Turkey welcomes EU efforts to de-escalate tensions in the eastern Mediterranean

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Turkey welcomed on Thursday European Union efforts to de-escalate tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

The EU agreed in December to impose sanctions on Turkey for repeatedly violating the waters of members states Greece and Cyprus as part of competition over access to recently discovered natural gas reserves.  

However, sanctions were not fully implemented, and have now been put on hold following Thursday’s EU Council meeting.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry praised the move in a written statement on Thursday. thanking the “many EU member states that have common sense” for helping to put relations on a better footing.

“Beyond dialogue in the areas of the rule of law and fundamental rights, we believe there is work to be done on the basis of phases in the framework of accession negotiations,” the ministry said. “We expect the EU to open phases 23 and 24, in line with its new expansion strategy.”

The ministry also accused the European Union of “ignoring maximalist attitudes and provocative actions” by Greece and Cyprus. “The EU calling our country’s drilling activity in the eastern Mediterranean illegal violates international law”, it said.

Despite striking a more conciliatory tone, EU leaders urged Turkey “to abstain from renewed provocations or unilateral actions in breach of international law”.

The EU remains determined “to use the instruments and options at its disposal to defend its interests and those of its Member States as well as to uphold regional stability”  they said in the conclusions adopted at the European Council.

As a possible reward for improved relations in the eastern Mediterranean, including with Greece and Cyprus, Turkey may expect an improved customs union.

Services, farm goods and public procurement may be included in a modernised customs union agreement, the leaders said.

Such a move would further integrate Turkey with the European market. But the negotiations could take years, and either party could walk back beforehand.

“Provided that the current de-escalation is sustained and that Turkey engages constructively”, the EU is “ready to engage with Turkey in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner”, the EU leaders added.

The EU leaders said they “appreciate” Turkey for hosting close to four million Syrian refugees, and called for the continued funding of migrants and refugees in the country.

However, “rule of law and fundamental rights remain a key concern”, they said. “The targeting of political parties and media and other recent decisions represent major setbacks for human rights.”

They pointed to Turkey’s obligations to respect women’s rights.

Turkey withdrew from a Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, in a surprise presidential order on March 19, despite overwhelming popular support for the convention throughout the country.

“We expect Turkey and all actors to positively contribute to the solution of regional crises such as Libya, Syria, the Southern Caucasus,” the EU leaders said.