EU diplomacy on Turkey runs aground ahead of summit, envoys say

By John Chalmers, Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott
a large ship in a body of water: FILE PHOTO: The Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz is seen being escorted by a Turkish Navy frigate in the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus© Reuters/Murad Sezer FILE PHOTO: The Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz is seen being escorted by a Turkish Navy frigate in the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus
 

By John Chalmers, Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union diplomacy to resolve a dispute with Turkey in the Mediterranean has become bogged down in competing initiatives a week before a summit meant to show Ankara a united front, according to EU member state envoys.

a large ship in a body of water: FILE PHOTO: Greek and French vessels sail in formation during a joint military exercise in Mediterranean sea© Reuters/GREEK MINISTRY OF DEFENCE FILE PHOTO: Greek and French vessels sail in formation during a joint military exercise in Mediterranean seaThe impasse, which EU envoys were unable to break at a meeting on Wednesday, is holding up unrelated sanctions against Belarus and underscores the paralysis in foreign policy that the EU’s chief executive berated publicly in a speech on Wednesday.

a close up of Recep Tayyip Erdogan wearing a suit and tie: FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a meeting with EU Council President Charles Michel in Brussels© Reuters/FRANCOIS LENOIR FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a meeting with EU Council President Charles Michel in Brussels“It’s an extremely difficult issue,” one senior member state diplomat said. “It is probably the single most worrying issue for the EU in the coming days.”

Turkey, an EU candidate country and NATO member, has alarmed the bloc by stepping up its gas exploration off Cyprus and claiming rights to waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.

The dispute has brought to a head a host of other tensions, from Turkey’s involvement in Syria and Libya to what the EU says is growing authoritarianism under President Tayyip Erdogan.

Gestures by Ankara this week to return an exploration ship to port have only served to complicate a unified EU response from all 27 governments.

“Turkey is trying to divide the member states,” a second EU diplomat said, noting that Turkey had extended the operations of an energy drilling ship off Cyprus until mid-October.

Turkey does not recognise Cyprus, an EU and euro zone member, which was split after a Turkish invasion in 1974 spurred by a coup engineered by the generals then ruling Greece. A Turkish Cypriot state in north Cyprus is recognised only by Ankara.

BELARUS DELAY

The issue, fast becoming the bloc’s most intractable conflict, also highlights what European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen complained of on Wednesday, namely that all foreign policy decisions must be agreed by all governments. Von der Leyen called for majority voting.

For the moment, Germany wants more time for talks with Turkey while France, Cyprus and Greece are demanding a punitive response to Turkish gas exploration in what the EU says are its territorial waters.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan wearing a suit and tie: FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a meeting with EU Council President Charles Michel in Brussels© Reuters/FRANCOIS LENOIR FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a meeting with EU Council President Charles Michel in BrusselsHungary worries about antagonising Turkey and jeopardising a 2016 migration agreement in which Ankara gives shelter to Syrian refugees in return for EU funds.

Others favour using “carrots” as well as “sticks”, by offering Turkey deeper trade and visa links with the world’s largest trading bloc to calm the situation.

Meanwhile, Cyprus has asked for more time to consider separate sanctions on Belarus in support of a mass pro-democracy movement there, which other EU governments interpret as a way of pressing for similar punitive measures against Turkey.

“It’s fundamentally wrong to be linking Turkey and Belarus sanctions,” said a third EU diplomat. “Cyprus seems to be saying it will only approve Belarus the moment Turkey is done simultaneously. But that kills the idea of a swift EU reaction to the Belarus repressions.”

Cyprus denies linking the two issues.

EU foreign ministers will try to find a way through at their regular meeting on Monday. But diplomats say a solution will need the summit, looking to the bloc’s most powerful leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, to find a way forward next Thursday or Friday.

(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Gallery: End of Moria camp highlights refugee trauma (dw.com)

Moria, the EU's largest refugee camp, held more than 12,000 people. After it burned down, most refugees moved to the streets just outside Lesbos' other main refugee camp, Kara Tepe, but were not allowed in. Instead, they created temporary shelter for themselves by setting up tents. Police contained them to the stretch of road while the Greek government moved to rapidly create a new temporary camp.

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