EU leaders agreed on Dec. 10 to prepare limited sanctions on Turkish individuals over an energy exploration dispute with Greece and Cyprus, postponing any harsher steps until March as countries sparred over how to handle Ankara.
“Our rights must be granted. There are now many rights that EU member states must grant Turkey,” Erdoğan told reporters after Friday prayers. “Reasonable countries in the EU thwarted this game by showing a positive stance,” he added, referring to Greek, French and Cypriot demands to sanction Turkey.
Shying away from a threat made in October to consider wider economic measures, EU leaders agreed a summit statement on Dec. 10 that paves the way to punish individuals accused of planning or taking part in what the bloc says is unauthorised drilling off Cyprus.
The steps did not go far enough for Greece, with envoys saying the country expressed frustration that the EU was hesitant to target Turkey’s economy over the hydrocarbons dispute, as Germany, Italy and Spain pushed to give diplomacy more time.
Turkey rejects ‘biased and illegal’ EU approach at summit
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Dec. 11 that Ankara rejects the European Union’s “biased and illegal” approach at its summit this week and calls on the bloc to act as an honest broker.
In a statement, the ministry said a proposed conference with all eastern Mediterranean countries was an opportunity to tackle maritime issues in the region, adding that Ankara was ready for talks with Greece without any pre-conditions. It called on the EU to act “with principles, strategically and with reason.”
France, angered by Turkish foreign policy in Syria and Libya, has sought to push the EU to consider sectorial sanctions on Turkey’s economy, but did not have wide support.
Turkey says it is operating in waters on its own continental shelf or areas where Turkish Cypriots have rights. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Dec. 9 he was not concerned by any sanctions the bloc might impose.
The EU asset freezes of as-yet unnamed individuals and companies will be in addition to two officials already on a sanctions list set up in November 2019.
“It is very clear what is at stake here: the credibility of the European Union,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a video message before the summit discussion, which one diplomat described as a “heated debate”.
Underscoring the sensitivities of penalising NATO member Turkey, which is also an EU candidate country, another diplomat said there were largely fruitless “long discussions about words” in the final text, which accused Turkey of “provocations”.
In their statement, which softened some criticism of Turkey in early drafts seen by Reuters, EU leaders told officials “to adopt additional listings … in view of Turkey’s unauthorised drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean”.
A French official said the decision was, for now, a “response to the worsening situation” with Ankara.
EU leaders now expect the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, to come forward by March with a broad overview of the bloc’s political, trade and economic relations with Turkey.
That could allow for the EU to either broaden sanctions or offer closer trade ties via an expanded customs union, depending on Ankara’s willingness to help end tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, avoiding further measures, diplomats said.
In 2011, the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government began exploring for natural gas with a U.S. company despite warnings from Turkey, which does not recognise the divided island’s status and claims exploration rights.
Tensions flared in August when Ankara sent a seismic exploration ship into Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and also in waters claimed by Greece. The EU, led by Germany, has been trying to negotiate a settlement but without success.