Category Archives: International

Borrell «regrets» Hagia Sophia transformation

«Hagia Sophia has a strong symbolic, historical and universal value. Turkey has developed a well-established tradition of cultural conservation as well as a recognised tradition of intellectual and cultural openness. The ruling by the Turkish Council of State to overturn one of modern Turkey’s landmark decisions and President Erdoğan‘s decision to place the monument under the management of the Religious Affairs Presidency, is regrettable. As a founding member of the Alliance of Civilisations, Turkey has committed to the promotion of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue and to fostering of tolerance and co-existence» reads the text of the declaration of the top EU diplomat Josep Borrell.

Unlike the French Minister of Foreign Affaris Jean-Yves Le Drian, Borrell continues to name the Christian baslilque by its Turkish name «Hagia Sophia» while French diiplomacy is refering to the site under its original name «Saint Sophia». The EU diplomacy position also differs, while pointing to universal, historic, and cultural value, omitting the religious symbolism of the basilique for Orthodx Chrisitanity.

Borrell on travel restrictions for Turkey

“Turkey is not only a close neighbour for the European Union, especially for some Member States – it is clear it is a closer neighbour to Greece than to Portugal for example, or Ireland – but it is a key partner, it is a candidate country for accession, and the fact that we in Europe discuss extensively and frequently about Turkey just reflects the importance that we attach to this relationship” said the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell, at the press conference following his meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Çavuşoğlu in Ankara, Turkey.

“The advantage of our talks, dear Minister [[of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu], is that we can talk openly, frankly, in a constructive approach. Because currently the situation is far from being ideal. There are many serious issues that require our immediate attention. I want to change for the best the dynamics in our relationship because I believe that we have a mutual interest to get out of this situation and chart a new and positive trajectory, avoiding any kind of incident that could spark more troubles.

“First, the Eastern Mediterranean is a key region for Europe. It is time to tackle this, in order to create a way forward, conductive to confidence building, dialogue, good neighbourhood relations, stability and security. And this cannot be done by unilateral actions but requires cooperation and dialogue.

“The COVID-19 requires cooperation, unhappily it has not been the case worldwide, there is more confrontation than cooperation, but among us we should try to look for more cooperation than confrontation. I will have also the opportunity to discuss with the Minister of Defence [of Turkey, Hulusi Akar]. We are going to talk about the deterioration of the situation in the Aegean Sea, in the Eastern Mediterranean and what it means for EU-Turkey relations…

“…Let me just say that I understand the preoccupations of Turkey about the travel restrictions. I just want to say that Turkey has not been included in this list because we are adopting a progressive lifting of the travel restrictions on non-essential inbound travel. Only 15 countries have been selected to be part of this list, the approach that the Commission’s services in charge of these issues has followed is based on objective criteria related primarily to the health situation. These criteria are objective, applying them is not a mechanical exercise, it involves some qualitative judgement that is not set in stone. It will be revisited at least every two weeks, taking into account the evolving health situation.

“Moreover, not being on the list does not mean a complete travel ban. Citizens and people with an essential reason to come to Europe should be allowed to travel. As I said at least every two weeks we are going to reassess the situation according with the data provided by the health authorities of the states with which we would like to open our borders as soon as possible”.

Orthodox cleric criticises Hagia Sophia Islamisation

Transformation of the Istanbul Hagia Sophia historic monument from a museum to a mosque would be “unacceptable”, a senior official in the Russian Orthodox Church said on July 4.

President Tayyip Erdogan has proposed restoring the mosque status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a sixth century building, the Christian Byzantine emblematic consturciton, which became one of most visited world monuments.

“We can’t go back to the Middle Ages now,” Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for external church relations, said on state television, reported the Interfax news agency.

“We live in a multipolar world, we live in a multi-confessional world and we need to respect the feelings of believers.”

Hilarion said the Russian Orthodox Church did not understand the reason for Hagia Sophia’s transformation and that they believed domestic politics was behind the move.

“We believe that in the current conditions this act is an unacceptable violation of religious freedom,” the cleric concluded.

A Turkish court earlier this week heard a case aimed at transfering the building back into a mosque and will announce its verdict mid-July.

The court case, brought by an NGO, disputes the legality of a decision in 1934, in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, to convert Hagia Sophia – known in Turkish as Ayasofya – from a mosque into a museum.

However the revolutionary proposal of NGO, backed by President Erdogan, has been criticised by other religious and political leaders.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said converting it into a mosque would disappoint Christians and would “fracture” East and West.

Erdogan has assessed the foreign criticism over the proposal as an attack on Turkey’s sovereignty.

Russian meida reported that the first symbolic Muslim service could take place mid-July.

Barnier reveals «serious divergences» 

“This week, David Frost and I continued our discussions, together with a restricted number of experts on each side” reads the statement of the EU top negotiator Michel Barnier, concluding the week of talks with the UK counterparts on future EU-UK post-Brexit agreement.

As agreed two weeks ago at the High-Level Meeting between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Presidents Ursula von der Leyen, David Sassoli and Charles Michel, the EU sought to inject new dynamics in the talks.

Our goal was to get negotiations successfully and quickly on a trajectory to reach an agreement.

However, after four days of discussions, serious divergences remain.

The EU side had listened carefully to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statements in recent weeks, in particular, his request to reach a political agreement quickly, and his red lines: no role for the European Court of Justice in the UK; no obligation for the UK to continue to be bound by EU law; and an agreement on fisheries that shows Brexit makes a real difference.

The EU engaged constructively, as we had already done during the fourth round of negotiations in June. We did so in line with the mandate entrusted to the European Commission by the Council, with the support of the European Parliament.

The EU’s position remains, based on the Political Declaration, that there will be no economic partnership without:

robust guarantees for a level playing field – including on state aid – to ensure open and fair competition among our businesses;
a balanced, sustainable and long-term solution for our European fishermen and women;
an overarching institutional framework and effective dispute settlement mechanisms.
And we will continue to insist on parallel progress on all areas.

The EU expects, in turn, its positions to be better understood and respected in order to reach an agreement. We need an equivalent engagement by the United Kingdom.

We continue to believe that an agreement is possible and in everyone’s interest.

We look forward to the next round of negotiations in the week of 20 July.

In the meantime, and as agreed, we will continue our discussions in London next week.”

The British top negociator David Frost has also issued a statement, concluding the week of talks.

We have completed our discussion of the full range of issues in the negotiation in just over three days. Our talks were face to face for the first time since March and this has given extra depth and flexibility to our discussions.
The negotiations have been comprehensive and useful. But they have also underlined the significant differences that still remain between us on a number of important issues.
We remain committed to working hard to find an early understanding on the principles underlying an agreement out of the intensified talks process during July, as agreed at the HLM on 15 June,”
Frost wrote.
Talks will continue next week in London as agreed in the revised terms of reference published on 12 June.”

EU reacts upon Russia Constitution amendments

“Nationwide voting in the Russian Federation on constitutional amendments concluded on 1 July. Some amendments concern changes in the political system and the work of the executive, legislative and judicial branches” reads the text of the statement, attribued to the European External Action Service (EEAS)spokesperson.

“The European Union regrets that, in the run up to this vote, campaigning both for and against was not allowed, thereby denying voters access to balanced information.

“We expect all reports and allegations of irregularities, including voter coercion, multiple voting, violation of secrecy of the vote and allegations of police violence against a journalist who was present to observe, to be duly investigated.

“An addition to Article 79 of the Constitution provides for primacy of the Russian Constitution over decisions of interstate bodies based on international treaties. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, of which Russia is a member, has considered this addition incompatible with Russia’s international obligations and recommended that this addition be removed or the wording amended. We expect Russia, regardless of any amendments to its constitution, to live up to its international obligations, including its obligation to execute European Court of Human Rights judgements”.

Venezuela cancels EU Ambassador eviction

“The Ministry of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the European Union’s External Action Service inform the international community that today, the Venezuelan Minister of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs, Jorge Arreaza, and the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, held a phone conversation in which they agreed on the need to maintain the framework of diplomatic relations, especially at times when cooperation between both parties can facilitate the path of political dialogue” reads the text of the statement of the Euroepan External Action Service (EEAS) attributed to a spokesperson.

“Consequently, the Venezuelan Government decided to rescind the decision taken on June 29, 2020, by which Ambassador Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa, Head of the Delegation of the European Union in Caracas, was declared persona non grata.

“They both agreed to promote diplomatic contacts between the parties at the highest level, within the framework of sincere cooperation and respect for international law”.

Socialist MEPs block Resolution on Turkey

The European Peopole’s Party (EPP) has issued a statement following the Left Groups S&D and GUE block of the Resolution from European Parliament as tensions continue to increase between the European Unions and Turkey.

On the initiative of the EPP Group, the European Parliament will debate the continued and repeated aggression of Turkey against Greece and Cyprus next week. In light of the situation, Chairman of the EPP Group, Manfred Weber MEP, called for an urgent debate with High Representative Josep Borrell.

“Turkey is unilaterally escalating conflicts with Europe and the situation is getting worse. Turkish security forces attack the Greek border on a regular basis and the drilling attempts in the waters of Cyprus are intensifying continuously. The EU cannot leave these aggressions unanswered.”

Greece has seen repeated attempts by groups of people trying to cross the border illegally, with the help of the Turkish security forces. The Head of the Greek Delegation of the EPP Group, Vangelis Meimarakis MEP, stated: “President Erdogan is provoking another refugee crisis for his own benefit on the back of desperate people. Turkey’s actions undermine the refugee agreement and are a threat to stability in Europe. The European Parliament should send a clear signal to Turkey that it has gone too far and that it must stop challenging the EU.”

Turkey’s illegal drilling activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus have also been escalating recently. “We expect the European Union to show solidarity in practice and to vigorously defend Cyprus and Greece against Turkish aggression. If the current measures do not stop Turkey’s illegal activities, it is clear we need to further increase the pressure”, said the Head of the Cypriot Delegation of the EPP Group, Lefteris Christoforou MEP.

The EPP Group called for a strong statement from the European Parliament, a debate and a Resolution, to denounce Turkey’s actions. However, during the discussions with the other political Groups, the Socialists (S&D) and the Communists (GUE) blocked a Resolution on the matter.

“In light of the facts on the ground, it is incomprehensible that the Left wing parties reject a strong and clear signal from the European Parliament”, the MEPs noted.

Image: illustration, European Parliament hearing, Brussels

Europarl has no comment on Russian referendum

Statement by Members of the European Parliament David McAllister and Tomas Tobé on the constitutional referendum in Russia.

“A constitutional referendum took place in Russia from 25 June to 1 July.

The European Parliament has not been invited to observe this electoral process, and consequently will neither comment on the process nor on the results that will be announced afterwards. No individual Member of the European Parliament has been mandated to observe or comment on this electoral process on its behalf.

Therefore, any Member of the European Parliament who decided to observe this electoral process in the Russian Federation, or in the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula, where the European Union does not and will not recognise the holding of this consultation, has done so on her/his own initiative and should under no circumstances through any statement or action, associate her/his participation with the European Parliament.”

Mr McAllister (EPP, DE) and Mr Tobé (EPP, SE) are Co-Chairs of the European Parliament’s Democracy Support and Election Coordination Group.

Image: European Parliament building, Strasbourg

Turkey neo-Sultan «Sword-law»

Costas MAVRIDES OPINION In modern neo-Ottoman Turkey, there is a hysteria for new conquests, while disrespecting of international law and fundamental ethics. On a daily basis, actions and statements of Turkish officials (from Erdogan and his ministers) are made with complete contempt for International and EU Law, while different voices are silenced or persecuted.

Such a different voice is one by Burak Bekdil, a well known journalist who was fired from Turkey’s leading newspaper after 29 years, for writing at “Gatestone” about what is taking place in Turkey! In his latest article at Gatestone (“Turkey: Erdoğan Wishes “Many More Happy Conquests”), Bekdil focused on the hypocrisy and arrogance of modern Turkey on the occasion of the celebrations of the fall of Constantinople, during which President Erdogan referred to, not only to the past conquests, but to the “many more happy conquests” in the future. The question posed by the now persecuted journalist is straight forward: What are these non-Turkish countries and territories that Erdogan expects to conquer? As the journalist stressed, the prevailing distortion and arrogance in today’s Turkish politics is based on the Ottoman “Law of the Sword”: the conqueror can rule a conquered country or territory according to his desires.

The “spirit of conquest” is dominant in the modern Turkish political scene and infects daily life within and outside of Turkey e.g. attacks and destruction of churches and cemeteries, forced disappearances, torture, murders, imprisonment, persecution. Such crimes are ‘washed away’ by the Turkish state apparatus, given that courts in Turkey are Erdogan’s tool so that such criminals are easily acquitted, and many turn into … national heroes! Under the same hypocrisy and arrogance, other ethnic groups and non-Muslims are purged, and churches turned into mosques. The depredation of property, a criminal act by all means, if committed on behalf of conquest, is hailed as a heroic achievement. In fact, in Turkish educational system, there is a special celebration for the conquests!

Conquests and arrogance are at the core of Turkey’s current ‘spread’ (e.g. sending jihadists and weapons to Libya, before the eye of the EU and NATO, despising UN Security Council arms embargo). Incidentally, it was recently announced that ethnic cleansing of Kurdish and other populations in the Turkish-occupied Afrin region of Syria, had been completed. Such crimes of conquest, ethnic cleansing and colonization continue unpunished in Cyprus, while new illegal actions are in process in the Cyprus EEZ, the Aegean, and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Before this neo-Ottoman “Law of the Sword”, the prevailing political perception in EU, is that dialogue should prevail, while the neo Sultan of Turkey is advancing. History repeats itself but very few learn from it.

Costas Mavrides, Member of European Parliament

Chair of the Political Committee of the Mediterranean

Image: Recep Tayyip Erdogan

President Maduro expels EU Ambassador

President Nicolás Maduro has ordered the European Union’s Ambassador H.E. Isabel Brilhante Pedrosa (pictured) to leave Venezuela within 72 hours.

In his announcement on Juin 29 broadcast on state television, speaking of the EU, Mr Maduro said: “If they can’t respect Venezuela, then they should leave it.”
He added: “A plane can be loaned for her [Pedrosa] to leave.” Venezuela’s air space is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The diplomat expulsion came hours after the EU placed sanctions on 11 Venezuelan officials for acting against the National Assembly headed by opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Juan Guaidó declared himself interim President of Venezuela last year but has failed to remove Mr Maduro.
The opposition leader has the backing of the EU and the US.

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