Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, is among the first people who believe territorial dispute between Turkey and Greece in the East Mediterranean has overshadowed EU-Turkey relations. Borrell, who has proposed to impose sanctions on Turkey, announced in the recent General Assembly of the European Parliament that standing issues in the relations between the European Union and Turkey can not be resolved through negotiations and dialogue if Turkey is opposed. The return of Turkey’s Oruc Reis seismic research ship to a port in Antalya is a step in the right direction and this issue would make us hopeful to take more steps for dialogue.
Borrell believes that we express solidarity with Greece and the Greek Cypriots and in case no progress is made in the settlement of outstanding issues with Turkey in these sessions there will be many options on the table. We are seeking the support of the European Parliament for the efforts currently in place to reduce tension with Turkey. Preventing these efforts which are taken would undermine our efforts to also resolve the issue of Cyprus. The United Nations wants the resumption of these negotiations and the European Union is supporting this. Turkey in many issues such as the issue of migration and refugees is considered an important partner. We well know that without the help of Turkey, it would be very hard to prevent the flow of migrants.
Peter Stano, the spokesman for Borrell, claimed several days after the withdrawal of Turkey’s research vessel from the East Mediterranean that the exit of the research vessel from the region which happened recently is considered a significant step and would pave the way for conducting meaningful talks between Greece and Turkey. The European Union wants Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz to also leave the Cyprus’ marine zone. The continuation of mission by Yavuz vessel would further exacerbate tensions in the East Mediterranean under circumstances in which there is probability of continued immediate de-escalation and resumption of negotiations.
Von der Leyen the President of the European Commission was among the European authorities who mildly criticized Turkey in the European Parliament general assembly. In her belief, Turkey is an important neighbour and will always remain important. Turkey is located in a region which is grappling with turmoil and Turkey is hosting millions of refugees. We have allocated a remarkable amount of financial assistance to host them; however, none of these issues can justify acts to intimidate neighbours. Greece and Turkey have differences over areas in the East Mediterranean which are potentially rich in natural gas reserves. The Member States of the European Union, Cyprus and Greece, can always count on the full solidarity of Europe in supporting their legitimate rights in governance affairs. De-escalation in the East Mediterranean is not to out interest. There is only one way: prevention from unilateral action and resumption of talks in goodwill and intention. This is a way for sustainable stability and solutions. This is a step in the right direction and creation of space necessary for dialogue. She has welcomed the resumption of talks between Turkey and Greece and has described as very fruitful and effective her recent conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on latest developments in the East Mediterranean and the issue of migrants. She considers such talks as very significant for stability in East Mediterranean and constructive relations with the European Union.
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, claimed in his visit to Greece that the next European Union summit meeting shall be devoted to the crisis of migration and recent developments in the East Mediterranean region. The issue of the security of the East Mediterranean region is not only related to Greece and Cyprus but also to the whole European Union. Europe, on one hand, insists on respecting principles which are important for Greece and Cyprus and on the other hand, is conditionally prepared to strengthen its relations with Turkey. When the issue is defending the rights of all the Member States of the European Union including Cyprus, we should act decisively.
Turkey has warned the European Union several times during the past weeks to remain neutral in its dispute with the Hellenic Republic. Ankara is in fact accusing the European Union of adopting biased, unreal and unlawful positions towards the dispute. Turkish President Erdogan believes that his country will not succumb to the bullying of any country in the East Mediterranean and would therefore continue drilling and seismic researches in the sea. European countries should adopt a fair and stable stance towards issues of the East Mediterranean. Differences and tensions could be resolved peacefully through negotiations until there is a fair approach in the East Mediterranean. Turkey will continue its active policy regarding its rights in the East Mediterranean including its right to drilling and exploring oil and gas resources.
Erdogan emphasizes that Ankara will continue strongly and decisively to defend its marine rights and interests. We will continue to strengthen our marine forces in line with attracting the trust of our friends and in deterring those greedy who want to violate our rights and we will never back down from our marine rights in the region.
However, Mr Mitsotakis, the conservative Prime Minister of Greece, described Turkey, in a meeting with the visiting president of the European Council in Athens, as a threat not only for Greece and Cyprus but a threat for the whole European Union countries. In his belief, it is now time for the European Union to move from words to action in case Turkey continues creating tension in the East Mediterranean. Greece is prepared to immediately enter into exploratory talks. Turkey still has time to continue its primary encouraging steps towards de-escalation and exit from the current crisis. Turkey faces two options. It can have constructive dialogue with Europe and consequently with us or continue its unilateral acts.
Moreover, Mitsotakis claimed in his statement to the General Assembly of the United Nations (held virtually) that he stretched the hands of friendship in the General Assembly session last year to Rajab Tayyip Erdogan and told him that Greece can act in Europe as a constructive communication channel with Turkey. In spite of this, Turkey is keeping on intensifying tension. All know that escalation will not sustain. We do not believe that our immediate neighbours can not establish cooperation with us. If the outcome is non-agreement, we have the International Court of Justice in the Hague and we need to trust its decision to resolve our differences.
Stances of the Hellenic side are backed by the Greek public opinion. A recent poll conducted by Pulse institute in Greece demonstrated that 58 per cent of the people believe the decisions and measures of the Neo-Democracy government concerning Turkey are in the right direction. Some 80 per cent of the Greek public opinion believes that Turkey lacks the necessary determination to end the crisis in the region. On the mediatory role of Germany in this dispute, 68 per cent of the Greek people are opposed to mediation and consider it as negative. Some 76 per cent, however, praise the positions taken by France in the recent tension of Greece with Turkey and 59 per cent consider the US role as negative.
France is siding with the Hellenic Republic in its dispute with Turkey over energy claims and marine boundaries. This has resulted in escalation between Turkey and France. While both countries are pursuing their ambitions of influence in the East Mediterranean, this resourceful region has turned into the most recent scene of increasing rivalry between France and Turkey. In spite of the current efforts to establish negotiations between Ankara and Athens in Brussels, the reciprocal verbal attacks of French President Macron and Turkish President Erdogan continue against each other. The recent escalation of tension between the two NATO allies is occurring after years of severed relations between the two countries. France has managed to unite the European Union countries to adopt harsher stances against Turkey’s drilling and exploration activities for energy in disputed waters of the East Mediterranean. France has stepped up its military presence in the region and participated in joint military drills and Macron has emphasized the significance of being frank and decisive against what he calls “unacceptable” behaviour by Turkey. France represents itself as the main defender of the European countries against the Turkish ambitions in the East Mediterranean and especially on Libya. However, France positions against Turkey have not remained unanswered. The Turkish president in his toughest reaction to Macron warned him and said: Mr Macron, you’re going to have more problems with me…Don’t mess with the Turkish people. Don’t mess with Turkey! Erdogan described the French president as a greedy incompetent. And Turkish officials have highlighted the colonial history of France in the East Mediterranean while appraising “humanitarian efforts” of Turkey in the region. Opposition with France has helped Turkey represent itself as an independent international player against Western powers.
The current tensions between Turkey and Greece have exposed former tensions inside NATO (to which both Turkey and Greece are members) and the European Union. Under circumstances in which the NATO leadership tries to encourage Ankara and Athens to reconcile and enter into negotiations, France is favouring Greece and is interfering in the region through military means and games. Following the escalation of these tensions, NATO has made efforts to defuse the tension and bring them to the negotiating table. The Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization believes that Turkey and Greece are important NATO allies and NATO has provided proper grounds for negotiation and dialogue. In our conversation with the President of Turkey, we talked about recent developments in the East Mediterranean and the NATO efforts to prevent unpleasant incidents. Turkey and Greece are both valuable allies. NATO is a ground for dialogue and negotiation. Turkish president while appreciating the approach of the NATO Secretary-General towards issues of the East Mediterranean, emphasizes that Turkey is seeking de-escalation and negotiation over issues of the East Mediterranean. Turkey has openly displayed its positions in this respect. Turkey is always adopting a moderate and peaceful approach towards developments and the process of negotiations depend on the honesty and goodwill of the Hellenic side in defusing tensions.