Michel says Turkey should stop playing ‘cat and mouse’ with EU

File photo. National seismic exploration vessel Oruc Reis sails on the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, 21 November 2018. [Tolga Bozoglou/EPA/EFE]

Turkey has not de-escalated its stand-off with Greece in response to diplomatic outreach, European Council chief Charles Michel said on Friday (4 December) and warned that EU member states would now consider “the means at our disposal”, which most probably means sanctions.

“I think that the cat and mouse game needs to end,” Michel said in reply to a question by EURACTIV, referring to Turkey’s repeated incursions into Greek waters with gas exploration vessels ahead of an EU summit on 10-11 December.

On 30 November, Turkey’s Oruç Reis survey vessel returned to the southern port of Antalya from Mediterranean waters. The same happened ahead of a previous EU summit in October, when Turkey avoided sanctions and EU leaders decided to revisit the issue in December.

EU summit: Turkey ‘déjà vu’

Just like at the previous EU summit, Turkey de-escalates tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean by returning research vessel Oruç Reis back to its territory a few days before a crucial meeting, which could decide the future of EU-Turkey relations.

Earlier this …

EURACTIV asked Michel what would happen if Turkey managed to avoid sanctions again at the December EU summit and then sent Oruç Reis to the Greek economic zone the next day.

Michel replied: “We will have a debate at the European summit on 10 December and we are ready to use the means at our disposal. He did not mention the word ‘sanctions’.

Michel, who said the EU summit will be physical, unlike most previous Council meetings, that were held as videoconferences this year, said Turkey had not chosen to make the best of the positive agenda decided at the October summit, and had instead engaged in unilateral acts and hostile rhetoric.

“We see that there is no significative positive movement,” Michel said.

In terms of hostile rhetoric, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly launched verbal attacks on French President Emmanuel Macron.

According to diplomatic sources, EU countries are not all on the same page regarding sanctioning Turkey.

Greece and Cyprus, backed by France, would like the EU to impose sanctions, while Germany and a number of countries with different motivations would prefer to avoid confrontation with Ankara. German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the return of Oruç Reis to port as a “good signal” ahead of the summit.

A possible compromise would be to postpone sanctions again but to spell out in the summit conclusions the scope of the future sanctions.

These could be sectorial sanctions targeting Turkey’s energy sector, i.e. companies involved in the illegal drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean in the exclusive economic zones of Greece and Cyprus. Similar sanctions have worked well in the case of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Such a compromise would allow Athens or Paris to tell their domestic audience that they had obtained a hardening of the EU position, while Erdoğan could claim that he was able to divide Europe and avoid sanctions once again.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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