EU sends warning shot to Turkey with sanctions

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In the shadow of negotiations on the future European budget, EU member states agreed on further action against Turkey and its exploratory activities in the Mediterranean. The main result of this agreement is the imposition of financial sanctions on mining companies and individuals involved in such activities, but proposals from Greece and other states to impose stronger economic sanctions have been dropped for the time being.
We are, therefore, witnessing another compromise between states that advocate a tougher stance on Turkey combined with broader sanctions and those that favor a diplomatic solution, writes Žiga Faktor in his comment for the . These countries advocate moderate action by maintaining good relations with Turkey, which is an important strategic partner for the EU.
On the contrary, traditionally, together with Greece and Cyprus, the biggest supporter of tougher action is France, which has great ambitions in the Mediterranean itself and is also in a dispute with Turkey over the support of various actors in the civil war in Libya. France, for example, promoted sanctions in the arms industry and trade that would have a greater impact on the Turkish economy.
Except for sanctions against some Turkish officials, member states’ comments are rather constructive and reflect the importance of the EU’s relations with Turkey. European leaders are willing to discuss deepening cooperation on economic and trade issues or better coordination in the field of migration, and also offer the resumption of regular meetings between the leaders of both parties.
The current decision by European leaders also shows that they want to consult with Joe Biden’s new US administration on further steps that may shape relations in the region for years to come.
The submarine exploration carried out by the Turkish ship Oruç Reis in the waters falling within the exclusive economic zone of Greece and Cyprus follows Turkey’s long-standing efforts to revise the maritime borders established between Greece and Turkey by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Turkey never signed the agreement, and instead of the borders set by the UN, the Turkish government began to refer to its maritime doctrine as the “Blue Homeland”, which claims it is entitled to the disputed waters.
Turkey’s current exploration is also a response to newly formed partnerships in the Mediterranean and emerging energy projects to which Turkey has not been invited. Participation in these projects would be a big boost for its worsening economy. In addition, the still unresolved issue of the international position of Northern Cyprus also plays an important role in the current dispute.
Relations between Turkey and the EU have been steadily declining since the unsuccessful attempt to overthrow President Erdoğan in Turkey in 2016, which he himself blamed on Western allies.
However, despite the current strained relations, Turkey is an important strategic ally for the EU, especially in the areas of economy, security, and migration. For the Turks, the European Union is the main trading partner and, from the EU’s point of view, Turkey is one of the five countries with which the Union trades the most.
Turkey is also a member of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO), and a possible escalation of the current conflict could severely disrupt the future functioning of NATO. The fact that Turkey is still a candidate country for membership of the European Union should not be overlooked, despite the current freeze on accession negotiations.
Based on all these factors, it is understandable that European leaders are still striving to maintain positive relations with Turkey that would be mutually beneficial. The question remains how to reach an agreement that is mutually acceptable and that commits Erdoğan to resolve territorial disputes through diplomacy. The instrument that should work for this autocratic leader is, above all, the strengthening of trade cooperation, for example by revising the already obsolete Customs Union Agreement of 1995.
The deteriorating economic situation in Turkey, due to which Erdoğan has lost voter support in recent years, was one of the reasons for the growing military activities in the region, which were intended to strengthen the president’s position on the domestic scene in addition to the geopolitical dimension. The next method that the EU could use to ensure greater popularity in Turkey would be an agreement on visa-free travel in the Schengen countries for Turkish citizens.
To resolve the current dispute would be greatly helpful if the member states of the European Union could soon agree to adopt a new migration pact, which was recently introduced by the European Commission. Turkey is a key partner on migration since there are currently around three million migrants in the country, mostly Syrians, and Erdoğan often uses this fact to achieve political goals against the EU. More effective cooperation on migration is considered to be one of the main benefits of a potential agreement in the Union.
The EU needs to be united
During the next European Council in March 2021, relations with Turkey can be expected to be the main subject of negotiations, and it would come as no surprise if European Union officials had met President Erdoğan in person by then. The basis for successful negotiations that would restore peace to the Mediterranean and lay the foundations for the future functioning of mutual relations, which has not yet been achieved.
The EU needs to send a clear signal that all Member States stand behind their partners in Greece and Cyprus and that it does not intend to stand idly by the undemocratic practices of the Turkish regime. At the same time, it should encourage the Turkish regime to engage in a more constructive dialogue that is necessary for a future agreement. Intensified cooperation should also be achieved between the EU and the United States, which has been a less active player in the region in recent years at President Trump’s behest.
If the EU and the US can unite their approach to Turkey and exert sufficient political and economic pressure, the modern Sultan Erdoğan will have to give in to his “imperial dreams” and help stabilize relations with Western partners.
Title image: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to reporters after Friday prayers, in Istanbul, Friday, Dec.11, 2020. Following the approval of European leaders Friday Dec. 11, 2020 of expanding sanctions against Ankara, Turkey called on the European Union to act as an ‘ honest mediator ‘ in its dispute with EU members Greece and Cyprus over the exploration of gas reserves in the Mediterranean. (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)

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