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EU foreign ministers urge more action on Turkey and China in first in-person meeting since pandemic

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, July 13, 2020.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, July 13, 2020.   -   Copyright  Virginia Mayo/AP
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EU foreign ministers met face-to-face on Monday to discuss deteriorating relations with Turkey and the bloc's concerns over the new security law in Hong Kong.

The discussions marked the first meeting in Brussels for the first time since coronavirus lockdown restrictions have been lifted in Belgium.

Lowering tensions with Turkey

Greece's foreign minister is pushing for a list of possible sanctions against Ankara, for "violating the sovereign rights of Greece and Cyprus," over energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey has sent vessels to drill for gas in an area of the Mediterranean where Cyprus says it has exclusive rights.

Ministers tasked Brussels with coming up with a way to lower tensions with Turkey.

There was broad support for Borrell to "explore further paths that could contribute to lowering tensions and reach understanding on issues that are increasingly stressing the relations between Turkey and the European Union."

Borrell added that he would prepare options on "further appropriate measures that could be taken in response to the challenges we are facing as a result of Turkish actions".

It was agreed that Borrell will come with a list of targeted measures against Turkey in August, which would be activated only in case Turkey abuses Greece's sovereign rights.

"There was a broad consensus to make, after we requested for it, a list with further measures, which means sanctions which will allow the EU to respond efficiently if Turkey goes on with its offensive/violating behaviour," said Nikos Dendias, Greece's foreign minister, after the meeting.

Turkey also says that the EU's naval operations in the Eastern Mediterranean sea are hindering the support of the UN backed government of national accord in Tripoli which has received military backing from Ankara.

The EU says its aim is to uphold the arms embargo to prevent weapons getting into Libya in a bid to halt further violence.

Also, there was full condemnation across all EU countries of Ankara's decision to turn the iconic Istanbul Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and a request to reconsider this decision.

'Coordinated approach' to Hong Kong

The EU is also working on a "coordinated approach" to China's new security law in Hong Kong.

Borrell said after a meeting of foreign ministers that it would include a mix of actions at EU and Member state level.

Details remain vague, but the diplomatic message was clear.

"Our message in this context is two-fold. First to the people in Hong Kong, the support of the EU for the autonomy and fundamental freedom, we will continue to stand by the people of Hong Kong. And to China, the message is that the recent actions change the rules, this will require revision of our approach and will clearly have an impact on our relations," Borrell told reporters after the meeting.

Sweden has joined France and Germany in calling for a stronger response to Beijing.

Measures proposed by France and Germany include : extending the EU’s export ban on items that could be used for torture or repressive policing, like rubber bullets, giving activists long-term refugee status in the EU and allowing more Hong Kong students to study in Europe.