Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has held a series of contacts with EU leaders in recent days, aiming to find allies who would block potential sanctions against Turkey at the 24-25 September EU summit over its illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Erdoğan has already held two teleconferences with German Chancellor Angela Merkel; he has spoken with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, twice with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
On 15 September he also had a telephone conversation with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, a traditionally close ally of Turkey who had publicly backed Ankara against Greece over migration several of months ago. The outcome of the phone call has not been made public but press reports suggested that Borissov pledged to support Erdogan in the Eastern Mediterranean crisis.
At their last meeting in Berlin, EU foreign ministers agreed on a number of sanctions against Turkey in the event that Ankara does not de-escalate and return to dialogue with Greece.
In order for the sanctions to be adopted, they will need unanimity in the EU Council. However, not everybody views the idea of imposing sanctions in a positive light.
EURACTIV was informed that in Berlin, Italy, Spain and Germany were restrained, expressing fears regarding migration flows from Turkey.
The Oruç Reis seismic survey vessel, backed by Turkish navy frigates, which had been deployed to waters near the Greek island of Kastellorizo since 10 August, was moved back to Turkey, a move that was hailed by the European Commission.
“It is an important step paving the way for a meaningful dialogue between Greece and Turkey,” EU spokesperson Peter Stano said in a statement.
However, Stano voiced regret at the Turkish authorities’ announcement that drilling would be continued with another drilling vessel, Yavuz, saying it will further fuel tensions and insecurity in the Eastern Mediterranean when there is an opportunity to pursue immediate de-escalation.
Speaking at the European Parliament earlier this week, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell did not talk of sanctions against Turkey but warned about “consequences”. On the other hand, when he referred to the case of Belarus he used the word sanctions four times.
But it is becoming increasingly clear that some EU member states are not at ease about the possibility of sanctions against Ankara. The main reason is that they see the “wider geopolitical picture”, according to a diplomat, fearing that Ankara will move away from NATO and get closer to Russia and India.
Another sign that Brussels wants to push for immediate talks between Greece and Turkey, even before the EU summit, instead of sanctions, is the fact that Turkey will be at the EU summit’s agenda at dinner, which usually suggests a less formal approach.
The issue of sanctions against Turkey gets more complicated considering that Cyrpus aims to block any sanction against Belarus unless similar measures are taken against Ankara, as AFP reported earlier today, quoting an EU official.
EU Parliament’s last warning to Turkey
The European Parliament adopted on Thursday a resolution condemning Turkey’s actions in the Greek and Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone and expressed full solidarity with the two member states, which Ankara dismissed as “unacceptable”.
MEPs urged Turkey to refrain from unilateral actions and called upon member states to stand ready to develop further restrictive sectoral and targeted measures which would not have an adverse impact on the Turkish population.
Nacho Sánchez Amor (S&D), the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, told EURACTIV in an interview that Turkey’s behaviour toward Europe is not acceptable. He emphasised that Europe will send a final warning for de-escalation before sanctions are imposed.
He said it is not only the actions but also the rhetoric used by Turkish public officials insulting Greece and “considering Greece a colony”, while describing other EU member states as colonial powers.
Some S&D lawmakers called for an arms embargo on Ankara earlier this week but it did not pass in the final resolution.
Amor said such a proposal was discussed after Turkey’s involvement in Syria but this case was more complicated because Turkey is a NATO member. He added that in any case, an arms embargo can only be decided by national capitals.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]