European Union leaders are set to make a final decision on whether to impose sanctions on Turkey over Ankara’s provocations against Greece and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean during a summit on December 10.
Greece has put all possible diplomatic gears in motion in pushing for sanctions, counting on the support of France. Paris and the European Parliament formally called for sanctions on November 26, saying it was time to punish Turkey, which is seen in Brussels as fueling the dispute for domestic political reasons.
Tensions flared between Greece and Turkey in August, when Ankara sent a survey vessel to map out energy-drilling prospects in Greek waters.
The EU backed Greece in the dispute and held a summit in October, where European leaders warned Turkey to withdraw its energy research ships or face punitive measures.
Germany, which currently holds the EU’s six-month presidency, is a key player in deciding whether sanctions should go ahead.
Berlin had hoped to mediate between Athens and Ankara, but was angered when Turkey resumed its gas exploration off Cyprus in October after a pause.
“There have been too many provocations, and tensions between Turkey, Cyprus and Greece have prevented any direct talks,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Monday.
Greece pushes for sanctions
Greece’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nikos Dendias has confirmed that the EU will react in response to Turkish provocation in the East Med following his meeting at the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday.
“In today’s Council meeting there was an in-depth discussion of Turkey’s violations of international legality and all the Ministers of Foreign Affairs determined that Turkey has failed to grasp the positive message sent by the EU at the October European Council.
“In fact, Turkey continued its delinquent behaviour. And this, moreover, within a framework that is completely unacceptable: threatening Greece with war if it extends its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles.
“I highlight that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which provides for the extension of territorial waters to 12 nautical miles, is part of European Law. The European Union has ratified this Convention. Hence Turkey’s stance is a challenge to the Union as a whole.
Therefore, it was made clear that there must be a reaction to Turkey. And that is what will be discussed at the Council of Heads of State and Government this week,” Dendias said
Last minute pleas from Turkey
On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated that Ankara wanted to join the EU and urged the EU to use “common sense” and not impose sanctions.
“They need to be fair and honest here. If they also think strategically and with common sense, not just at the summit but always, and we achieve a positive atmosphere, we can improve our ties,” Cavusoglu said. “We can only solve our problems with dialogue and diplomacy.
“We want to improve our ties with the EU. We are not saying this because there is a summit or because there are sanctions and other things on the agenda,” he added. “We always wanted to improve our ties on the basis of full membership.”
Who is in favor and who is against sanctions
So far, the most ardent supporter of the EU imposing sanctions on Turkey is French President Emanuel Macron. The French leader has repeatedly sided with Greece against Turkey’s recent provocations in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean in general.
In fact Macron has been the recipient of several scathing remarks from Erdogan, so the French President appears ready to take initiatives on the issue. Austria is on the same wavelength, while Luxembourg, Ireland and the Czech Republic also stand on the side of Greece and Cyprus. The stance of the Netherlands has changed in favor of the sanctions, even though in the beginning the country was against them.
Analysts say that the attitude of Germany and Spain is of particular importance, as both countries have strong economic interests in Turkey, while Germany also has three million citizens of Turkish descent. These are the two countries that would be likely to block sanctions on Turkey.
Imposing sanctions on a country requires a unanimous decision of all member states and a certain process to be followed. If there is a unanimous decision, EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Borrell will be called to draw up a list of sanctions against Turkey, which will be activated if Ankara continues its provocative actions in the near future.
If indeed all the EU member states unanimously decide that Turkey should be punished for its aggressive behavior, the procedures for imposing sanctions on the country will take substantial time until they materialize.
For some analysts, this will give Erdogan time to continue acting as the Eastern Mediterranean bully for just a little while longer, showing his habitual disrespect for the EU’s decisions, as he has so often in the past.