By Alexandra Brzozowski and Sarantis Michalopoulos
(EurActiv) — EU foreign ministers agreed on Friday (28 August) on a list of sanctions against Turkey in the event that Ankara does not de-escalate its actions in the increasingly tense Eastern Mediterranean, including illegal drilling for oil and gas.
The first phase of sanctions concern Turkey’s energy sector, i.e. companies involved in the illegal drillings in the Eastern Mediterranean in the exclusive economic zones of Greece and Cyprus.
Asked what these measures might entail, the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said sanctions could be extended to ships or other assets involved in the drilling, as well as prohibiting the use of EU ports and supplies and restricting “economic and financial infrastructure related with this activity”.
Wide-ranging sanctions against whole sectors of the Turkish economy could also be considered, he said, but indicated these might only come into play if more targeted measures against the drilling were not effective.
These sanctions will receive final approval and take effect at the next EU summit on 24 September in Brussels, if Turkey does not remove its warships from the region and halts illegal activities by then.
“The primary objective is to de-escalate immediately as time goes against us. A high number of warships has gathered in the region and an accident cannot be ruled out,” an EU diplomat said.
Replying to a EURACTIV question, Borrell said Europe should discuss all matters with Turkey.
“For sure, we will have a talk about a lot of pending issues that are poisoning our relationship but for the time being, the most pressing and urgent thing is to solve the question of the drillings and the presence of Turkish boats in Cyprus’s waters, which is something dangerous,” he told EURACTIV in Berlin.
Afterwards, Borrell added, there should be space for a constructive dialogue between Athens and Ankara.
EURACTIV was informed that Austria and France had strongly backed Greece’s more robust demands while Germany, Malta and Italy, although supportive too, remained more restrained, fearing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s retaliation via migration.
Greece had initially asked for sanctions that would paralyse the Turkish economy. “It’s the first step, if things get worse, then our sanctions will escalate too,” diplomatic sources said.
If Turkey continues its gas drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, a second phase of sanctions will be applied, targeting this time Turkey’s financial sector and particularly Turkish banks. If the situation continues to deteriorate, a travel ban is also envisaged.
Athens welcomed Friday’s developments.
“I think the Greek side has got what it could — that is, possible sanctions if Turkey does not choose de-escalation and does not return to dialogue,” Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told Greek media.
“I hope Turkey will come to its senses, stop the provocations, stop the arbitrary actions and stop violating international law.”
Diplomats told EURACTIV that the first step for dialogue would be explanatory talks between foreign affairs officials as a meeting between ministers is highly improbable.
Athens also emphasised that any dialogue would be based on the “principles of the International Law”.
Greeks also made it clear that the only topic under discussion with Turkey is the maritime issue, such as the Exclusive Economic Zone. On the other hand, Ankara seems to be pushing for other pending bilateral issues on the agenda, something that Athens totally rejects.
Speaking at her annual press conference in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on member states to support Athens in the dispute.
“I believe all member states of the EU have the task of taking very seriously the rights and the issues that our Greek friends put forward, and also supporting them where they are right,” she told reporters.
“I have always advocated that there are no further escalations. And this can only be done by talking to both sides again and again. The disputes about the division of economic zones can also (be resolved) together. Germany is committed to this,” she added.
The EU’s political agreement and Merkel’s comments triggered strong reactions in Turkey.
Ankara said the EU’s “unconditional” support for what it called Greece and Cyprus’s “maximalist” positions ignored Ankara’s legitimate claims and only created more tension.
“As Turkey each time emphasises dialogue and diplomacy, the EU’s recourse to the language of sanctions will not help solve the existing problems and will, in fact, push our country’s determination further,” Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement.
“If the EU wants to find a solution in the eastern Mediterranean, they should act without bias and should be an honest broker.”