BRUSSELS — Ahead of a two-day meeting about Turkish provocations in Greek seas, European Union leaders signaled they’d likely go soft on sanctions that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis now wants after pulling them back to give diplomacy a chance.
A draft prepared for the start of the Dec. 10-11 meeting showed the EU again would be lukewarm on combative Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who wants to have his ships drill for energy in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, including around Greek islands.
The draft said that “if need be, work on the extension” of the list’s scope could possibly include those involved in the seismic surveys by the Oruc Reis research vessel in areas where Greece reserves the right to extend its jurisdiction, the paper said.
The draft also called on the EU’s foreign chief, Josep Borrell and the European Commission to report on the state of EU-Turkey economic and political relations and prepare “options on how to proceed” for the next EU summit in March.
The EU also wants to coordinate any action with the United States, waiting for President-elect Joe Biden to take office in January, apparently hoping for closer ties after repeatedly being disregarded by President Donald Trump.
The draft conclusions, which were discussed at the level of permanent representatives, state that the leaders will ask their foreign ministers to prepare additional listings on the basis of a sanctions list already in place since 2019, said Kathimerini.
So far, restrictive measures have only been imposed on two members of Turkey’s state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) – for Turkish drilling in Cypriot waters, exempting Erdogan and any political leaders.
Erdogan has warned that unless he gets his way and that if the EU gets too tough on him that he would unleash on the bloc – through Greece- refugees and migrants who went to his country fleeing war and strife and economic hardships in their homelands.
Turkey is holding some 4.4 million of them and has been allowing human traffickers to keep sending them to five Greek islands near Turkey’s coast, although in smaller numbers, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The EU met in October to consider sanctions that Mitsotakis demanded but Erdogan, who has sent an energy research vessel and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, withdrew them and Mitsotakis called off his call.
As soon as he did that and the EU meeting was over, Erdogan sent them back in again, only to now pull them back out ahead of the new showdown, this time leading Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias to say it was a ruse.
Germany, which holds the symbolic, rotating EU Presidency, is blocking sanctions because it sells arms to Turkey, including components for submarines that could take away Greece’s submarine advantage in a conflict with Turkey. Germany is also home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage.
“Any decision to impose sanctions against Turkey won’t be of great concern to Turkey,” Erdogan told reporters in his country. At a summit in October, EU leaders warned Turkey to withdraw its energy research ships or face punitive measures it has never brought despite constantly saying it would.
Late last month, the Turkish seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis returned to port, as it had done before October’s EU meeting. However, another research ship, the Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, remains off Cyprus’ southwestern coast.
Erdogan vowed to continue to defend the rights of Turkey and those of Turkish Cypriots on the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus and said there were a number of “honest” EU leaders who oppose sanctioning Turkey but wouldn’t name them.
Ibrahim Kalin, a top adviser and spokesman for Erdogan, called on the EU to avoid using “the language of sanctions and threats.”
“Sanctions will never work, they will have the reverse effect,” he told a video-conference. “We want to have a positive agenda, we want to turn a new page with the EU.”
The EU has limited its support for Greece and Cyprus to tweets, press releases and statements, not taking any action and was set to repeat that in a draft that condemns Turkey’s “unilateral actions and provocations,” the same language it has used before, then pulling back and waiting for another meeting.
At the same time, the EU still wants to work with Turkey, which has been trying fruitlessly to join the bloc since 2005 even though it refuses to recognize Cyprus, which is a member, and bars its ships and planes.
Reference is made to the strategic interest of the EU in developing a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey, appearing to back away even further from doing anything other than waiting.
Erdogan said it was Mitsotakis who didn’t want to negotiate with Turkey over boundaries in the seas and said the Greek government was lying, the paper said – then reached out to offer talks with Greece.
“They are constantly trying to avoid sitting at the table,” he said, adding that “if Greece is honest, Turkey is open to talks.”
Erdogan also accused the EU of acting “dishonestly” toward Turkey and of failing to keep its promises. The EU is withholding 3 billion euros ($3.63 billion) from a 6-billion-euro ($7.26 billion) pledge for Turkey to contain the refugees and migrants.
Turkey also wants visa-free travel for its citizens in the EU and a faster-track entry into the bloc, both on hold, delayed further after Erdogan purged civil society, the military, judiciary, education system and started jailing journalists after a failed July 2016 coup attempt against him.
Tensions between NATO allies Turkey and Greece escalated over the summer with a military build-up after Turkey sent Oruc Reis, escorted by navy frigates, into disputed waters. The move prompted Greece to also send its warships, and both countries conducted military exercises to assert their claims.
Turkey says it is standing up for its energy rights, as well as those of breakaway Turkish-Cypriots who have occupied the northern third of the divided island since an unlawful 1974 Turkish invasion.
Greece and Cyprus called Turkey’s actions an illegal incursion into areas where they have exclusive offshore exploitation rights but Erdogan has shown he doesn’t care what anyone thinks as no one has moved to stop him yet.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)