ANKARA: French President Emmanuel Macron has urged fellow European leaders to stand up to the Turkish government and what he called its “unacceptable” provocations as Ankara seeks to expand its energy resources and influence in the eastern Mediterranean.
Leaders of EU countries that border the Mediterranean Sea held an emergency summit in Corsica on Thursday amid fears that mounting tensions over offshore oil and gas drilling rights might escalate into an open conflict with Turkey. Turkish leaders have criticized France and the EU for siding with Greece and Cyprus in the dispute.
“Turkey is no longer a partner in this region,” Macron said before the summit began. “We Europeans need to be clear and firm” about the “inadmissible behavior” of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, he added.
He said European nations should set “red lines” for Turkey and try to restart negotiations, adding: “We Mediterraneans need to live in peace. Our goal is to avoid all escalation, but avoiding escalation should not mean passiveness or acceptance. It is up to Turkey to clarify its intentions.”
Dimitar Bechev, a fellow of the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan US international affairs think tank, told Arab News: “France is already pushing Germany to adopt a united voice on its policy toward Turkey, but I suppose there will be foot dragging. Central and Eastern European countries — Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland — are not eager to pick a fight, either.”
He said that he does not expect the dispute to escalate quickly, however.
“There might be some diplomatic sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, hitting Erdogan’s inner circle but not him personally,” he said. “But they will remain symbolic.”
Bechev suggested that Europe should engage with Ankara but project strength, as the EU and Turkey have both common and clashing interests and positions.
“Turkey won’t get any concessions and will probably go on drilling,” he added
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry described Macron’s statement as “arrogant” and reminiscent of “old colonial reflexes.” It accused the French president of stoking tensions and putting the “greater interests” of Europe at risk.
Addressing EU lawmakers, Greek European Affairs Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis appealed for support from European partners, warning that the tensions over energy rights “constitute by themselves a grave threat to our common security architecture.”
He said Turkey is looking beyond Greece and represents “a major destabilizing factor in the wider area,” citing as evidence of this the Turkish government’s actions in Libya, Syria and elsewhere.
Greece will not provoke a conflict, he added, but nor will it sit back wait for European help to arrive. “At the end of the day, we will defend ourselves, even alone,” he said.
At the Corsica summit, France is calling on European leaders to push for a resumption of German mediation efforts in the eastern Mediterranean dispute. Russia also offered this week to mediate.