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Politics

EU Gives Turkey Deadline to Back Off Greece – Or Else (Maybe)

August 30, 2020

Finally standing up after being pushed by Greece, European Union foreign chief Josep Borrell said possible staggered sanctions might be imposed possibly on Turkey for sending an energy research vessel and warships near near Greek waters.

That came during a second meeting of the informal Foreign Affairs Council in Berlin which gave Turkey until Sept. 24 to comply, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown he doesn't care a whit about sanctions.

That date is the scheduled start of the extraordinary EU Summit on relations with Turkey although the bloc calls almost every meeting a summit and has been divided whether to be hard or soft on Turkey and Erdogan.

The Turkish leader has warned that if pushed too far he would unleash on the bloc through Greek islands more refugees and migrants who went to his country fleeing war, strife and economic misery in their homelands.

Greece is holding more than 100,000 of them, including 34,000 on islands near the coast of Turkey which has allowed human traffickers to keep sending more, even during COVID-19, during an essentially suspended swap deal with the EU.

Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis had demanded hard sanctions although the bloc had imposed only soft measures – exempting Erdogan – for drilling for oil and gas in Cypriot waters.

Borrell said that the EU was prepared to sanction Turkish vessels, blocking their access to EU ports and a ban on their access to European infrastructure, capital and technology., as well as its economy, said Kathimerini.

“We can go to measures related to sectoral activities… where the Turkish economy is related to the European economy,” Borrell told a news conference in Berlin. He also urged Turkey to “stop unilateral actions,” saying that de-escalation was a “key condition” for dialogue.

There was a cautious carrot though as Borrell and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose shuttle diplomacy between Athens and Ankara went nowhere, said they still believe in dialogue that hasn't worked yet.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who'd admitted he wants no part of the Greece-Turkey near-conflict, said he had spoken with Erdogan about trying to find some way to keep the shooting from starting but didn't offer any.

Erdogan insisted that Turkey wants a mutually beneficial deal for all countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, feeling left out of energy deals Greece has struck with Cyprus, Israel and Egypt, leading to an escalation of tensions.

Turkey has claimed parts of Greece's Continental Shelf under an agreement with Libya dividing the waters between them and plans to drill near the islands of Kastellorizo and Crete among others.

Greece counted with a similar deal with Egypt, leading Erdogan to cancel planned talks in Ankara to defuse the volatile near-crisis brewing over energy and the seas.

Tension between the two NATO allies revolves around prospecting rights for hydrocarbons, which reached fever pitch after Turkey dispatched its Oruc Reis vessel to conduct surveys in an area within the Greek continental shelf.

In a statement after the summit, the spokesman of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Hami Aksoy, criticized the the EU’s “unconditional support” for Greece which “further escalates the tension.”

He didn't mention Greece is a member of the EU nor that Turkey has been trying to join since 2005, the prospects dimming after Erdogan purged civil society, the educational system, courts, and military after a failed 2016 coup attempt and is jailing journalists by the dozen, and a human rights lawyer dying after a hunger strike ignored by the EU.

“It is not up to the EU to criticize Turkey’s hydrocarbon activities within its own Continental Shelf and to call for their termination. Because, as confirmed by the European Court of Justice, the EU has no jurisdiction on this matter. This call is contrary to the EU’s own acquis and international law,” the statement read, claiming Greek waters outright.

“We invite the EU and EU member-states not to support Greece’s maximalist claims in contravention of international law, under a pretext of union solidarity,” it added.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias hailed the EU’s “absolutely supportive” attitude toward Greece and Cyprus in the face of Turkish actions in the Eastern Mediterranean after he mocked the bloc for being too soft.

“I think the Greek side got what it could get: an agreement on sanctions, if Turkey does not de-escalate and does not return to the dialogue table,” Dendias said although the EU hasn't shown willingness to pull the trigger.

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