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EU needs action not words against Turkey, says Manfred Weber

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EU needs action not words against Turkey, says Manfred Weber
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The EU needs action not words against Turkey amid ongoing tensions between Ankara and Europe, Manfred Weber has told Euronews.

Weber, leader of the largest grouping in the European Parliament, called on Brussels to use its economic might against Turkey.

His comments come after Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, attacked his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron over his response to the murder of history teacher Samuel Paty, in which he defended freedom of speech and called for "Islam in France to be freed from foreign influences".

Erdogan suggested Macron undergo a mental health check-up and called for a boycott of French products,which has already gained traction in some Muslim countries.

It comes amid other areas of disagreement between Brussels and Ankara over Cyprus, migrants and drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean.

"Immediately you can understand he [Erdogan] is only playing with us," Weber, who heads up the European People's Party, told Euronews. "That's why now action is needed. As far as credibility is concerned, we have to act now. Words are not any more enough. And we must use our economic power. The European Union is much more important to Turkey than Turkey is to us."

But the issue isn't so simple, with the economic fortunes of many EU countries being tied to Turkey.

According to the European Commission, Turkey was the EU’s fifth-largest trading partner in 2019, which includes imports and exports. Turkey’s number one trading destination is the EU.

But Europe's main exporters to Turkey are three of its more influential countries, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, each being worth €21bn, €8bn and €6bn respectively.

Nevertheless, Weber said it was important for the EU to speak with one voice.

"It's not a Greek issue; it's not a Cyprus issue; it's not a French issue, it's a European issue," he said. "That's why it's on the table and that's why we all together have to answer these attacks against the European Union.

"Let me be very clear, if President Erdogan is now stopping French products coming to Turkey, then he must understand that this is part of the customs union and that general agreement between the European Union and Turkey, that all European products must have free access to the market of Turkey.

"He cannot separate individual products and that's why this is a big attack against the principle of the customs union and that's why the next European Council must consider to redraft and reorganise the customs union that we have currently in place."

But with varying economic interests, having one single voice is hard to achieve.

And these interests vary from trade to investments to bank exposure and even arms exports, which is one issue that is particularly difficult to navigate, with Greece arguing that these weapons could eventually be used against them.

According to the latest EU data, the biggest EU arms exporters to Turkey are France, Spain, Italy and Germany, although France has since imposed a partial embargo against Ankara over its actions in Syria.

But then there's the other side, which is Turkey as a strategic partner on one of the EU's most divisive issues: migration.