Borrell throws Turkey hot potato back into EU leaders’ hands

Asked about the possibility to have exploratory talks in light of Turkey’s new move, Borrell said he could not project what would happen, but expressed his hope that the exploratory contacts would continue despite Turkey’s fresh escalation. [EPA/JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN ]

The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell described yesterday (12 October) as “regrettable” Turkey’s decision to send back its research vessel Oruç Reis to Greece’s continental shelf, saying EU leaders will again discuss the issue at a summit this week.

“This will lead to new tensions instead of contributing to de-escalation efforts we were calling for at the last European Council,” Borrell said after an EU foreign ministers gathering in Luxembourg.

“We consider that Turkey needs to engage actively in finding solutions and not to engage in negative behaviour,” he added.

The removal of Oruç Reis vessel from Greek waters two weeks ago helped de-escalate the growing tensions between Greece and Turkey.

For that reason, EU leaders avoided using the word “sanctions” in the official conclusions of their 1 October summit.

Instead, they decided to push for dialogue between the two countries, issuing simultaneously a ‘carrot and stick’ warning to Turkey, and giving Ankara until December to show goodwill for a lasting de-escalation of the crisis.

EU leaders unblock Belarus sanctions, issue 'carrot and stick' warning to Turkey

After weeks of bickering, EU leaders broke a longstanding deadlock to impose sanctions against members of the Belarus regime on Friday night (2 October) and fired a warning at Turkey over its gas drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

However, with the latest developments, talks between the two sides appear less likely.

Asked about the possibility to have exploratory talks in light of Turkey’s new move, Borrell said he could not project what would happen, but expressed his hope that contacts would continue despite Turkey’s fresh escalation.

The Greek ministry of foreign affairs issued a strong statement, saying Ankara has proven that it does not want a “sincere dialogue”.

The issue will be once again on the table at the next EU summit on 15 October, Borrell said, adding that it’s up to the EU leaders to decide on the next steps.

No appetite for sanctions

But it is now clear that Borrell cannot reach the required unanimity to impose sanctions against Turkey.

At the 1 October summit, EU leaders negotiated for nine hours on the wording of the conclusions, as a number of countries voiced opposition to adding the word “sanctions”.

EURACTIV was informed that Germany, with the silent support of Italy and Spain, rejected Greece’s proposal to activate automatic sanctions the first time Turkey takes new provocative action.

In addition, Germany allegedly cited a de-escalation mechanism between Greece and Turkey, set up under the auspices of NATO during the summit, as an adequate measure in the event of a new Greek-Turkish confrontation.

Athens fears that its EU partners will push for this NATO mechanism to handle the bilateral maritime row and would be forced into a dialogue with Turkey while Turkish warships are present in its waters.

In an interview with Greek newspaper Kathimerini, Manfred Weber, the leader of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament, lashed out against Turkey, saying the EU Council should send a clear message.

“By redeploying the research ship Oruç Reis, Turkey is once again undermining efforts to deescalate tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. We urge the European Council to send a clear message to Erdogan: call the ship back to port and start talks or face sanctions,” the Bavarian politician emphasised.

“If there should be renewed Turkish gas exploration in the more controversial sea areas in the eastern Mediterranean, this would be a serious setback for efforts to de-escalate,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said ahead of a trip to Cyprus and Greece.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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