ANKARA: Turkey is facing a renewed threat of EU sanctions over its controversial drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean after European leaders lined up to condemn Ankara’s “provocations” in the region.
The latest salvo of criticism comes ahead of a major EU summit in December when Brussels will discuss punitive measures against Turkey over its natural gas exploration in the contested waters.
Statements by European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, show that Brussels is unlikely to step back from its threat to impose curbs following Turkey’s insistence on carrying out drilling in disputed zones.
“Things haven’t developed the way we would have wished,” Merkel said following a meeting with EU leaders late on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that the EU could consider imposing sanctions against Turkey in December if Ankara failed to halt its “provocations” in the region.
“If we see no positive signals coming from Turkey by December, only further provocations such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Northern Cyprus, then we are heading for a difficult debate,” he said.
On the same day, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also warned Ankara that it is “widening its separation from the EU,” adding that the bloc was “approaching a watershed moment in our relationship with Turkey.”
The EU leaders’ summit will take place on Dec.10-11 in Brussels.
Turkey’s recent statements regarding Cyprus also have been criticized by the EU as contrary to UN resolutions.
During a visit earlier this week condemned as “provocative and illegal” by the Cypriot government, Erdogan called for a “two-state” solution in Cyprus.
Experts believe that Brussels is likely to introduce specific sanctions, including the ban on entering European ports for some individuals and companies.
However, Charles Ellinas, a Cypriot energy analyst and senior fellow at the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council, said that limited EU sanctions are unlikely to deter Erdogan.
According to Ellinas, the Turkish leader is pursuing an aggressive agenda in the eastern Mediterranean to bolster support at home.
“With the deteriorating economy, the pandemic and the shock resignation of his son-in-law and finance minister Berat Albayrak, he is trying to deflect public opinion,” Ellinas told Arab News.
France, Austria and Greece are pushing the EU to take tough measures, including the suspension of the customs union with Turkey.
However, Ellinas said Brussels is unlikely to take stronger action.
“We will need to wait and see what Biden does once he takes over the US presidency. Erdogan’s sway over Trump will no longer help him,” he added.
The new US administration under Joe Biden is expected to focus on the eastern Mediterranean — a potential flashpoint in US-Turkey relations.
Madalina Sisu Vicari, an independent expert on energy geopolitics, said that relations between the EU and Turkey are likely to become “more bellicose and strained.”
She said that Turkey will be reluctant to enter negotiations with the EU if sanctions are introduced since this would be seen as a capitulation.
“The best option is to avoid missteps that would lead to escalation and an activation of the sanctions agenda,” she said.
Turkey has not renewed the Navtex for the seismic research activities of its Oruc Reis survey vessel in the eastern Mediterranean since Nov. 14.
Gabriel Mitchell, a policy fellow at the Mitvim, Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said “appropriate” sanctions would target the Turkish energy industry, ports and shipping.
“The question will be whether the affected industries will get Erdogan to listen. With the changes at the finance ministry and the comments about a possible reset with the US, there is a possibility that this will push Turkey toward negotiations, but it could just as easily be used by the Turkish government to paint the EU as the villain,” he told Arab News.