Can the EU be an honest broker in the East Med crisis?
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, recently paid an important visit to the Turkish capital to hold talks with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.
Borrell himself explained that it was an important visit as it comes a week before the bloc’s foreign affairs council and European Parliament convenes for special sessions to discuss the ongoing dispute in the eastern Mediterranean, as well as Brussels’ relationship with Ankara in the near future.
“I thought that before having these two important debates, it would be good to reach out to my Turkish friends in order to know better which are their positions and which can be the prospects for the future,” he said at a press conference with Çavuşoğlu.
The Turkish foreign minister was as frank as possible in his messages at the press conference: First, he suggested that the EU should play the role of an honest broker in resolving the eastern Mediterranean standoff. The EU, as an institution, should become part of the solution, not part of the problem, Çavuşoğlu said, criticizing the 27-member bloc for being a hostage to France and Greek Cyprus.
The second message was more important. He vowed that Turkey would pursue a more flexible policy in the hydrocarbon dispute in the eastern Mediterranean if the rights and interests of Turkish Cypriots were guaranteed. On that, he suggested, the EU could play an important role by granting assurances that it would oversee the revenue-sharing process either through private businesses or some special mechanism.
In fact, this has been a longstanding request from Turkey and Turkish Cyprus since Greek Cyprus unilaterally started hydrocarbon activities by issuing licenses to the international companies. In July 2019, Turkish Cyprus released a statement in which it informed the international community that its rights were being violated and called for the establishment of a mechanism to guarantee a fair share of revenue.
Turkey had to dispatch its own drilling vessels to the region after Greek Cyprus accelerated its unilateral moves as if the Turkish Cypriots were not living on the same island.
Unfortunately, due to a narrow-minded approach by EU leaders as a result of pressure from Greece, Greek Cyprus and France, the tension between Turkey and the EU has further escalated, as Brussels has imposed sanctions on Ankara. Greece and Greek Cyprus have succeeded in turning a regional conflict into a standoff between Ankara and Brussels, while the French government has used the tension as a tool to achieve its plan to end the Turkish accession process.
At this point, as Borrell suggested, there are “many serious issues that require our immediate attention,” to avoid “any kind of incident that could spark more troubles.” The continued deadlock in the Mediterranean will increase the risk of unwanted incidents in the region that could result in unpredictable damage.
That’s why next week is going to be crucial. The EU and prominent EU nations, particularly Germany as the term president, will decide whether they will engage in a constructive dialogue with Turkey to grab hold of a glimmer of hope to resolve the existing problems or sanction it in the name of solidarity with France, Greece and Greek Cyprus.
The latter will just make things worse in the region and kill any chance that the EU will be able to take matters into own hands.