While Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is trying to show he was satisfied with a European Union meeting that refused to back his call for sanctions against Turkey provocations, major countries in the bloc blocked penalties.
He had been trying to build an international alliance to back Greece over Turkey planning to drill for oil and gas off Greek islands as it has been doing off Cyprus, snubbing its nose at soft EU sanctions.
But while Germany, home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage and a major arms supplier to Turkey was expected to keep the EU from issuing sanctions, France – which had aligned itself with Greece – also did.
With Spain and Italy also siding with Turkey against EU member Greece, Mitsotakis was left with nowhere to turn when the meeting resulted only in waiting until March 2021 to talk about sanctions.
The EU leaders in October said they would penalize Turkey this December unless Turkey stopped its plan to pick up an energy hunt again in Greek waters but didn’t, leaving Mitsotakis to say he was glad Turkey was warned.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Mitsotakis had been pictured in solidarity, smiling and shaking hands and resolving to take a hard line on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had even insulted the French leader.
When Macron walked away from him and went along with another delay – which hasn’t worked yet against an emboldened Erdoğan – Mitsotakis reversed his own belief in penalties, the EU saying it would only freeze the assets of some Turkish officials it wouldn’t even name.
“Sanctions (against Turkey) are not an end in itself,” Mitsotakis said, adding, however, that the EU will respond with penalties “if Turkey insists on continuing with this provocative behaviour”, which hasn’t happened yet.
“Turkey is expected to change its ways and it has been understood that Europe is moving, if at its own pace,” he said, noting that bloc is united and “supports Greece and Cyprus, it is present”, he added.
That was also in reference to Turkish drilling off Cyprus, ignoring sanctions against two unnamed executives from Turkey’s state-run petroleum company, but Mitsotakis said Turkey got a stern warning to which Erdoğan paid no attention after he said sanctions wouldn’t deter him at any rate.
Greece’s position was further compromised by the apparent reluctance of France to insist on tougher measures, while Austria, which also had talked tough before the meeting, took a milder tone, said Kathimerini.
The paper tried to explain that Mitsotakis was also hindered by other items on the agenda, such as discussions about an EU recovery fund, the COVID-19 pandemic and greenhouse gas emissions after he walked away empty-handed.
Macron was apparently convinced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s argument that the new U.S. administration when Joe Biden becomes president on Jan. 20, 2021, will see Turkey back off its aggressions, the paper said.
Spain and Italy joined forces on this line, stressing again – after doing so again and again to no avail – the importance of Turkey for the EU and the need to “give diplomacy another chance”, which has always failed with Erdoğan.
Despite Erdoğan essentially pushing the EU leaders around at will, threatening he would unleashed on the bloc through Greece and its islands more refugees and migrants who went to Turkey fleeing war, strife and economic hardships in their countries, there was no political will to confront him.
Macron was said to agree with Merkel that being hard on Erdoğan would only push Turkey – which has been trying fruitlessly since 2005 to join the EU – into the camp of Russia and China, opening the door for Erdoğan to do what he wants.
In the end, the EU was left to say only that instead of issuing sanctions now – Erdoğan had withdrawn an energy research vessel and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo ahead of the meeting, which Greece said was a ruse – that Turkey might still face penalties someday.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who has waffled on how to handle Turkey, alternately talking tough and tender, was invited to take another shot at dealing with the dilemma and assess the possibility of “extending the scope of sanction” at the March meeting, unless that results in pushing the problem back to another time as the EU has done repeatedly.
(A version of this article was originally published by the National Herald and reproduced by permission.)