Brussels, Belgium – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen European Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a news conference at the end of a EU leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, December 11, 2020.
The European Summit postponed substantive decisions that Greece expected regarding Turkey for March, opting instead for limited sanctions on Turkish individuals over Turkey’s research for hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Nonetheless, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said EU leaders sent a strict warning to Turkey over its drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Sanctions [against Turkey] are not an end in itself,” Mitsotakis said, adding, however, that the EU will respond with penalties “if Turkey insists on continuing with this provocative behavior.”
“Turkey is expected to change its ways and it has been understood that Europe is moving, if at its own pace,” he said, noting that bloc is is united and “supports Greece and Southern Cyprus, it is present.”
A series of factors stood in the way of Greece’s pursuit of a more substantial response to Turkish aggression at the summit. The Germany-Italy-Spain bloc insisted on a soft line – with Italia and Spain particularly negative about the prospect of new sanctions against Turkey.
Greece’s position was further compromised by the apparent reluctance of France to insist on tougher measures, while Austria, another strong voice against Turkey’s search for hydrocarbon resources, also seemed to be on board with a less biting response. What’s more, Turkey wasn’t the only focus of the summit’s overloaded agenda, which included the Recovery Fund, the coronavirus pandemic and greenhouse gas emissions.
French President Emmanuel Macron was apparently convinced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s argument that the new US administration that will take over on January 20 will lead to a more moderate policy on the part of Turkey. Spain and Italy joined forces on this line, stressing for the umpteenth time the importance of Turkey for the EU and the need to “give diplomacy another chance.”
In addition, despite growing frustration in France over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies and rhetoric in recent months, the French president shares Germany’s concerns that a confrontational turn against Turkey will push it even closer to Russia and China.
The European Summit’s conclusions call for additional sanctions for “unauthorized drilling activities by Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean” – concerning those in Southern Cyprus’ disputed exclusive economic zone.
In addition, EU High Representative Josep Borrell is invited to assess the possibility of “extending the scope” of these sanctions in his Euro-Turkish relations report which will be prepared by the European Council in March.