A tough course to digest: EU leaders ponder Turkey sanctions over dinnerComments
EU leaders are anticipating a dinner on Thursday night with a very heavy course: relations with Turkey.
They are expected to ask for the preparation of additional sanctions against the country, following an earlier decision at a meeting in October.
But it won't be easy to agree how far to go.
The latest draft text tabled among EU ambassadors talks of “Turkey's unauthorised drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean”.
It invites Josep Borrell, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, “to submit a report on the state of play” including possible sanctions by the March 2021 European Council meeting at the latest.
But Greece is far from satisfied with this wording, meaning negotiations are sure to be tough.
How far will sanctions go?
Greece and Cyprus have been embroiled in a longstanding dispute with Turkey over maritime rights and gas resources.
At the leaders’ summit in October, the European Council decided to give some wiggle room for dialogue and gave Turkey until this month to ease tensions.
It said at the time that "in the event of renewed unilateral actions or provocations in breach of international law [by Turkey], the EU will use all the instruments and options at its disposal to defend its interests and those of its member states."
Greece wants sanctions that would range from sectoral measures that would hit crucial Turkish economic sectors.
That would include banking, energy and tourism, as well as an arms embargo, which prevent EU member states from selling or exporting arms and military equipment.
Not a unified picture
Some European Union countries have already put in place a partial arms exports ban on Turkey since 2019 over its offensive in northern Syria, even as a bloc-wide embargo against a NATO ally fell short.
Germany, the country which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, does not agree with imposing tough sanctions, although its efforts to bring Greece and Turkey to the negotiating table have failed.
But Italy and Spain don't want to toughen their position with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan either.
Italy is closer to Turkey's position than France's on the Libyan civil war, while Spain exports military equipment to Turkey and it hugely exposed to Turkish banks, holding almost €53 billion in the country’s debt.
Hungary is also considered as a friendly country to Turkey: its foreign minister Peter Szijarto visited Ankara just a few days before the EU summit stressing that "Europe's security is in Turkey's hands".
On the other hand, France, Austria, Slovenia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands support a tougher position towards Turkey.
French diplomats, ahead of the EU summit, were saying they wanted a clear orientation towards sanctions and that the EU's answer had to be credible.
Continued division on Cyprus
Ankara has also reignited tensions in Cyprus last month, after Erdoğan called for a “two-state” solution on the island, which has been divided since Turkey invaded in 1974 in response to a Greek-backed coup.
The EU and United Nations support the establishment of a federation of two states to solve to the conflict.
Tough language is expected from EU leaders regarding the decision to open a fenced off portion of the Greek Cypriot town of Varosha, a one-time luxury resort that became a ghost town along the UN buffer zone since 1974.
There are already sanctions in place regarding Turkish drilling for oil in a part of the Mediterranean Sea that Cyprus considers its exclusive economic zone.
Turkey disputes the Cypriot position.
In September, Cyprus blocked an EU decision over sanctions against the Belarusian regime in order to push for their demands against Turkey, with leaders finally seeming to be ready to now satisfy some of their demands by adding names to the list.
The latest draft talking about an invitation to the Council “to adopt additional listings” in view of “Turkey's unauthorized drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean” is referring to the regime already adopted in 2019 for Cyprus.
Overall, this is not going to be an easy night with the EU Leaders expected to fight in a “tug of war” in order to defend their national interests.