Turkey pushes EU to act in concrete terms

Turkey pushes EU to act in concrete terms

Nobody thought that the de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean and reconciliation between Turkey and Greece would be easy. On the contrary, almost all the stakeholders were quite aware that only intensified diplomacy accompanied by concrete acts would provide a genuine basis for the resumption of Turkish-Greek talks over their long-standing disputes stemming from the Aegean and Mediterranean.

Turkey’s re-deployment of the Oruç Reis to the eastern Mediterranean, south of Greece’s Meis Island, where Greece claims as its continental shelf, is yet another example of why this process will take time and more efforts.

Obviously, the return of the Oruç Reis research vessel to this area has caused a serious reaction from Greece and the EU countries. Plus, EU term president Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’ decision to remove Ankara from his regional itinerary was quite important. “Ankara must end the interplay between detente and provocation if the government is interested in talks - as it has repeatedly affirmed,” Maas told before his trips to Greece and Greek Cyprus on Oct. 12.

To better understand why Turkey sent the ship back to the region, one should analyze the developments of the last two weeks. As can be recalled, an important turning point occurred during the EU’s special council meeting on Oct. 1.
The summit concluded that it would be ready to propose a positive agenda in a bid to re-energize ties with Turkey as it listed updating customs union, visa liberalization and revising the 2016 March migrant deal among the areas on which Brussels would move. However, it also did not hesitate to urge Turkey that it is ready to impose sanctions should Ankara would take unilateral actions and continue its movements in the Mediterranean.

Turkey’s formal answer to the EU conclusions was moderate. It said that they were partially positive and reaffirmed Ankara’s readiness to engage in unconditional dialogue with Greece by the resumption of the exploratory talks.
Plus, Turkey did also withdraw the Yavuz drilling ship off Cyprus on the eve of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s visit to Ankara where the NATO chief expressed his satisfaction with the creation of a 24/7 de-confliction mechanism to avoid potential accidents and conflicts between the two neighboring allies.

In the meanwhile, Ankara has been keeping an eye on Brussels in regards to fulfilling its words stated in the conclusions. As it did not get any signal to this end, Ankara has started to raise its criticisms against the EU, and the first shot was given by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a videoconference on Oct. 6.

“Erdoğan stated that the declaration issued following the EU leaders’ summit lacked elements that lay the groundwork for dialogue and cooperation and help overcome problems,” read a statement issued by the Communication Directorate after the conversation.

This message has later been given to other senior EU officials as well, including Maas by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu at a meeting in Bratislava last week. Then came the Greek NAVTEX announcement that the Greek armed forces will hold a live firing exercise in the Aegean on Oct. 29, Turkey’s National Day, in violation of a 1988 deal banning the two sides to hold military exercises on their national days.

Ankara has interpreted this new provocative move as yet another example of divergence between the Greek government and its armed forces when it comes to the reconciliation process with Turkey. Besides, the Greek government officials, especially Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, continued their aggressive statements against Turkey by assuring the Greek public opinion that they won’t be in a compromising mood over the disputed issues.
After all these deliberations, Turkey seems to have decided to send the Oruç Reis back to the region at the expense of being spotted as the spoiler but it thought it was necessary to urge the EU that no delays are acceptable.
Erdoğan made clear this to EU Council President Charles Michel over the phone conversation late Oct. 12, citing Ankara’s expectations once again, which are the revival of Turkey-EU relations, the fulfillment of the March 18 migrant deal, progress on the customs union and visa liberalization as well as concrete steps for holding the eastern Mediterranean Conference proposed by Turkey.

The EU leaders will once again meet in the coming days, and it will set a new opportunity for them to conclude what kind of a proposal they would develop for re-energizing the EU-Turkey agenda as was stated in the EU conclusions of Oct. 1.

Serkan Demirtaş,