SThe European Parliament was as united as it is now in its assessment of Turkey. For two hours on Tuesday, MEPs debated the escalation in the eastern Mediterranean and the role of Ankara. There was hardly any criticism of Greece or Cyprus. All groups blamed Turkey and its “illegal drilling” for the escalation of the past few weeks. Much has been said about the “neo-Ottoman” appearance of Turkey, which has to be stopped. All parliamentary groups demanded sanctions against the country, at least tough economic sanctions. There were also calls for an arms embargo, for the suspension of the customs union and an end to accession negotiations, not only from the far right, but also from the center and the left.
Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.
The EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell provided a leitmotif for the debate. “The old empires are returning, at least three of them: Russia, China and Turkey,” said the Spaniard. The three states showed attitudes towards their immediate neighborhood that “mean a new environment for us”. Borrell did his best to keep the door open to diplomacy. After all, Ankara withdrew its exploration ship “Oruc Reis” on Sunday from the sea area claimed by Greece – “a step in the right direction”. Relations with Turkey are now at a turning point, and the direction depends on the “next few days”. At the end of next week, the heads of state and government will hold a special council in Brussels to discuss how to proceed. Borrell recalled the threat by the EU foreign ministers with further sanctions. But he also asked MPs to leave room for negotiations and a last-minute change of course in Ankara.
There was not much response. “In the light of the ongoing escalation, the option of further sanctions must be openly discussed at the next European Council,” demanded David McAllister. The CDU politician chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee. That was formulated in a moderate way. His Cypriot parliamentary group colleague Loucas Fourlas said that the “fascists Erdogan” had been allowed too long and threatened with war. The European family must now face him together, “as we face Lukashenka”. Kostas Mavridis, a Cypriot social democrat, spoke of Erdogan’s “invasion” of his country’s economic zone. “The fact that this criminal behavior goes unpunished is also due to the failure of the European Union.” He called for the customs union that the EU has had with Turkey since 1968 to be suspended.
It is not surprising that the sharpest tones in such a debate come from the Cypriots and the Greeks. But MPs from other countries also took a clear position. For example, a Dutch liberal called for the accession negotiations with Turkey to be broken off; to date they have only been exposed in practice. Martin Schirdewan, chairman of the left-wing parliamentary group, demanded an “immediate stop of arms exports to Turkey”. That was also addressed to the federal government. Only a few politicians from the Greens recalled that Greece must also do its part to ease the situation in the disputed sea areas. Otherwise, what a Spanish member of the national conservative ECR parliamentary group said to Ankara was true: “You are facing a united front against the Erdogan regime.”
Before the debate, Turkey had tried to promote its position in parliament in the dispute over oil and gas reserves. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu presented himself to the Foreign Affairs Committee at the end of last week. And on Monday evening, MPs found a letter from the Minister in their e-mail inboxes. “Any decision in favor of sanctions will only undermine the prospect of a peaceful solution,” it said. As a candidate country, Turkey expects Parliament to “maintain an equal distance from the parties to the conflict and promote dialogue and cooperation”. However, the debate showed that Parliament was almost unanimously on the side of Athens and Nicosia on legal issues too.
So clear were the opinions and so hostile the mood towards Ankara that the representative of the German Council Presidency made an unusual counterpoint at the end of the debate. Michael Roth, the Minister of State responsible for Europe in the Foreign Office, an SPD politician, said he had a great understanding of the emotionality in many of the speeches that were discussed. But the European Union is committed to peace and dialogue. “I don’t know whether it will help us to keep turning the rhetorical escalation spiral.” In any case, Germany will work tirelessly to resolve the conflict. A few hands moved in applause, but not many.