EU’s carrot-stick approach to Med crisis doomed to fail

EU’s carrot-stick approach to Med crisis doomed to fail

Greece has already dismissed three mediation efforts to de-escalate tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. First, it signed a controversial maritime jurisdiction deal with Egypt on Aug. 6 and dumped the German initiative to resume “the exploratory talks” between Ankara and Athens.

Second, it killed NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s well-intentioned attempt to create a technical mechanism under the alliance’s auspices to reduce the risk of a conflict or accidents between the two allies in the eastern Mediterranean.
Third, Greece turned down a call from the European Union’s senior representative for foreign and security policy, Josep

Borrell, for a meeting between the Turkish and Greek foreign ministers in a third country.
The condition Greece lays down for a dialogue with Turkey is the withdrawal of all Turkish civilian and military vessels from the area it claims as its continental shelf. But just for the record, when Greece sabotaged the German initiative on Aug. 6, there were no Turkish civilian or military ships in those areas.

This column has frequently noted that the Greek strategy concerning the eastern Mediterranean and hydrocarbon reserves is mainly based on three pillars: further isolating Turkey by describing its actions as unlawful, internationalizing the problem by taking advantage of Turkey’s poor image in the West and turning the current problems into a matter between Turkey and the European Union.

This strategy, naturally, does not leave much room to engage in direct dialogue – at least for now – with Turkey, as Greece and Greek Cyprus could perfectly pit the European Union against Turkey over the ongoing tension in the region with the support of one of the bloc’s most prominent members, France. Let’s remember, it was French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who broached the idea of imposing sanctions on Turkey in mid-June, much before the situation escalated between Turkey and Greece.

The latest EU foreign ministers’ meeting in late August discussed the renewal of Brussels’ unconditional support for Greece and Greek Cyprus while Borrell announced a council decision to “develop a list of further restrictive measures that could be discussed at the European Council on Sept. 24-25.”

Borrell’s unfortunate statement was a reflection of the bloc’s intention to impose coercive diplomacy against Turkey in line with French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement suggesting that Turks only consider deeds, not words.
It seems European decision-makers have realized that imposing punitive measures alone will not work against Turkey, and that’s why EU Council President Charles Michel has outlined a “carrot-and-stick” approach, abandoning the “stick alone” line.

“We will identify … in our external policy a sticks-and-carrots approach. [We will decide] what tools to use to improve the relationship and what tools to react [with] if we are not being respected,” Michel told international agencies last week.

Michel did not elaborate on what inducements the union is planning to submit, but some senior EU officials are hinting at the start of negotiations to upgrade the customs union, renewing the 2016 migration deal or accelerating the process to offer Turkish nationals visa-free travel to the Schengen area. In return, they suggest, Turkey will withdraw its vessels from the disputed areas and will never dispatch them again.

But long story short, Michel’s carrot-and-stick approach is doomed to fail, since this approach mainly focuses on the sticks, rather than the carrots, and considerd the target country as the wrongdoer.
This strategy means that the “superior countries” (the European Union) disrespect the rights and interests of the target country (Turkey) because it is designed to resolve the existing problem by forcing the target country to change its behavior, rather than reach any compromise.

Second, the carrots voiced by some senior officials are not actually carrots. They are the European Union’s commitments to Turkey as declared by the 2016 statement between Ankara and Brussels but which have never been fulfilled.

The bloc’s carrot-and-stick policy will not resolve the question. Worse, it could further complicate the situation in the eastern Mediterranean. Instead of such archaic diplomatic methods, the union should adopt a more realistic approach to ensure the unconditional launch of direct talks between Turkey and Greece as well as Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.

Wouldn’t it be a great move for the European Union to assure the Turkish Cypriots that their rights and interests in the island’s hydrocarbon reserves will be protected and guaranteed through an EU-based mechanism?

Wouldn’t it be good for the European Union to realize that lending unconditional support to Greece will further prolong the crisis and result in more provocative actions from both sides? Wouldn’t it be constructive for the European Union to stop to think that it has jurisdiction over the continental shelf rights in the eastern Mediterranean?

Brussels can become a genuine diplomatic force only if it can rightly respond to these questions.

Serkan Demirtaş,