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Turkey’s Mediterranean policies may lead to Europe imposing sanctions
Turkey was warned it was heading down a path that could lead to a breach in relations with Europe and the stark reality of sanctions after an angry gathering yesterday of the EU’s foreign ministers.
The European nations are furious over Turkey’s encroachment on its neighbours Cyprus and Greece.
Ankara now faces pressure on a wide range of issues, including its declaration of a maritime zone of interest that allows exploratory drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus as well as its intervention in the conflict in Libya.
“I will prepare options on further appropriate measures that could be taken in response to the challenges we are facing as a result of Turkish actions, including in the eastern Mediterranean,” said the bloc’s diplomatic chief, Josep Borrell.
The ministers also condemned last week the decision by a court under pressure from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to rescind the decision in 1934 to turn Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a museum, and to convert it into a mosque.
Mr Borrell said preparations for possible sanctions moves at the next meeting would be undertaken alongside efforts to draw Turkey into dialogue and compromise.
He said ministers had asked him to “explore further paths that could contribute to lowering tensions and reach understandings on issues that are increasingly stressing the relationship”.
Mr Borrell, however, was rebuffed when he made a last-minute trip to Turkey last week to plead for dialogue.
Turkey’s military support for the Tripoli government has led to accusations that Ankara is flagrantly in breach of the UN arms embargo on Libya.
The EU took a step closer to imposing sanctions on Turkey after foreign ministers criticised the bloc’s south-eastern neighbour.
Anger over the decision to convert Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia back into a mosque compounded European frustration with Turkey’s aggressive Mediterranean policies and its intervention in Libya.
Yesterday, EU foreign ministers gathered face-to-face for the first time since the spring and the session was dominated by Turkish matters.
The EU opposes Turkey’s oil and gas drilling operations off the coast of Cyprus, as well as Ankara’s actions in support of the Tripoli-based government in Libya.
Both moves were made under the umbrella of a maritime accord between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government and the Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
The EU said efforts to engage with Turkey to secure policy concessions would continue for the time being, but opTen tions for imposing sanctions would be brought forward by officials.
Heiko Maas, the German Foreign Minister, led the meeting and said it raised the challenges posed by Mr Erdogan in detail.
“All the member states said positive signals were needed from Turkey,” he told a later meeting of the European Parliament.
Among the EU’s demands were a complete stop to Turkey’s exploratory drilling off Cyprus and promises that Turkish companies would not drill around the Greek island of Crete.
“Given the strategic importance of Turkey we do need dialogue. We need understanding from Turkey on Cyprus, Libya and Crete,” Mr Maas said.
“Right now I cannot see a basis for those discussions, but we need to reach out. Turkey is in a key position along those fault lines facing Europe.”
Mr Maas gave a warning that the dynamics between Turkey and Russia in conflict zones near the Mediterranean would be closely monitored.
He said he did not want the two countries to carve up warring states.
“We will not allow a monopoly to these players,” he said.
After failing to make headway on a trip to Turkey last week, Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, said the issue would be raised again next month.
“You know that our relationship with Turkey is not especially good at this moment,” he said.
France demanded a common front against Turkey after its navy turned its targeting radar on a French frigate trying to intercept an arms shipment to Tripoli.
Paris said Ankara repeatedly breached the UN arms embargo on Libya.
In a report released before the meeting yesterday, the European Council on Foreign Relations said the eastern Mediterranean posed a litmus test for how Turkey was expanding its influence in the region.
“The fact that Nato allies are staring each other down on the European Union’s doorstep should cause all Europeans to pay greater attention to the region,” the council said.
“What happens in the eastern Mediterranean is no longer a peripheral issue.”
Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde said the situation in the region was a worry for the EU.
Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, said Turkey’s decision to turn the Hagia Sophia from a museum back into a mosque was a blow.
His Austrian counterpart, Alexander Schallenberg, said the move was “the latest link in a chain of provocations” and accused Ankara of failing to be “a reliable partner for Europe”.