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19th Sep 2020

Michel: Special EU summit on Turkey in September

  • Greek and Turkish warships recently collided in the Eastern Mediterranean. The EU will hold a special summit on the issue in September. (Photo: nato.int)

"We have the intention to hold a special European summit to set out a strong and united strategy on the relationship between the EU and Turkey", European Council president Charles Michel said on Wednesday (19 July) during a press conference.

Greece and Cyprus had hoped that this topic would have been discussed during the special summit on Wednesday, but all attention went to the situation in Belarus instead.

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However, according to Greece and Cyprus, the situation in the eastern Mediterranean is no less precarious, as tensions with Turkey are building up.

A Greek and a Turkish warship collided on 12 August. Both sides said it was an accident, but it increased fears of a military conflict between the two states.

The collision happened when Turkish warships escorted a Turkish survey ship to examine the possibility for drilling for oil and gas in the area between Cyprus and Crete, prompting Greek warships to shadow them.

In an interview with US broadcaster CNN, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on Turkey to "stop the provocations" and return to the negotiating table in order to resolve disagreements regarding the delimitation of maritime zones.

"We cannot tolerate is unilateral activity by Turkey claiming what we consider to be Greek exclusive economic zone and for Turkey to challenge this premise to send not only an exploration ship but also a significant number of military vessels to the area," Mitsotakis said.

"We should sit and discuss as civilised neighbours and if cannot resolve this issue the two of us we can always take it to the international court and have the court decide on our behalf", he added.

Mitsotakis referred to a recent agreement with Egypt for the demarcation of exclusive economic zones, as "a blueprint" for other accords in the region.

Turkey had earlier slammed the "so-called agreement" between Greece and Egypt on an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Turkish foreign ministry declared the deal "null and void", adding that Greece and Egypt had no mutual sea border.

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Meanwhile, the latest dispute is part of a wider conflict.

Turkey has been drilling for gas off the coast of northern Cyprus, a Turkish-controlled breakaway republic, despite multiple warnings and condemnations from the EU.

Ankara recently also made an agreement with the Libyan authorities in Tripoli giving Turkey exclusive rights to drill for oil and gas off the Libyan coast.

The fact Turkey has supported the UN-backed government of Libya, led by prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj, infuriated France and Egypt, who are backing the other side in the civil war there.

That is why it is probably no surprise that Egypt made an agreement with Greece and that France is the most vocal supporter of sanctions against Turkey.

Turkey, from its side, expressed its frustration with the EU.

Enlargement negotiations between Turkey and the EU have stalled and the migration pact of 2016 has not been implemented from the European side, at least in the eyes of the Turkish government.

Recently, Faruk Kaymakçı, Turkey's deputy foreign minister and director of EU affairs, said that he thinks "the main problem is that Turkey is being estranged from the EU."

Even though Turkey is an important member of Nato, talks on the situation in the eastern Mediterranean will be difficult.

A package of sanctions on Turkey have already been discussed by the EU ambassadors.

Potential measures include suspending EU-Turkey political talks and technical talks on issues such as energy and transport, as well as similar bilateral talks between EU capitals and Ankara.

They also include cuts in EU aid to for Turkish reforms and curtailing European Investment Bank (EIB) lending.

According to Michel, at the special summit in September, which will be a physical meeting, "all options will be on the table".

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