European Union leaders plan to discuss arm exports to Turkey with the NATO allies and the United States, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday after Greece pushed for an arms embargo on Ankara.
Merkel spoke after a summit where the bloc’s 27 leaders agreed to prepare limited sanctions on Turkish individuals over an energy exploration dispute with Greece and Cyprus but postponed any harsher steps until March.
“We also spoke about how questions about arms exports must be discussed within NATO. We said that we want to coordinate with the new US administration about Turkey,” Merkel told a news conference.
The EU and the NATO are planning to hold a summit with US President-elect Joe Biden after he takes office in January. Many EU states are also members of the NATO alliance.
Commenting on the sanctions, the Turkish Foreign Ministry in a statement called the measures “biased and illegal”, adding that Brussels should act as an “honest broker” in the dispute.
The bloc needed to approach the issue “with reason” instead of heeding Greek “provocations”, the Turkish statement added.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after the news, in a teleconference address to his ruling party’s officials: “We have deep-rooted political and economic relations with both the United States and the European Union, which neither side can ignore or certainly risk losing. There is no issue that cannot be solved through dialogue and cooperation.”
The relatively light sanctions, which include travel bans and freezing assets, come despite calls for a stricter line from EU member states Greece and Cyprus.
“Europe has shown its capacity to stand firm towards Turkey by adopting sanctions, so it ends its unilateral actions in the eastern Mediterranean. We gave a chance to Turkey last October, we reached out to them, imposed conditions and we, unanimously, noticed that Turkey continued its provocative actions,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, often Erdogan’s greatest nemesis on the world stage.
Hardening stance on Turkey
Merkel’s comments underlined a hardening stance on Turkey among EU governments, many of whom have in the past resisted punitive measures on Ankara, a NATO ally, candidate for EU membership and host to Syrians fleeing civil war who would otherwise seek refuge in Europe.
But member states have also grown increasingly critical of Turkey’s involvement in Libya and its purchase of a Russian weapons system, among other flashpoints.
The US is already poised to impose sanctions on Turkey over those purchases, the Reuters news agency reported this month.
Tensions have also flared over Turkey’s decision to send oil-and-gas drilling ships to waters off southern Cyprus where Greek Cypriot authorities have awarded hydrocarbon exploration rights to Italian and French companies.
Turkey says it is operating in waters on its own continental shelf or areas where Turkish Cypriots have rights. Its President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he was not concerned by any sanctions the bloc might impose.
The EU exported only 45 million euros ($54.53m) worth of arms and ammunition to Turkey in 2018, including missiles, according to EU statistics office Eurostat, but sales of aircraft amounted to several billion euros.
The US, Italy and Spain were the top exporters of arms to Turkey from 2015 to 2019, according to the Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a leading conflict and armaments think-tank.
EU governments agreed in October 2019 to limit arms sales to Turkey but stopped short of a bloc-wide ban. The bloc currently bans arms sales to several states including Russia, Belarus, Syria and Venezuela.
EU governments including Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden said last year they were halting or restricting arms export licences for Turkey.