EU-Turkey relations «under strain»

«…On Turkey we had a long and interesting debate. At the end of it, I presented my conclusions, which were approved by the Council members. It is my conclusions that will conduct and drive my future actions as High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission » said the EU top diplomat Josep Borrel during the press-conference after the Council of the Foreign affairs ministers.

«We reiterated that we see Turkey as an important country for the European Union with whom we would [wish] to see our relations strengthened and developing. This should be done in respect of EU values, principles and interests.

«There was a consensus among Member States that the EU-Turkey relations are currently under continuous strain. There are worrying developments, in particular in the Eastern Mediterranean and regarding Libya that affect directly our interests. Thus, several serious issues must be addressed by Turkey in order to change the current confrontational dynamic and create an environment of trust with Turkey, which everybody wishes.

«But, we stress also that Turkey’s unilateral actions, in particular in the Eastern Mediterranean, which run counter to EU interests, to the sovereign rights of EU Member States and to international law, must come to an end.

«We recalled the previous Conclusions of the Council of 15 July 2019 on illegal Turkish drilling activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus and the 15 May 2020 Statement on the Eastern Mediterranean and reiterated that the situation that we were confronted [with] at the EU borders in early March 2020 must not be repeated.

«We also agreed to call on Turkey to contribute actively to a political solution in Libya and to respect the commitments it has taken in the framework of the Berlin process, including the United Nations arms embargo.

«We are doing our part – the European Member States are doing their part, in particular through Operation Irini, which provides a key contribution to ensure the respect of the arms embargo by all actors. We will consider ways to ensure the full effectiveness of the operation, with the aim of preventing escalation on the ground.

«An important issue was about Hagia Sophia. The Council has condemned the Turkish decision to convert such an emblematic monument as Hagia Sophia back to a mosque. This decision will inevitably fuel mistrust, promote renewed divisions between religious communities and undermine our efforts at dialogue and cooperation. There was broad support to call on the Turkish authorities to urgently reconsider and reverse this decision.

«All in all, the final conclusion is that there was clearly a broad support for me to explore further paths that could contribute to lowering tensions and reach understandings on issues that are increasingly stressing the relations between Turkey and the European Union.

«Also, I will prepare options on further appropriate measures that could be taken in response to the challenges we are facing as a result of Turkish actions, including in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the meantime, work will also continue on additional listings within the existing sanctions framework as requested by Cyprus.

«I agreed to report back to the [Foreign Affairs] Ministers at the informal meeting at the end of August, which will also have Turkey on its agenda.

Sanctions are always an instrument to achieve a goal, but they are not a policy in themselves. The Council [of Foreign Affairs] considered that there are Council conclusions on illegal Turkish drillings and, at the same time, expressed their will to defuse tensions and make clear that Member States’ sovereignty and sovereignty rights should be respected in accordance with these Council conclusions and international law.

One thing is dialogue and another thing are negotiations. The Council expressed a broad support –I want to be very much precise with the wording I am going to use- to explore further paths that could contribute to lowering tensions and reach understandings on issues that are increasingly stressing the relationship. It is a way of offering to continue exploring ways of reaching understandings.

But, at the same time, the Council has also asked that options have to be prepared on measures that could be taken in response to the challenges we are facing. For sure, there are Council conclusions and on the implementation of these Council conclusions technical work will continue at the technical level on additional listings within the existing sanctions framework as requested by Cyprus”.

Responding to the questions of the international press Josep Borrell added: “We do not want to anticipate a situation in which we could have an increase of tensions. The wording I used is absolutely clear and it is a general answer to all these kind of questions. We are going to explore further paths that could contribute to lower tensions. For sure drillings in Greek waters disputed by Turkey would be something that could increase tensions. At the same time, we will prepare options and further appropriate measures that could be taken in response to the challenges that we are facing as a result of Turkey’s actions.

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