France leads push for EU sanctions on Turkey

Greece also says Turkey has refused to take action to avoid EU sanctions over Mediterranean gas exploration dispute.

This handout photograph released by the Turkish Defence Ministry on August 12, 2020, shows Turkish seismic research vessel 'Oruc Reis' (C) as it is escorted by Turkish Naval ships in the Mediterranean Sea, off Antalya on August 10, 2020. - Greece on August 11, demanded that Turkey withdraw a research ship at the heart of their growing dispute over maritime rights and warned it would defend its sovereignty, calling for an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers to resolve the crisis. Tensions were stoked August 10, when Ankara dispatched the research ship Oruc Reis accompanied by Turkish naval vessels off the Greek island of Kastellorizo in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tensions were stoked on August 10, when Ankara dispatched the research ship Oruc Reis, centre, accompanied by Turkish naval vessels off the Greek island of Kastellorizo in the Mediterranean [File: Turkish Defence Ministry/AFP]

France is leading a push for European Union sanctions on Turkey next month to follow through on a threat made by the bloc in October, but has yet to win support from EU governments beyond Greece and Cyprus, officials and diplomats have said.

Paris says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not heeded EU leaders’ warnings on October 1 to back down in a dispute over gas exploration in the Mediterranean or face consequences.

The European Parliament is expected on Thursday to call for sanctions, decrying Erdogan’s visit earlier this month to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of the island of Cyprus.

“Turkey knows what it needs to do,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a French parliamentary hearing this week.

“Confrontation or collaboration, it’s up to them.”

EU leaders on December 10-11 will meet to discuss a range of issues, including external relations and the ongoing dispute between Turkey and EU member states Greece and Cyprus.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has criticised the EU for discussing sanctions, saying such debate was not helpful.

No detailed sanctions have been drawn up by France, but diplomats told Reuters news agency any measures would hit areas of Turkey’s economy aimed at limiting Turkish hydrocarbon exploration, likely in shipping, banking and energy.

Also at stake are a plan to broaden Turkey’s trade preferences with the EU, its top trading partner, and its formal status as a candidate to join the EU, which Austria says should end.

‘Erdogan went too far’

Erdogan has called for a boycott of French goods, which one EU diplomat said did not bode well for deeper trade relations.

“However, Turkey is a key partner in many areas, so there’s no consensus in the Council [of EU governments]. It is still too early,” said another EU diplomat.

France is also at odds with Turkey over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Paris has accused Ankara of heightening the crisis in the Caucasus, a charge it rejects.

Turkey, a member of NATO, remains a strategically located partner that the EU cannot ignore.

Support for any sanctions lies with Germany, which holds the EU’s six-month presidency.

Berlin put its hopes in mediating between Greece and Turkey but was angered when Ankara, which withdrew an exploration vessel before EU leaders met in October, began exploring for gas off the coast of Cyprus again last month.

“Erdogan really went too far with the Germans,” a senior French official told Reuters.

“They didn’t take at all well the new ship going back to the eastern Mediterranean just after the October 1 summit.”

‘There will be sanctions’

A new spat between Germany and Turkey over the interception of a Turkish vessel in the Mediterranean this week has worsened already deteriorating EU-Turkey ties.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the boarding was an act of “piracy” and summoned EU, German and Italian envoys to protest, which Berlin said was unjustified.

“I think now there’s a common understanding that there will be sanctions,” said a senior EU diplomat. “The question is what the market will bear.”

Greece also said on Thursday that its neighbour has so far refused to take action requested by the EU to avoid sanctions from the bloc.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said ongoing Turkish offshore gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean has undermined efforts to restart talks on the long-standing sea boundary dispute, which has escalated military tension between the two NATO members and regional rivals.

“Europe is not naive,” Petsas said on Thursday.

“Turkey received the opportunity and the time to change course. It chose not to do so.”

Turkey argues that the EU has unfairly sided with Greece and Cyprus in the dispute.

A senior aide to Erdogan met with top EU officials in Brussels last week, maintaining that his government remained willing to restart talks with Greece.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies