EU foreign ministers warned Turkey on Monday of new punitive measures if Ankara does not curb “unilateral actions” in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond.
“We stress that the Turkish unilateral actions, in particular in the Eastern Mediterranean, which run counter to EU interest, to the sovereign rights of EU member states and to international law, must come to an end,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters after meeting with the EU ministers in Brussels.
Turkey was the subject of the longest debate on Monday at the first in-person meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council since the start of coronavirus lockdown measures. Tensions with Ankara have risen dramatically in recent weeks, following confrontations in the Mediterranean Sea, and oil and gas drilling that the EU has declared a breach of territorial rights. The war in Libya has also caused friction between the two sides, as well as within NATO.
“We need a dialogue with Turkey, but we have also made it clear that where Turkey particularly affects the interests of European Union member states, for example with regard to drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, we have clear expectations that there are positive signals from Turkey,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU.
Later in the day, Maas told the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, “I think we have now a short time window up until September and by then at the latest we need understandings on the Eastern Mediterranean, on maritime law issues concerning Greece but also Libya, in order to continue this dialogue with Turkey. Turkey wants to speak about issues such as customs union, visa liberalization — things for which I currently don’t see a basis to make progress with Turkey.”
Borrell said that “there are worrying developments in particular in the Eastern Mediterranean and regarding Libya that affects directly our interests.” He said that while hoping for improved ties with Ankara, the Council had asked him to prepare “further appropriate measures that could be taken in response to the challenges that we are facing as a result of Turkish actions.”
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias expressed satisfaction after the meeting.
“EU partners have expressed solidarity to Greece and Cyprus against the Turkish actions against our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” he said. “There was a broad consensus that, upon our request, a list of further appropriate measures would be drawn up, i.e. sanctions, which would allow the EU to respond effectively if Turkey proceeds with its delinquent behavior.”
Borrell also said that ministers condemned Turkey’s decision to convert the Hagia Sophia monument in Instanbul into a mosque. “This decision will inevitably fuel mistrust, promote renewed divisions between the religious communities, and undermine our efforts for dialogue and cooperation,” he said, adding, “There was broad support to call on Turkish authorities to urgently reconsider and reverse this decision.”
On the issue of China’s tightening grip on Hong Kong, Borrell said that new national and joint EU measures were also under consideration.
“Our message in this context is twofold,” Borrell said. “First to the people in Hong Kong, the support of the European Union for their autonomy and fundamental freedom. We will continue to stand by the people of Hong Kong. And to China, the message is that the recent actions change the rules, this will require a revision of our approach and will clearly have an impact on our relations.”
He added that the EU was looking “at the possibilities to further scrutinize exports of specific and sensitive technologies to Hong Kong” and to offer more visa possibilities for Hong Kong citizens as well as offering scholarships for Hong Kong students.
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