Macron urges EU to be ‘clear and firm’ with Erdogan

French president said Turkish government “is today behaving in an unacceptable manner”.
Thursday 10/09/2020
French President Emmanuel Macron gives a press conference in Ajaccio, Corsica island, September 10. (AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron gives a press conference in Ajaccio, Corsica island, September 10. (AP)

AJACCIO, (France) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday urged Europe to show a united front against the “unacceptable” conduct of Turkey before the opening of a summit of Mediterranean states expected to be dominated by growing tensions with Ankara.

France has strongly backed Greece and Cyprus in a growing standoff with Turkey over hydrocarbon resources and naval influence in the Eastern Mediterranean that has sparked fears of more severe conflict.

The crisis has added to a growing list of tensions between Turkey and Europe, notably over Ankara’s military intervention in Libya, its policy in Syria and a crackdown on opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at home.

“We Europeans need to be clear and firm with the government of president Erdogan which today is behaving in an unacceptable manner,” Macron told reporters in Corsica, where the summit was to open.

He said that at the moment Turkey was “no longer a partner in the region” of the Eastern Mediterranean due to its behaviour, though he hoped to “restart a fruitful dialogue with Turkey.”

The EuroMed 7 is an informal group of EU Mediterranean states, sometimes dubbed “Club Med,” that held its first summit in 2016. Turkey is not a member.

The summit of leaders from France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Cyprus will open at around 1500 GMT at Porticcio, a coastal resort on Corsica just outside its capital Ajaccio.

A French presidential official said Macron would seek to “make progress in the consensus on the relationship of the EU with Turkey above all ahead of the 24-25 September EU summit.”

Reaffirming Macron’s policy towards Turkey, the official said that France wants a “clarification” in relations with Ankara which should be an “important” partner.

Speaking with journalists late Wednesday, Macron said the Mediterranean should be “a region of circulation of cultures and knowledge, and not, as is too often the case, a region of geopolitical, energy or religious conflicts.”

– ‘Same desire’ –

Turkey has sought to join the EU for over half a century, though analysts say the growing rift between Erdogan and the bloc’s leaders has made the prospect increasingly unlikely.

Ankara’s hunt for gas and oil reserves in waters claimed by Greece, the latest conflict between Turkey and a fellow NATO member, has further strained relations.

Turkey last month deployed an exploration vessel backed by military frigates in waters between Greece and Cyprus, prompting Athens to respond with naval exercises as a warning.

Some member states will be pressing for sanctions against Turkey at the EU summit, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saying at the weekend such measures were on the table.

“If Turkey refuses to listen to reason before then, I don’t see any choice for my European colleagues expect significant sanctions,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is to hold talks with Macron before Thursday’s meeting, wrote in French daily Le Monde.

Greek media said the possible sale by France of Rafale fighter jets could be on the table, in a sign of the increasingly strong alliance between Paris and Athens.

But Erdogan, referring to areas claimed by Greece and Cyprus as their exclusive economic zones, has threatened he is ready to “tear up immoral maps and documents.”

Another cause of tension between France, as well as its EU allies, and Turkey has been Libya, where Ankara has engaged militarily in support of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) by supplying it with equipment, troops and thousands of mercenaries.

In an interview last week, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades denounced Turkey’s “aggressiveness,” which he said masked “an intention to control the whole area.”

The EuroMed 7 came into being against the backdrop of the economic crisis in Greece, which had caused tensions between southern EU members and their more frugal northern counterparts.

They “share the same desire to stimulate a new dynamic of cooperation” in the region, “in particular on issues of sustainable development and sovereignty,” Macron’s office said.