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What to expect from the EU's special summit on foreign affairs

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By Darren McCaffrey
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What to expect from the EU's special summit on foreign affairs
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As European Union leaders gather in Brussels for a special summit on Thursday and Friday, they face serious and significant foreign policy challenges.

From tensions in the East Mediterranean to protests in Belarus and increasingly fraught relations with China, here's a look at some of the issues likely to dominate the discussion.

Turkey

At the top of the agenda for the European Council is relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Greece and Cyprus are in a standoff with Turkey over exploratory drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean. The presence of navies in the area has escalated tensions.

So far, the EU has failed to agree sanctions, to much frustration among some MEPs.

“This is an appeasement policy, but the appeasement policy leads to much more greater expansionist policy by Turkey, so we do have tools and I think one of them can be very effective, economic sanctions especially through the customs union," says Cyprus MEP Costas Mavrides from the Socialists and Democrats.

According to an EU source speaking ahead of the summit, "all options" remain on the table, including sanctions, but leaders are not expected to announce formal sanctions on Friday.

Belarus

The EU has yet to issue sanctions on Belarusian leaders either, despite weeks of widespread protests following a widely recognised unfair election. Yet finding unanimity on the topic has proven difficult.

“I think this is the very final point, kind of decisive moment to agree," said Lithuanian MEP Petras Auštrevičius, who is on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

"If our leaders fail it will be, I don’t know how to describe it, a disaster, a clear disaster. How can the European Union call itself a global player if it is unable to move simple things in its immediate neighbourhood?"

He says that the EU's credibility is at stake.

China

Beyond Europe, a more assertive China at home and abroad has forced the EU to change tact on its relations with Beijing. MEPs want to see more vocal criticism on human rights abuses, while trying to maintain economic cooperation

“China policy internally is becoming more totalitarian all the time, and its policy towards the outside world is becoming more aggressive all of the time," says MEP Reinhard Bütikofer, who chairs the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with China.

He supports a change in approach with Beijing, with a tougher attitude.

"We tell China, we have had it with their win-win rhetoric,” he said.

Rule of law

While rule of law is not part of the official agenda, a spat brewing between Brussels and Budapest could overshadow the talks.

Hungary called for Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova to resign this week after she was quoted by German magazine Der Spiegel as calling Orban's Hungary a 'sick democracy'.

This was followed by the release of a report on rule of law, which saw the Commission slam both Poland and Hungary for breaches of democratic standards.