see […] because it’s in no one’s interest to see even dramatic escalation and unfortunate events.”
Stano added that the EU’s long-standing policy when it comes to foreign matters has always been to follow plan A and avoid having a plan B, in other words, preventing a situation where a plan B is needed.
“That’s why all our efforts are focused on de-escalation and dialogue,” he said.
Many EU officials have expressed fear about a possible accident in the eastern Mediterranean amid a growing row between Greece and Turkey.
At an informal meeting of EU foreign affairs in Berlin last week, an EU official warned that an accident could occur any time, given the high concentration of warships in the region.
The EU has decided on a list of sanctions against Turkey if Ankara does not escalate tensions and remove its warships from Greece’s waters. Turkey has a deadline until the next EU summit on 24 September.
However, things have not changed much since the EU’s ultimatum.
Turkish foreign affairs minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu warned on Saturday (29 August) that if Greece expands its maritime borders in the Aegean Sea, Turkey will treat it as a cause of war.
The EU replied that Ankara has a clear timeline to de-escalate, otherwise the first phase of sanctions targeting the Turkish energy sector will apply.
What’s happening with Article 42?
EURACTIV also asked Stano if the Mutual Defence Clause (Article 42) of the Lisbon Treaty practically applies in the case of the Greek-Turkish row.
This particular clause stipulates that if a member state is attacked by a third country, the other member states are obliged to provide aid and assistance by all the means in their power.
The clause has not been triggered so far by any member state.
Stano dodged the question and said that triggering Article 42 is an option envisaged for individual member states and not EU institutions.
“This article provides for solidarity among member states and there are clearly defined conditions,” he added.
Diplomatic sources told EURACTIV that Greece had raised the issue of Article 42 at a ministerial meeting on 13 July. Athens even said it would ask for its activation in case there is an attack on its territory by Turkey.
However, things get more complicated as the article also makes it clear that “commitments and cooperation in this area shall be consistent with commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which, for those States which are members of it, remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation”.
Considering that Greece and Turkey are both NATO members, the activation of the clause becomes more uncertain.
But the conclusions of the EU’s Security and Defence Council on 17 June highlighted the need for further clarification of the mutual defence clause.
“This may also include an assessment by the relevant services of the type of assistance that they could provide, if so requested by a member state in the context of an activation of Article 42(7) TEU,” the conclusions read.
It’s not clear yet if EU member states have made progress on the issue since then.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]