European leaders meeting: Turkey on their agenda too

European leaders meeting: Turkey on their agenda too

These meetings are often boring to the public, or too complicated to understand. Yet, sometimes the meetings of the European Council may have to discuss issues that go beyond the borders of the EU, issues that relate to the rest of the world and take decisions upon them.

Such a meeting is the one that started yesterday where the 27 leaders will have to decide about the policies of the EU for the next five years. There is a particularly heavy agenda whereby some are extremely complex, and issues like Brexit require immediate decisions, the enlargement of the EU, climate change and, of course, the EU budget for the next five years. The saga of Brexit may be coming to an end, as soon as this weekend, the accession talks for two new European countries, Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia, will proceed.

But the hot potato of the meeting will be Turkey.

It is the first EU meeting taking place following the full-blown military action of Turkey in northeast Syria. And this is an unusually tense period for relations between the Europeans and Ankara. As of Oct. 14, the Foreign Affairs Council of the EU condemned “Turkey’s unilateral military action” in Syria asking for a ceasefire and withdrawal of Turkish forces. This topic is expected to be discussed in this EU Council meeting by the EU leaders as well as the other hot topics, like the continued drilling by Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially sensitive for Greece and the Greek Cypriots. The framework of a series of measures was decided, targeting persons and legal entities involved in what the EU considered “illegal” activity of drilling for hydrocarbons in areas which Greek Cypriots consider their own.

Will the Europeans risk imposing sanctions on Turkey for this, and thus putting the EU-Ankara agreement on the refugees at risk?

Probably not, particularly now with a new wave of refugees from Syria becoming a real possibility. So, instead of a harsher approach to Turkey, we might see an attempt for at least fulfilling the latter part of the Europeans’ commitment, in other words paying the rest of the funds promised to Turkey and taking some steps towards providing visa-free entrance to certain category of Turkish citizens.

A special case is Greece and Cyprus. The new Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is expected to press for a special discussion on the “Turkish aggression in the Aegean and around Cyprus” and ask for sanctions against Turkey. Mitsotakis will also be looking for more help from Europe to Greece, in order to manage the increasingly more complex problem of refugees and migrants who are arriving in large numbers on the Greek islands, causing fierce reaction by the local population. The attempt of Mitsotakis’ government to seek relocating refugees and migrants on the mainland of Greece has already proven an unpopular measure, thus forcing the new Greek government to look up to Europe for help.

So, Mitsotakis will be asking his fellow EU leaders to decide to create a system whereby the countries which refuse to share the burden of refugees/migrants, contrary to EU decisions, to be “punished.” So, he is planning to put the issue of sharing the burden on the basis of the principle of solidarity, one of the fundamental principles of the EU.

With the operation in northern Syria escalating into a regional problem, it would be extremely interesting to watch out for the reaction of the 27 countries of the EU to see what their approach to Turkey will be. Because, although individually several European countries have come out strongly against Turkey, Brussels may dictate a softer approach in the end.