Jul 25 2019

EU must beef up 'puny' response to Turkish infractions - Economist

The European Union has been running a weak Turkish policy that has failed to either bring Ankara on side or deter it from taking action against EU interests, a policy that has achieved the worst of both worlds, the Economist magazine’s Europe columnist Charlemagne said on Thursday.

Turkey’s recent policy decisions to buy Russian-built S-400 missile defence systems in spite of its NATO allies’ objections and defy EU warnings to drill for gas in areas demarcated in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone have prompted speculation that Ankara is ready to make a clean split from its Western allies.

The EU’s part in this, the Economist column said, has been a “sorry embarrassment”.

“At times the union has been conciliatory, particularly during the migration crisis when Turkey agreed to act as its border guard in return for money and visas. eu leaders have often bitten their tongues rather than criticise the country’s slide into autocracy”, the column said.

“But at other moments the eu has frozen Turkey out—sneering about ‘Asia Minor’, dismissing its accession prospects and now imposing penalties for Mr Erdogan’s transgressions. The result has been the worst of all worlds: not enough carrot to lure Turkey back into the fold but not enough stick to force it to comply”, it continued.

The latest penalties imposed by the EU came earlier this month when the union’s ministers met to discuss reprisals for Turkey’s gas exploration around Cyprus.

Ankara does not recognise the Cyprus EEZ and claims that areas marked out in it fall on Turkey’s continental shelf. Turkey also opposes the Greek Cypriot administration’s energy exploration around the island since it says this infringes on the rights of Turkish Cypriots, whose breakaway state in the north of the island is only formally recognised by Ankara.

In response to Turkey’s drilling, the EU downgraded diplomatic ties, suspended talks on an aviation agreement, and froze around 140 million euros of pre-accession funding to the country.

This was, Charlemagne said, a “puny” response, which the columnist said this was caused by reticence by European officials to risk losing an important partner in migration and security cooperation, and to risk the shockwaves to Europe’s financial system that would be caused if Turkey’s economy were pushed into crisis.

Yet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is in a more fragile position than he appears to be, and with discontent at his rule on the rise and challengers rising in his own party, Charlemagne said.

The EU should start by imposing tough sanctions on Turkey, and then include sanctions relief with other incentives to bring Ankara back on side, the columnist added.

“Europe aspires to a greater role in the world. But if despite all the carrots and sticks it has at its disposal it lastingly loses a direct neighbour and would-be accession state that is controlling territory claimed by an existing member of the eu, it might as well give up. Turkey is a natural priority for the eu. It is also a test,” the columnist said.