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Turkey under renewed pressure from EU over Cyprus and gas exploration

Borrell warned Ankara that EU-Turkey relations are approaching a
Borrell warned Ankara that EU-Turkey relations are approaching a "watershed" moment.

Turkey has come under renewed pressure from EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell for better behaviour over policy disputes in the eastern Mediterranean.

“We consider the recent actions and statements by Turkey related to Cyprus contrary to the United Nations resolutions and further igniting tensions,” Borrell told a news conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers on November 19, referring to disagreements over the island divided between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots.

He added: “We consider that it is important that Turkey understands that its behaviour is widening its separation from the EU ... In order to return to a positive agenda, as we wish, will require a fundamental change of attitude on the Turkish side.”

“Time is running, and we are approaching a watershed moment in our relationship with Turkey,” Borrell also said.

Europe may be attempting to pressure Turkey at a time when there is a sense that Erdogan, who has suffered a blow with the defeat of fellow populist Donald Trump in the US presidential election and is well aware that US President-elect Joe Biden has described him as an “autocrat”, is falling on to the back foot and may be ready to make concessions in foreign policy disputes and domestic human rights issues.

Merkel adds to pressure

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also stepped up pressure on Ankara. European Union leaders will discuss Turkey’s aggressive pursuit of natural gas exploration in contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean at their next summit in December, and following a meeting of EU leaders, she told reporters: “Things haven’t developed the way we would have wished.”

In further comments, Borrell said that Turkey, an official candidate for EU membership – though its application has essentially been frozen for the past two to three years given actions of the Erdogan administration which many eurocrats and MEPs see as intolerable and contrary to core values of the bloc – was seen as issuing rhetoric on Cyprus that was aggravating tensions with the European Union.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for an equal “two-state” solution in Cyprus during a visit earlier this week to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of the island.

Erdogan also said that Turkey and Northern Cyprus would no longer tolerate what he called “diplomacy games” in the international dispute over rights to offshore resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines since a Turkish invasion in 1974 sparked by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Only Ankara recognises Northern Cyprus as an independent state.

Visit “provocative and illegal”

Cyprus, a member of the EU, called Erdogan’s visit to the breakaway north “provocative and illegal”.

The EU has failed to persuade Ankara to cease exploring in waters disputed by Greece and Cyprus, but has so far stopped short of imposing sanctions on Turkey requested by Athens and Nicosia.

Germany has led diplomatic talks with Ankara, stating that dialogue should be given a chance, partly because of close EU-Turkey trade ties. Germany is Turkey’s biggest trade partner.

France has become embroiled in several wars of words with Turkey in recent months, with Paris also objecting to Turkish moves in the Libyan, Syrian and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts and rowing with Ankara over freedom of expression issues in relation to Muslim communities in Europe.