EU plans new sanctions on Turkey over Mediterranean dispute

The EU will prepare new sanctions against Turkey over the crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean, under proposals to be discussed by European leaders at a summit this week.

The range of targets could move beyond the current focus on individuals linked to contentious energy drilling off Cyprus, according to draft conclusions for Thursday’s meeting, which have been seen by the Financial Times.

The document further suggests that the EU will seek to consult with president-elect Joe Biden’s new US administration on how to handle an escalating dispute that has stoked fears of Mediterranean conflict and poisoned relations with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey has sent drilling exploration expeditions with warship escorts into waters where Cyprus claims economic rights that the EU says are supported by international law. 

© Greek Defense Ministry/AP

Turkey faces retaliation because it has carried out “unilateral and provocative activities in the Eastern Mediterranean” since EU heads of state and government warned Ankara in October about its behaviour, the summit document says. It invites EU member states to add to an existing sanctions list comprising two executives at a Turkish state-owned oil company “and, if need be, work on the extension” of the punitive measures. 

The document gives no further details and — if endorsed by leaders at their meeting which starts on Thursday — it would just be the beginning of the process of developing new sanctions. EU diplomats said ideas already floated by some member states for further measures included listing higher-ranking people and companies involved in energy drilling, and also tightening curbs on arms sales to Turkey.

EU opinion has hardened against Mr Erdogan with countries such as France offering support to the traditionally hawkish nations of Cyprus and Greece, diplomats said. Ankara has shrugged off current EU sanctions as largely symbolic. 

Tensions have been compounded by Mr Erdogan’s harsh rhetoric towards European leaders, including France’s Emmanuel Macron, with whom he has clashed over the conflicts in Libya and Syria. Most recently, the Turkish leader has attacked Mr Macron for his campaign against “Islamist separatism”, called for a boycott of French goods and voiced hope that the French people will “get rid” of the French president as soon as possible.

But Turkey, which is technically still a candidate for EU accession, also remains an important partner for the bloc on trade, security, counter-terrorism and migration. It shares a border with Iraq, Iran and Syria and is home to 3.6m Syrian refugees. 

Many EU countries, including Germany, have shied away from tough sanctions, in part because of fears they could further damage Turkey’s fragile economy. Ankara is already reeling from a 24 per cent fall in the value of the lira against the dollar this year, as well as the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

EU countries will also stress that they have “a strategic interest in the development of a co-operative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey”, the draft summit conclusions say. “The offer for a positive EU-Turkey agenda remains on the table, should Turkey wish to promote a genuine partnership with the union and its member states and resolve differences through dialogue and in accordance with international law,” they read. 

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