23rd Feb 2020

EU talks tough on Turkey, but arms sales go on

  • EU sanctions imposed on third anniversary of failed 2016 coup (Photo: Reuters)

EU relations with Turkey hit a new low on Monday (15 July), but European arms sales to its Nato ally continue unabated.

The low came when EU foreign ministers imposed diplomatic and financial sanctions on Turkey over its "illegal" gas drilling in Cypriot waters in the eastern Mediterranean.

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They suspended high-level talks, including on an aviation accord.

They froze €146m in financial aid and said they would "review" European Investment Bank lending, worth €386m last year.

The ministers also called on EU institutions to start drawing up blacklists of Turkish entities and individuals involved in the gas operation on Cyprus' request.

The European Commission and the EU foreign service would carry out "work on options for targeted measures", the foreign ministers said.

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini shooed away press questions on the gas dispute on Monday and voiced "solidarity with Turkish people" on what was the third anniversary of the failed coup against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.

But her warm words aside, the sanctions marked a nadir in EU-Turkey ties after the EU de facto froze accession talks with Ankara following Erdogan's post-coup crackdown.

The Turkish foreign ministry reacted with typical swagger.

The sanctions "will in no way affect Turkey's determination to continue its hydrocarbon activities" it said.

They showed "how prejudiced and biased the EU is" and were "ineffective, unrealistic, and unconstructive", it added.

It was also "revealing" that the EU took the decision on the 2016 coup anniversary, amid long-standing Turkish anger that the EU never accepted Erdogan's version of events - that the putsch was a plot by a US-based cleric called Fethullah Gulen, whose European networks the member states have sheltered.

Individual EU ministers spoke out in more strident tones than Mogherini.

"The provocations of Turkey are unacceptable to all of us," German EU affairs minister Michael Roth said in Brussels.

"It is very clear that we stand behind Cyprus," Austrian foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg added.

German submarines

But Germany, for one, has quietly increased arms exports to Turkey in recent times despite its rhetoric.

Germany shipped €184m worth of mostly submarine components to Turkey in the first four months of this year, its economy ministry said in answer to a parliamentary question by left-wing German MP Sevim Dagdelen.

The German government also approved twice as many new arms export licences to Turkey in the same period as in the whole of last year put together, the ministry said.

Turkey has been a Nato ally since 1952.

But the EU's own "common rules on arms exports" say member states should not sell weapons to countries that do not respect human rights.

They should also halt sales where "there is a clear risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial claim".

It is doubtful Turkish submarines would ever be used against Cyprus or Greece.

But for Dagdelen: "It is highly irresponsible that the German government, despite the policy of Turkish aggression in the eastern Mediterranean, is now also having its arms delivered to Erdogan's navy".

"Arms exports to the authoritarian regime of Turkey must be stopped, both permits and actual exports," he told the German news agency DPA.

EU arms to Turkey

Meanwhile, the controversy is bigger than Germany alone, with EU records showing that member states issued €2.8bn of arms licences to Turkey in 2017.

The figure went up from €2.3bn in 2016, the year of the failed coup, and was higher than the €2.6bn recorded in 2015 in a sign that Turkey's internal events had no impact on EU decisions.

Spain led the way with almost a billion euros of licences for aircraft equipment in 2017.

France issued permits worth €736m for mostly military vehicles and electronics, but €7m went on equipment including "riot control agents" despite Erdogan's sweeping repressions.

The UK was ready to sell €660m of "miscellaneous equipment" in 2017 and Italy issued licences for €266m of arms, including €60m of ammunition.

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