Ankara faces new wave of biting sanctions, now from Europe

A Turkish Navy warship patroling next to Turkey's drilling ship "Fatih" dispatched towards the eastern Mediterranean near Cyprus. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2019

Ankara faces new wave of biting sanctions, now from Europe

  • The decision came after months of escalated tension in the region

ANKARA: The European Council’s decision to impose sanctions on Turkey over its drilling activities in disputed offshore territories in the eastern Mediterranean has caused a political earthquake in the country.

In the final declaration, the council said it would suspend civil aviation talks and “agree not to hold … further meetings of the EU-Turkey high-level dialogues for the time being” due to Ankara’s “continued and new illegal drilling activities” near EU member Cyprus.

The decision came after months of escalated tension in the region, where Ankara has deployed three gas exploration ships to expand its drilling operations. Greek Cypriots issued arrest warrants for the ships’ crews.

Pre-EU accession financial aid for Turkey will be cut next year. The EU also advised the European Investment Bank, which supports infrastructure-related investments, to review its lending programs to Turkey.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, said the sanctions will have little impact on the economic dimension of the Turkey-EU relationship. 

“Of more concern however is the very palpable path to further escalation. This predicament underlines the EU’s strategic miscalculation,” he told Arab News. 

According to Ulgen, the EU is struggling to design a smart engagement policy with Turkey. 

“Instead, it (the EU) has become reliant on punishments like sanctions or the scaling down of financial assistance. Ideally, the EU should create a positive agenda that can be more influential in impacting Turkey’s behavior,” he added. 

The civil aviation negotiations on the EU’s Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement, which regulates commercial flights in the region, were suspended under the new sanctions. 

“On the aviation agreement, the suspension of the negotiations means that further liberalization in air transport will be postponed,” Ulgen said. 

Such liberalization, he added, would have been beneficial for Turkish consumers. 

“The impact on Turkish Airlines is less clear. It would have depended on how successful it would be in capturing market share within the EU,” Ulgen said.

Ankara promptly reacted to the declaration by emphasizing that it would continue its activities near Cyprus and would send a fourth ship to the region “as soon as possible.”

The council’s declaration emphasized that additional “targeted measures” were being considered to further punish Turkey. 

The EU sanctions coincide with impending US sanctions over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Madalina Sisu Vicari, Brussels-based expert on European energy policies and geopolitics, believes the EU sanctions are delicately calibrated to avoid a significant economic impact and widening the political rift between Brussels and Ankara. 

“They were purposefully crafted in order to send a political message, not to harm the Turkish economy,” Vicari said.

Ankara, which does not formally recognize the Republic of Cyprus in the Greek south of the island, began accession talks to join the EU in 2005. Negotiations have not progressed for over a decade because of Turkey’s stance on Cyprus.

Regarding the air transport agreement, Vicari said she thinks it will not impact flights out of Istanbul airport. 

“The air transport agreement has been under negotiation since 2010, and it aims to remove nationality restrictions and to operate flights between any EU destination and Turkey. The EU chose to suspend this agreement instead of the EU-Turkey Customs Union negotiations, which are far more important for both sides,” she said. 

According to Vicari, suspension of the air transport agreement is a symbolic political move instead of a tool aimed at triggering a change of behavior from Turkey. 

However, Vicari anticipates that — depending on political developments — the EU may impose targeted measures on those involved in the drillings.


Lebanon not expecting new aid pledges at Paris meeting

Updated 1 min 26 sec ago

Lebanon not expecting new aid pledges at Paris meeting

  • The political impasse returned to square one on Sunday when a tentative agreement on a new PM unraveled
  • Lebanon has also been in a political impasse since Saad Al-Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29

BEIRUT/PARIS: Lebanon does not expect new aid pledges at conference which France is hosting on Wednesday to press for the quick formation of a new government that can tackle an acute financial crisis.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged Lebanon to create a new government swiftly or risk the crisis worsening and threatening the country’s stability.
The economic crisis is the worst since the 1975-90 civil war: a liquidity crunch has led banks to enforce capital controls and the Lebanese pound to slump by one third.
Lebanon has also been in a political impasse since Saad Al-Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, prompted by protests against the ruling elite, with no agreement on a new government.
Nadim Munla, senior adviser to Hariri, who is running the government as caretaker, told Reuters the Paris meeting would probably signal a readiness to offer support once a government is formed that commits to reforms.
“They will recognize that there is a short-term problem and that if and when a government (is formed) that basically responds to the aspirations of people, most probably the international community will be ready to step in and provide support to Lebanon, or additional support,” he said.
“It is not a pledging conference.”
Lebanon won pledges of over $11 billion at a conference last year conditional on reforms that it has failed to implement. The economic crisis is rooted in years of corruption and waste that have generated one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.
The political impasse returned to square one on Sunday when a tentative agreement on a new prime minister unraveled.
Hariri is now seen as the only candidate for the post.
He has said he would only lead a cabinet of specialist ministers, believing this is the way to address the economic crisis, attract aid, and satisfy protesters who have been in the streets since Oct. 17 seeking the removal of a political class blamed for corruption and misrule.
But Hezbollah and its allies including President Michel Aoun say the government must include politicians.
“Let’s see the coming few days and if there will be an agreement among the political parties on a formation ... otherwise we might take longer,” Munla said. Hariri would be willing to have politicians in cabinet but they should not be “the regular known faces of previous governments.”