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28th Sep 2020

German bid to end Turkey talks not going well

  • German minister Gabriel was backed only by his Austrian colleague (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Finland and Lithuania have gone against Germany on halting Turkey's EU talks, while others want to wait for German elections before taking a position.

"We know there are problems with human rights in Turkey, but I'm not in favour of cutting the negotiations because … if we don't talk to each other this is not a constructive way forward," Finnish foreign minister Timo Soini said in Tallinn on Thursday (7 September).

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  • Finland's Soini said ending talks was "not a constructive way forward" (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Linas Linkevicius, the Lithuanian foreign minister, said: "No. We should continue the process and engagement. It's not easy but we have to value contacts".

"By stopping, by cutting, we will ... encourage them [the Turkish authorities] to go away even more [from EU values]," he said.

Soini and Linkevicius spoke at the start of a foreign and defence ministers meeting held as part of Estonia's EU presidency.

They spoke after German chancellor Angela Merkel and her main contender in the elections, former European Parliament head Martin Schulz, said the Turkey talks should be abandoned due to Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan's authoritarian rule.

The German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, who hails from Schulz's centre-left SPD party, reiterated that position on Thursday.

"Mr Schulz only expressed the reality that Mr Erdogan has created," Gabriel said.

He was backed by Austria's foreign minister, Sebastien Kurz, who said: "It's been known for a long time that I'm in favour of breaking off the talks with Turkey".

The Netherlands and Sweden criticised Turkey, but wanted to wait after the German election on 24 September before taking a stance.

Bert Koenders, the Dutch minister, said he agreed with Merkel that talks on upgrading an EU-Turkey customs union should stop right away, but he added: "For the rest, we'll have to see what happens, because I expect further discussion on this after the German election."

Sweden's Margot Wallstroem said Turkey must not abuse Interpol, the international police agency, for "political reasons" after Erdogan used it to go after a journalist and a novelist while they were in Spain.

She added that Turkey's EU bid remained "up for debate", however.

Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn said there should be an "intensive dialogue" on Turkey after the German vote.

Maltese foreign minister Carmelo Abela said the EU needed to maintain "excellent bilateral relations" with Turkey no matter what happened to its EU bid.

Estonia's foreign minister Sven Mikser said: "We have to tread very carefully".

The French minister did not speak out, but French president Emmanuel Macron told a Greek newspaper earlier on Thursday that he was wary of pushing Turkey away.

Military integration

The EU ministers also discussed military integration and held a cyber war game.

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said there was a "consensus" in Tallinn to launch a European Defence Fund and to go ahead with Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco).

The fund will see money from the EU budget spent on military hardware for the first time.

Pesco is an EU legal model for coalitions of member states to take part in joint military projects.

Mogherini said Pesco should be ready by the end of the year and that member states had already submitted more than 30 ideas for joint projects.

"We took definitive steps toward European Union defence cooperation, which has, so far, existed only on paper," she said.

Juri Luik, Estonia's defence minister, said his country wanted to take part in "technologically advanced projects … 21st century projects, like cyber defence".

Estonia showcased its cyber know-how on Thursday in a war game for defence ministers.

Cyber game

The two-hour long exercise simulated a cyber attack on a fictional EU military mission that was based on the EU's real naval operation, Sophia, in the Mediterranean.

Each of the 28 defence chiefs received updates and posted reactions on tablet computers, while Nato head Jens Stoltenberg looked on.

The kind of issues that came up were "if you were attacked - do you call it a cyber attack, or an incident, or an armed attack? Which EU tool would you use to react? What kind of communications policy would you have? Would you tell the public everything or classify some information?", Estonia's Luik said.

An Estonian source told EUobserver: "The scenario was fictional, but it wasn't a fairytale, it was realistic".

The source said Russia was not the fictional attacker, even though Russia was suspected of launching a cyber assault on Estonia in 2007.

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