Global Europe Brief: Uncharted territory for Greece-Turkey talks

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EDITOR’s TAKE

The EU is set to recalibrate its position towards an increasingly rogue Turkey in March when EU leaders are set to discuss whether to move from economic sanctions over “illegal and aggressive” actions and the controversial Turkish energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean toward more hard-hitting sanctions.

Greece’s foreign minister, Nikos Dendias, repeated that his country’s right to expand its territorial waters “is non-negotiable” and that Turkey must respect international law in regard to this.

Dendias on Monday presented to Greece’s parliament a bill relating to the country’s continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which foresees the expansion of its territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles in the Ionian Sea.

At the same time, Turkey’s foreign ministry announced that the two countries would resume in Istanbul on 25 January “exploratory discussions” aimed at resolving disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean, an initiative that coincides with Portugal’s presidency of the Council of the EU.

Those discussions will determine if the two countries could enter an official dialogue.

“In the meantime, there have been positive steps: the Turkish authorities have contacted the European Commission and some European leaders and expressed the wish for a more positive involvement in the bilateral agenda,” Portugal’s foreign minister, Augusto Santos Silva, said.

However, EU member states have been divided so far over potential sanctions against Ankara and EURACTIV was informed that nothing has changed for now.

Circles in Brussels are putting pressure on Athens and Ankara to proceed to a dialogue quickly but there is still much to be clarified during the exploratory discussions. Greece, for instance, only wants to discuss the differences regarding marine zones.

For its part, Turkey says it wants to put all pending issues on the table, including, for example, the demilitarisation of islands.

Interestingly, the European Commission has dodged any question related to the content of the potential dialogue. In any event, it’s widely understood that Brussels wants to put a lid on any escalation with Turkey.

EU diplomats are also eyeing the prospect of the incoming Biden administration to exert pressure and potentially help bring fellow NATO member Ankara in line.

But that’s by far not all that is at stake.

“March marks the fifth anniversary of the 2016 agreement on migration and refugees between the EU and Turkey, and we hope that this anniversary will be the occasion to review our partnership in that dimension and develop mutual cooperation,” Santos Silva stressed.

However, the European Commission refused to comment this week on a proposal by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to update the 2016 migration pact, meant to stop people from reaching European shores, after a phone call with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“This is a conversation, which is taking place in a process,” said chief Commission spokesperson, Eric Mamer.

That ‘process’ might be continued next week Thursday, when Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is expected in Brussels.

Çavuşoğlu said in an interview that the EU has “excessively politicised” the negotiations between Ankara and Brussels. According to Turkey, the EU “should take a more positive approach and keep Turkey’s membership perspective open”.


EU IN THE WORLD

UIGHUR RIGHTS. Britain accused China of human rights violations amounting to “barbarism” against its Uighur minority, as it announced new rules to ban imports of goods suspected of using forced labour. The move stands in contrast to a December deal between the EU and Beijing that would give European companies greater access to Chinese markets and help redress what Europe sees as unbalanced economic ties.

‘NO MORE MORIAS’. Emergency funding won’t suffice to avoid a repetition of humanitarian crises affecting refugees and migrants during winter months in Bosnia, which is the result of local migration mismanagement and EU border-tightening measures, a human rights group warned. It’s a response to European Commission home affairs chief Ylva Johanson’s infamous quote that there would be ”no more Morias”, a reference to a refugee camp on one of Greece’s islands.

BREXIT CONTACTS. Europe’s local politicians want a bigger role in establishing the future relationship between the EU and the UK. This was the overwhelming feeling among members of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) of the CoR-UK contact group.

DEFENCE CORNER

NATO SUPPORT. Swedes are increasingly in favour of joining NATO, according to the most recent poll. Last December, the Sweden Democrats, the country’s second-largest opposition party, adopted the same stance towards NATO as the rest of the opposition, including the Moderate Party, the Centre Party, the Christian Democrats, and the Liberals. With this move, the current majority in parliament intends to keep alive the possibility to apply for NATO membership.

MANDATORY SERVICE? Much of Europe has done away with compulsory military service, but Greece still maintains the draft, ostensibly because of tense relations with Turkey, where the military service is mandatory. Authorities in Athens are now planning a new law in May to extend the mandatory military national service from nine to 12 months, a move resented by young people concerned.

SPACE RACE. Europe plans to make a great leap in the space race. ‘We need to be more offensive and aggressive,’ EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said as he outlined a plan send a constellation of hundreds of internet-beaming satellites into orbit at this week’s European Space Conference.

Meanwhile, Portugal’s minister for science, technology and higher education, Manuel Heitor, described space as a “critical resource” in the EU green and digital transition and in promoting “a new future for Europeans”.

TRANSATLANTIC LINK

It’s five days until US Inauguration Day and downtown Washington and the Capitol increasingly looks like it’s preparing for war. Images of members of the National Guard sleeping in the Capitol have prompted public offers of pizza and other food, Axios reports.

TWICE THE CHARM. Meanwhile, we’ve witnessed a piece of history: outgoing President Donald Trump became the first president in US history to be impeached twice, as ten of his fellow Republicans joined Democrats in the House of Representatives to charge him with inciting an insurrection in last week’s violent rampage in the Capitol.

REBUILDING RUINS. Even after Trump is gone, the underlying causes of division, mistrust, and frustration won’t go away and Europe must future-proof itself against any risks to democracy – particularly in the online world, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, wrote in an exclusive op-ed for EURACTIV.

At the same time, transatlantic relations for Europe are all about rebuilding. Lisbon announced it “would very much like” to have the first meeting during its EU Council presidency with new US President Joe Biden to discuss the new transatlantic agenda. But due to the fragile domestic environment, Biden is currently facing, it is not certain that Lisbon’s wish can become true.

UNPRECEDENTED SNUB. Outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cancelled his Europe trip at the last minute after top EU officials and Luxembourg’s foreign minister declined to meet him, according to European diplomats and other people familiar with the matter. As this author recalls, the snub of such a high-ranking US representative is unprecedented in the history of transatlantic relations (if you think otherwise, drop me a line).

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

CHANGE OF TACTICS. Bulgaria has proposed an action plan for cooperation with North Macedonia in the implementation of the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation. It is the first constructive act by the authorities in Sofia after Deputy Prime Minister Krassimir Karakachanov announced in September that the European perspective of North Macedonia should be blocked.

LIMITED PROGRESS. Serbia made limited progress in 2020 when it comes to protecting human rights, according to Human Rights Watch’s annual report about the state of human rights in the world published on Wednesday, EURACTIV Serbia reports.

EURASIA DIGEST

CRIMEA CASE. Russia’s occupation of Crimea in 2014 was the biggest territorial seizure in Europe since World War II. In a landmark case, the European Court of Human Rights decided there is enough evidence of systematic human rights violations to proceed with the case Ukraine lodged against Russia concerning administrative practices in Crimea between 2014 and 2015. There are currently five cases lodged by Ukraine against Russia pending before the court, including one of similarly general nature concerning systematic practices in Eastern Ukraine.

“Russia has no place in the OSCE special monitoring mission in Ukraine. Are we really relying on Russia to act in “good faith”? Still?” Paul Niland writes for the Atlantic Council. A recent investigative report by German broadcaster ARD has levelled new allegations about the role of the Russian observers in the mission; some of the Russian observers are spies with links to Russian military intelligence.

VACCINE PLEAS. After thirteen member states last week urged the European Commission to support the Eastern Partnership countries in their efforts to obtain affordable and fair access to the COVID-19 vaccines, Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy now called on the EU to help source coronavirus vaccines, as he tries to stave off criticism for failing to secure any western-made jabs.

NAVALNY RETURN. Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said he would fly back to Russia on 17 January from Germany, where he has been recovering after being poisoned, shrugging off potential legal risks that could see him jailed at home. Moscow’s prison service already announced it would take all measures necessary to arrest him, which means he could serve a three-and-a-half-year sentence.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…

Europe’s everyday business is still stuck in lockdown reality, until further notice. We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as we kick off into the new year.

  • European Parliament plenary session
    | Mo-Thu, 18-21 January 2021 | Brussels, Belgium
  • General Affairs Council on pandemic response
    | Monday, 18 January 2021 | videolink
  • US Senate hearing of Secretary of State-designate Blinken and Pentagon chief nominee Lloyd Austin
    | Tuesday, 19 January 2021 | Washington DC, US
  • US Inauguration Day
    | Wednesday, 20 January 2021 | Washington DC, US
  • European Council on COVID-19 response & vaccines
    | Thursday, 21 January 2021 | videolink
  • Court hearing on whether Scotland can call another independence referendum
    | Thursday, 21 January 2021 | Edinburgh, Scotland
  • UN treaty banning nuclear weapons enters into force
    | Friday, 22 January 2021 | New York, US

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