By Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos
Oct. 3, 2020
At the beginning,the European Council was to convene on September 24 and 25 with only item on the agenda relations between the EU and Turkey.Using the pretext that someone in the Cabinet of the President of the European Council was found positive for coronavirus,the meeting was postponed for October 1,while it could have been convened via teleconference as had been done during the summer.Of course the true reason was to give some time to Greece and Turkey to start their exploratory talks and to the latter to stop violating the continental shelf and territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus,so that the imposition of sanctions to Turkey could be avoided..More items were added to the agenda of the October 1 meeting like China,Belarus,Nagorno-Karabach and the Navalny assassination attempt.,in an effort to reduce the time for discussions on Turkey.
Greece and Cyprus waged a gallant battle in Brussels by threatening to block sanctions against Belarus if sanctions against Turkey were not also imposed and by rejecting draft conclusion proposals submitted by the President of the European Council.The final text could have been worse for the interests of Cyprus and Greece but in general terms satisfied Athens and Nicosia.
Paragraph 20 of the conclusions mentions that “in case of renewed unilateral actions or provocations in breach of international law,the EU will use all the instruments and options at its disposal in order to defend its interests and those of its Member-States”. Paragraph 17 of the conclusions “strongly condemns violations of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus which must stop.The European Council calls on Turkey to abstain from similar actions in the future,in breach of international law.”These two paragraphs are defective since they are asking Turkey to stop violations in the future,while they are continuing in the present.The very moment that these paragraphs were being negotiated ,Turkey was violating the continental shelf and the territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus by a research ship exploring for gas.So logically the measures mentioned in paragraph 17 should have been adopted at that moment.
It should be reminded that measures against Turkey have already been adopted.The European Council of 20 June 2019 in paragraph 17 of its conclusions “expresses serious concern over Turkey’s current illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and deplores that Turkey has not yet responded to the EU’s repeated calls to cease such activities.The European Council underlines the serious immediate negative impact that such illegal actions have across the range of EU-Turkey relations.The European Council calls on Turkey to show restraint,respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus and retrain from any such actions.The European Council endorses the invitation to the Commission and to the EEAS to submit options for appropriate measures without delay,including targeted measures.” After seven months targeted measures were adopted against the CEO of TPAO(the Turkish Petroleum Company that is doing the drilling)and one director of the company.It is here that we see the incompetence of the EU that insists in giving Turkey another chance to avoid restrictive measures,knowing that for one and a half year now it has not changed its position and continues doing what it is doing because the EU does not take serious action against it because of financial bilateral interests of some Member-States.The EU cannot see that these bilateral interests are actually undermining the effectiveness of the EU.
It is interesting to note that the European Council did not adopt restrictive measures against Belarus but “agreed that restrictive measures should be imposed and calls on the Council to adopt the decision without delay.” This wording gives to Cyprus and Greece some flexibility to prevent its adoption at Council level if necessary.
A small preview into the future can be seen by the reaction of Turkey to the conclusions of the European Council.Essentially the press release dated October 2 of the Turkish MFA,rejects the conclusions.”Conclusions adopted at the Special European Council Meeting yesterday,regarding Turkey,even with certain positive elements,are far from reality in most aspects.” Mention is made that the “Turkish Cypriot side will continue its hydrocarbon activities through Turkish Petroleum”.meaning that Turkey will not stop.As far as the exploratory talks with Greece are concerned,it is mentioned “that these talks are aimed to the resolution of all outstanding issues between Turkey and Greece and are not limited to delimitation of maritime jurisdiction areas”,thus effectively undermining the exploratory talks.
Objectively it can be said that Greece and Cyprus achieved as much as they could in the strange environment of the European Council.These two countries must now bilaterally try to convince other Member-States to stop the sale of arms to Turkey as a minimum token of solidarity that is so easily expressed on paper.
In conclusion,once again the EU with the concessions that it made in order to guarantee the economic interests of certain Member States failed to safeguard the sovereign rights of two of its Members,thus adding another pebble to its dissolution.And this is where we can agree with Erdogan who considers the EU an ineffective organization.
* Ambassador ad honorem