Tuesday September 21, 2021

EU-Turkey ties at ‘watershed’

September 16, 2020

BRUSSELS: The EU’s diplomatic chief on Tuesday said relations between the bloc and Turkey were at a sensitive turning point and urged leaders to decide on the way forward.

Josep Borrell delivered his warning as tensions rise with Turkey over energy interests in the eastern Mediterranean that have even sparked fears of military conflict. "Relations with Turkey are... at a watershed moment in history and... will go one side or the other, depending what’s going to happen in the next days," Borrell told a session of the European Parliament in Brussels.

The head of European diplomacy pleaded for more dialogue with Ankara, even though he acknowledged that "the situation has worsened". "The time has come for our leaders to take difficult decisions" at an EU summit on September 24-25, he said.

The latest standoff began after Turkey deployed the Oruc Reis research vessel and warships to disputed waters on August 10 and prolonged the mission three times. Greece responded by shadowing the Turkish flotilla with its own warships, and by staging naval exercises with several EU allies and the United Arab Emirates in its own show of force.

A possible sign of appeasement was that Turkey had ordered the Oruc Reis back to port, Borrell said, even though Ankara said this was for maintenance. The escalating row has seen Germany try to mediate a solution and Nato host consultations aimed at avoiding the two alliance members accidentally going to war -- as they almost did over a few contested islands in 1996.

Ties with Turkey will be a main topic at next week’s EU summit with France backing Greece and Cyprus on the possibility of sanctions against Ankara. "There is not yet an agreement on sanctions," Borrell said. A decision on sanctions would require unanimity among the 27 member states.