Greece Presses EU to Draw Up ‘Severe’ Sanctions on Turkey
(Bloomberg) -- Greece pressed its European Union partners to draw up “severe” sanctions against Turkey over its energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, a move that could unlock separate EU efforts to penalize Belarus.
Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Miltiades Varvitsiotis said Turkey’s hunt for natural gas in waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus is part of aggressive geopolitical posturing by the Turkish government.
“Turkey is a major destabilizing factor in the wider area,” Varvitsiotis told a European Parliament committee in Brussels on Thursday. “This should be an issue of concern for the EU and the international community.”
Cyprus has warned peers it won’t sign on to an EU proposal to sanction dozens of officials in Belarus over that country’s contested presidential election, unless member states agree to clamp down on Turkey over its drilling activities, people familiar with the matter said. Foreign policy decisions in the EU require unanimity among the bloc’s 27 national governments.
Strains between Turkey and Greece over contested territorial waters have worsened in recent weeks following heightened Turkish tensions with Cyprus. The Turkish-Greek dispute has sparked concerns about a military confrontation between two North Atlantic Treaty Organization members and prompted a German-led diplomatic push for a resolution.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday accused Greece and Cyprus of pursuing a “maximalist position” on maritime rights and warned the EU against giving “blind support” to both countries. He said the Turkish government backs Germany’s mediation efforts and is ready to negotiate a settlement.
“We are ready for dialog without any preconditions,” Cavusoglu said from Senegal via a video-conference link to the same EU Parliament committee that Varvitsiotis addressed in person hours earlier. “We continue to support Germany’s facilitation efforts while Greece keeps dragging its feet.”
Greece maintains that islands must be taken into account in delineating a country’s continental shelf, in line with the United Nations Law of the Sea, which Turkey has not signed. Ankara argues that a country’s continental shelf should be measured from its mainland and that the area south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo -- a few kilometers off Turkey’s southern coast -- falls within its exclusive economic zone.
The EU is engaged in a balancing act over Turkey, seeking to defend the sovereignty of member countries Greece and Cyprus while holding out hope that diplomacy can ease tensions with a strategically important partner. Turkey plays a key role in limiting the risk of a new influx of refugees into the EU.
In a largely symbolic act in February, the bloc imposed asset freezes and travel bans on two employees of Turkish Petroleum Corp. in response to Turkey’s energy exploration off Cyprus. EU leaders are due to focus on relations with Turkey at a Sept. 24-25 meeting in Brussels.
A Cypriot proposal from June to add seven Turkish entities to the EU’s sanctions list has been moving at a snail’s pace, as some member states fret over further antagonizing Ankara.
A plan to target officials from Belarus over last month’s contested election result and the subsequent violent suppression of protests has gained broader support, but only after foreign ministers promised to accelerate parallel work on sanctions against Turkey. With technical talks on the Turkish measures still held up, both initiatives may be delayed.
Diplomats involved in the process are seeking a breakthrough before a meeting of EU foreign ministers later in September, the people familiar said. While officials agreed last month that sanctions against officials from both Belarus and Turkey will be adopted, no action has followed, according to a senior diplomat involved in the deliberations.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, declined to comment on the talks.
Failure to act amid mass protests in Belarus and the escalating standoff between Turkey on the one hand and Greece and Cyprus on the other could further expose EU foreign policy weaknesses.
Greece’s Varvitsiotis said on Thursday that tougher EU penalties against Turkey would mark a defense of European values and encourage deescalation by Ankara.
Sanctions would apply pressure and “they should be severe,” Varvitsiotis said.
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