Macron calls for EU sanctions against Turkey amid Ankara-Athens tensions

“It is unacceptable that the maritime space of (EU) member states be violated and threatened. Those who are doing that must be sanctioned,” said the French leader.
Thursday 23/07/2020
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades hold a joint press conference following their meeting at the Elysee Palace, July 23. (DPA)
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades hold a joint press conference following their meeting at the Elysee Palace, July 23. (DPA)

ATHENS – Tensions sparked by Turkey’s intent to prepare for oil-and-gas drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean escalated Thursday, prompting France to call for European Union sanctions against Ankara and the Greek government to warn it will repel Turkish moves.

In response to plans by Turkey to proceed with an oil-and-gas exploration mission south of Greek islands in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece said it will do “whatever is necessary” to defend its sovereign rights.

The dispute over seabed mineral rights has led to increased navy deployments by both NATO members in the region, where a Turkish research vessel, the Oruc Reis, is being prepared for a survey mission.

Turkey has drawn growing criticism from Western allies, with French President Emmanuel Macron joining calls for EU sanctions against Ankara for “violations” of Greek and Cypriot waters.

Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas described the mission as a direct violation of Greek sovereignty and that of Greek ally Cyprus.

“The government is underlining to all parties that Greece will not accept a violation of its sovereignty and will do whatever is necessary to defend its sovereign rights,” Petsas said.

Macron said sanctions now appeared necessary.

“It is not acceptable for the maritime space of a Union member state to be violated or threatened. Those responsible must be sanctioned,” Macron said before talks in Paris with Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades at the presidential Elysee Palace.

Macron’s comments came after Turkey’s navy on Tuesday issued an advisory for seismic surveys in an area of sea between Cyprus and Crete, a move Greece said was an attempt by Ankara to encroach on its continental shelf.

It also comes as relations between Paris and Ankara, two NATO allies, fray, with Paris repeatedly pointing the finger at Ankara over its role in Libya. France has accused Ankara of dispatching mercenaries and delivering weapons to the Islamist-controlled Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, in violation of a UN ban.

“In this part of the Mediterranean, which is vital for our two countries, energy and security issues are essential. What’s at stake is a power struggle in particular of Turkey and Russia which are asserting themselves more and more and in the face of which the EU is still doing too little,” Macron told reporters alongside Anastasiades.

“It would be a serious mistake to leave our security in the Mediterranean in the hands of other actors. This is not an option for Europe and it is not something that France will let happen,” he added.

The European Union has already imposed some sanctions on Turkey over drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, but Macron said more sanctions would be needed to stop the violations.

“I stand fully behind Cyprus and Greece in the face of the Turkish violations of their sovereignty. It is unacceptable that the maritime space of (EU) member states be violated and threatened. Those who are doing that must be sanctioned,” Macron added.

Anastasiades agreed there was “a void on the part of Europe” on the issue, adding that Macron’s initiatives offered “a glimmer of hope” that the Mediterranean will “not be under the control of Turkey or another country.”

On July 13, EU foreign ministers agreed to prepare additional listings within the existing sanctions framework on Turkey’s drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, as requested by Cyprus.

Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over sea boundaries but recent discoveries of natural gas and drilling plans across the East Mediterranean have exacerbated the dispute.

Turkey argues Greek islands should not be included in calculating maritime zones of economic interest — a position that Greece says is a clear violation of international law.

Greece has around 6,000 islands and smaller islets in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, more than 200 of them inhabited.

The survey ship Oruc Reis remains anchored off the port of Antalya, in south-eastern Turkey, but a navigational telex issued by the port says the mission planned through August 2 remains “valid and effective.”

In Ankara, Erdogan said he had full confidence in the capability of his country’s military.

Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis in Istanbul, Turkey, in August 2019. (AFP)
Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis in Istanbul, Turkey, in August 2019. (AFP)

“Historic successes on different fronts, from Syria to Libya, from the eastern Mediterranean to the fight against terrorism, demonstrate the strength of our country and the capabilities of our armed forces,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said ahead of a visit to the country’s Supreme Military Council.

For his part, Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s chief adviser, told a think-tank event in Brussels on Thursday: “Using the language of threats of sanctions will never fly here and will have no impact on Turkey’s sovereignty or determination in pursuing the national interest.”

However, EU and US officials have become increasingly blunt in their calls on Turkey to halt its survey plans.

“I want to echo the clear message from Washington and elsewhere in Europe, urging Turkish authorities to halt operations that raise tensions in the region, such as plans to survey for natural resources in areas where Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean,” said US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt.

“This is a complex strategic space. We want our friends and allies in the region to approach resource development in the spirit of cooperation … Unilateral provocative actions were against this aim,” he said.

Pyatt spoke in the north-east Greek port of Alexandroupolis, where around 2,000 US service members, dozens of helicopters and hundreds of vehicles disembarked.

They were to take part in multinational training exercises and be sent to several NATO countries as part of regular troop rotation.

Macron also said the EU should push for sanctions over those involved in the Libyan war.

“It is necessary to obtain a ceasefire and begin a real dynamic towards a political solution to the Libyan conflict,” he said.

A maritime demarcation agreement signed last November between Ankara and Libya’s GNA has drawn favourable border lines for Turkey.