EU weighs up action against Turkey as relations take a double hit

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People walk in front of Hagia Sophia on July 11, 2020 in Istanbul, a day after a top Turkish court revoked the sixth-century Hagia Sophia's status as a museum, clearing the way for it to be turned back into a mosque. (AFP)
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EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell arrives for Monday’s meeting in Brussels. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 July 2020

EU weighs up action against Turkey as relations take a double hit

  • Hagia Sophia ‘insult,’ Med drilling come under attack from foreign ministers

JEDDAH: Turkey’s controversial decision to reconvert the Hagia Sophia from museum to mosque has further strained its already tense relationship with the EU.

The issue surrounding the Hagia Sophia — the Byzantine cathedral turned Ottoman mosque turned global tourist attraction — follows a previous dispute between Ankara and the leaders of EU countries over Turkey’s continued energy exploration and drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

These two complicated “hot potatoes” risk further disconnecting Turkey from the EU, and feed a growing mistrust between both parties.

After Monday’s meeting of 27 EU foreign ministers, Josep Borrell, EU foreign affairs chief, who visited Turkey last week to negotiate the eastern Mediterranean disputes, harshly condemned the Hagia Sophia move.

“This decision will inevitably fuel the mistrust, promote renewed division between religious communities, and undermine our efforts at dialogue and cooperation,” he said, urging Turkish authorities to reverse their verdict.

The EU Foreign Affairs Council will also ask its diplomatic European External Action Service to explore options for further measures against Turkey.

In a separate statement on June 10, Borrell said he found the decision regarding Hagia Sophia as “regrettable."

“As a founding member of the Alliance of Civilizations, Turkey has committed to the promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue and to fostering tolerance and coexistence,” he said.

The EU is confronted with a deliberately hostile narrative that has very deep electoral and ideological motivations, but has a clear consequence: To widen the gap between Turkey and the EU.

Marc Pierini, Former EU ambassador to Turkey

Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey and now at the Carnegie Europe foundation, told Arab News that there was no tactical justification to take a decision at the EU foreign ministers’ meeting since Turkey’s “adverse narrative is bound to increase in the days and weeks to come.”

He said: “The EU is confronted with a deliberately hostile narrative that has very deep electoral and ideological motivations, but has a clear consequence: To widen the gap between Turkey and the EU.”

According to Pierini, as long as Ankara believes there are more benefits than inconvenience in this strategy, the gap will widen.

“The issue is whether the citizens of Turkey will see a tangible benefit,” he said.

Turkey’s decision to reconvert the Hagia Sophia also angered Pope Francis along with Greek authorities. Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Monday that the EU was “faced with a challenge and an insult.”

As the EU has no leverage over Turkey’s domestic policy, it clearly can’t influence Turkey’s stance on the Hagia Sophia issue.

Karol Wasilewski, Analyst

However, Karol Wasilewski, a Turkey analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, believes the Hagia Sophia issue is unlikely to weigh much on EU-Turkey relations compared with other problems in the relationship.

“As the EU has no leverage over Turkey’s domestic policy, it clearly can’t influence Turkey’s stance on the Hagia Sophia issue,” he said.

However, the international criticism concerning the Hagia Sophia and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean drilling appears to carry little weight with Turkish authorities who view the attacks as an intervention into Turkey’s sovereign rights, while Ankara considers drilling in the region as a move to protect its national interests.

At Monday’s meeting, Greece insisted that the presence of Turkish drilling vessels violates international law, and should trigger political, financial and diplomatic sanctions.

Brussels views any attempt to weaken Greece’s borders and rights as an equal affront to the EU, Borrell said on June 27.

The ministers are set to meet again next month in Berlin to discuss both issues.

Wasilewski believes Turkey is prepared for any escalation on the Mediterranean issue, with Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, seeking to blame Cyprus for the dispute.

Cavusoglu has accused Cyprus of being the “real culprit” of the eastern Mediterranean’s energy issue, saying: “They embarked on their seismic research activities by ignoring the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people.”

 


First arrests in Iraq PM’s anti-corruption drive

Updated 26 min 3 sec ago

First arrests in Iraq PM’s anti-corruption drive

  • The arrests represent a rare instance in which current officials — usually deemed too well-connected to touch in Iraq’s graft-ridden system — are subject to judicial procedures
  • Iraq’s court system is known to be profoundly corrupt, with judges paid off to ignore evidence or make certain verdicts

BAGHDAD: Two Iraqi officials and a businessman have been arrested as part of a new anti-corruption drive spearheaded by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi, government sources said Friday.
The arrests represent a rare instance in which current officials — usually deemed too well-connected to touch in Iraq’s graft-ridden system — are subject to judicial procedures.
Last month, Kadhemi formed a new committee to fight “major corruption files,” which made its first arrests this week, according to two Iraqi officials with knowledge of the committee’s work.
The head of Iraq’s Retirement Fund, Ahmad Al-Saedi, and the chairman of Baghdad’s Investment Commission, Shaker Al-Zameli, were detained on Wednesday.
Bahaa Abdulhussein, the head of electronic payment company Qi Card, was arrested upon arrival at Baghdad Airport on Thursday, the sources confirmed.
The officials declined to reveal any further details, including the charges against the men, where they were being held or what the judicial process would be.
“The committee is looking at portfolios that have been suspicious for a while, then its judicial commission issues arrest warrants,” one official told AFP.
Iraq’s court system is known to be profoundly corrupt, with judges paid off to ignore evidence or make certain verdicts.
Asked whether the courts could be trusted to see the process through, the official said the committee’s judges were building “solid” cases.
Both officials said the campaign was not targeted against any particular individuals, parties or business sectors.
“There is no target list — but you can expect more names to come,” the second official said.
Iraq is ranked one of the top 20 most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International.
Some $450 billion in public funds have vanished into the pockets of shady politicians and businessmen since the 2003 US-led invasion, a study by parliament found.
Every premier since the invasion has launched their own anti-corruption initiative, with varying degrees of success.
Kadhemi has made new appointments at the Central Bank of Iraq, the Integrity Commission and the Investment Commission in a bid to stem government graft.