EU must adopt harsher measures against Turkey in East Med dispute - Dutch MEP

The European Union must adopt stricter measures against Turkey to deter a further escalation in its territorial dispute with EU member Greece in the eastern Mediterranean, Dutch MEP Malik Azmani said in an opinion piece published on Tuesday.

Azmani said the EU has let Turkey interfere in multiple conflicts in the Mediterranean region “right under our noses”, and he was astonished by how ineffective the bloc “leverages its power on the world stage”.

In the past year, Turkey launched another military campaign into northern Syria, opened its side of the border with Greece to refugees seeking to enter Europe, militarily intervened in Libya, harassed European frigates on EU and NATO missions to enforce a U.N. embargo on Libya, bought the Russian-made S-400 air defence system that the West fears will compromise the NATO defence network, and is locked in a standoff with Greece over maritime boundaries at risk of developing into a direct confrontation.

“To put it simply, the EU is not a geopolitical factor of importance in conflicts in the Mediterranean region. This is baffling.” Azmani, a member of the EU parliament's foreign affairs committee, wrote in the EUobserver. “The EU has great interest in ensuring stability, cooperation and progress in our direct neighbourhood. Yet, we stay on the side-line and let others intervene.”

The European Union’s limitations in responding to Turkey’s behaviour are due to conflicts of interest between the bloc’s member states, which leaves the EU completely divided in the absence of a joint strategy, and EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell’s few options in his foreign and security policy instruments and thereby only able to resort to intensifying diplomatic efforts, Azmani said.

Borrell “endlessly calls for 'dialogue' and has warned to impose sanctions on Turkey so many times that it can only be described as an empty threat”, he said. “The repetitive calls for de-escalation through mediation and dialogue are proof that soft power cannot be Europe's answer to everything.”

The Dutch MEP called on Borrell to reshape the EU’s relationship with Turkey, which he called a “vital neighbour”, and to propose a “new and credible strategy” to ensure a balanced future relationship.

Azmani also suggested the EU immediately start the process of ending Turkey's status as a candidate member state, more EU member states deploy their navies to bolster Greece and Cyprus, and, ultimately, should Turkey further escalate the eastern Mediterranean dispute, the European Council should impose severe sanctions.

“We should make very clear that certain actions have repercussions and that we will not tolerate this behaviour,” he said.