Germany and Bulgaria were the most vocal among EU countries to block sanctions against Turkey at the EU summit on Thursday (December 10th), according to diplomatic sources at EURACTIV.
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov were the EU leaders who openly opposed sanctions against Ankara”, diplomatic sources were quoted as saying by EURACTIV.
Other countries such as Spain, Italy, Malta and Hungary were also opposed, but did not express it openly, the sources added.
Austria backed the sanctions, while France, which has been calling for a tough response from the EU, reportedly reduced its rhetoric at the summit.
According to the conclusions of the summit on Turkey, EU leaders condemned its aggression and unilateral actions in the Eastern Mediterranean. In practice, however, they took a mild stance, giving Ankara another three-month grace period.
Specifically, they decided to add new names of individuals and companies to the current blacklist for “unauthorized” Turkish gas drilling outside Cyprus.
However, the sanctions imposed so far have had little added value, as Turkey has not stopped drilling inside the Cyprus EEZ.
In addition, they called on the European Commission to report “by March 2021 at the latest” on EU-Turkey relations, ranging from politics to trade, and to explore “options and means for moving forward”.
The leaders also made it clear that the “positive agenda remains on the table” as they promised Turkey to continue providing financial assistance to manage the country’s migration flows.
Finally, EU leaders said they would seek co-ordination on Turkey with the new US government.
Germany, which currently holds the EU presidency, has always opposed sanctions and wanted to keep channels of communication open with Ankara.
In an interview with EURACTIV in November, Udo Bullmann, Social Democrat MEP and EU Spokesman for the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) Executive Committee, said Merkel’s intention was to keep the door open with Turkey.
“We must not forget that Erdogan’s power base is shrinking […] look at the results of the last municipal elections: the press is sweating, the press is afraid of losing its final domestic and foreign policy power in Turkey”, Bullmann said.
The diplomats calculated before the summit that Sofia’s stance on the issue of sanctions could not be foreseen.
“Bulgarian leader Borissov is a known friend of Erdogan and his behavior is unpredictable”, an EU diplomat told EURACTIV last week.
At the political level, the stance of Germany and Bulgaria is also of great importance, as both Merkel and Borissov belong to the same political family of the EU (European People’s Party) as the ruling party of Greece, New Democracy.
The decisions are far from what Athens has been asking for months. At a meeting of foreign ministers for the Foreign Affairs Council in Berlin in August, Greece called for “sectoral sanctions” aimed at key aspects of the Turkish economy, such as the banking and energy sectors.
Following the publication of the conclusions, Greek government sources showed a brave face and presented it as a positive result, as reported by EURACTIV.
“Europe takes one step at a time. That is what they did in this Council. Another step that is a strong warning for Turkey to change its behavior”, Greek government sources said.
However, the reality in Athens is different, EURACTIV notes.
Most Greek media reported on Friday that EU leaders’ decisions on Turkey would have zero added value, and predicted that Erdogan would be even more aggressive in light of Europe’s soft steps.
“There are no sanctions against Turkey, Erdogan’s victory in the EU”, “Mild sanctions against Turkey” and “We will get back with you in March”, are some of the headlines in Greek newspapers.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said before the summit that the EU’s credibility was at stake and called on his EU partners to implement decisions taken at their last meeting in October.
The conclusions of the summit are expected to cause Mitsotakis headaches inside. The reaction of SYRIZA was immediate, who through Alexis Tsipras stated that it was a diplomatic defeat for Kyriakos Mitsotakis./ibna