Tsipras calls for reboot of Euro-Turkish relations through strong sanctions and strong positive agenda

Tsipras calls for reboot of Euro-Turkish relations through strong sanctions and strong positive agenda

Only through courageous decisions on behalf of the European Council on the resumption of the Euro-Turkish relations on dynamic terms could the exploratory work proceed and the dialogue on the Cyprus issue be relaunched, SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance chief Alexis Tsipras states in a letter penned to the the German Presidency, France and the European Socialists.

According to Alexis Tsipras, in the meantime, a mechanism of strong sanctions against Turkey needs to be decided, in the event that it continues to violate the sovereign rights of Greece and Cyprus, alongside the prospect of a substantial positive agenda if the country begins to respect international law.

Alexis Tsipras sent a letter today calling on the German Presidency, France, the President of the European Parliament, the Euro-Socialist Prime Ministers and Commissioners and the progressive Eurogroups to support a dynamic policy towards Turkey, which would resume the Euro-Turkish relations under new terms, strong sanctions, but also a strong positive agenda.

He underlines that if this is not secured, the exploratory talks and the resumption of discussions on the Cyprus issue will have no prospect. The letter was penned to the German Presidency, France, the Prime Ministers of the Eurosocial Group (Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Malta), Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte who is backed by progressive forces, the President of the European Union David Sassolo, EU Vice-President Frans Timmermans, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, and the Co-Chairs of all progressive forces in the European Parliament (Left, Socialists, Renewal), as well as to Macron’s Renew Eurogroup.

The letter:

“Dear Mr President,

On December 7, 2017, I greeted President Erdogan in Athens, as the first Head of State of Turkey to visit Greece in 65 years. My message was clear: Greece was exiting the crisis, leaving behind austerity programs and opening up new prospects for its economic development and role in the world. Greece was about to resolve the long-standing name dispute with what is now North Macedonia, becoming once again a European pillar of peace and stability in the Balkans and the broader region. It was high time to open a new chapter in Greek-Turkish relations, based on mutual respect and international law, to the benefit of the peoples of both countries. It was also necessary to return to talks on finding a just and viable solution for the Cyprus issue on the basis of UN Resolutions, to the benefit of the people of Cyprus as a whole – Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots – a solution we had after all come close to, only a few months earlier in Crans Montana.

Unfortunately, Turkey chose to follow a very different path in the years that followed, investing in nationalist rhetoric and aggressive unilateral actions in the Mediterranean and the broader region, as well as by converting world cultural heritage monuments, such as Haghia Sophia, into mosques. Turkey greatly increased its airspace violations in the Aegean, signed an illegal maritime agreement with the Government of Libya disregarding the continental shelf of Crete, sent warships to support the exploration of gas deposits near the island of Kastellorizo –blatantly violating the sovereign rights of Greece on its continental shelf–, actively supported the attempts of migrants to cross the land border into Greece and carried out drilling activities within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Republic of Cyprus. Despite repeated Greek proposals, Turkey continued to refuse the resumption of exploratory talks, that had stopped in March 2016 and only accepted the resumption of talks on military Confidence Building Measures, after my last visit to Ankara in February 2019.

It is clear that the return of the Turkish exploration vessel and warships to port and the announcement of the restart of exploratory talks, following intensive efforts by the German  Presidency, is a positive step and an important opportunity for promoting dialogue, that should not be missed. And it is particularly important that both the Greek Government and SYRIZA-PA–as the Main opposition party in Greece– are committed to supporting exploratory talks on the delimitation of the EEZ/continental shelf, with a view to reaching an agreement with Turkey on referring to the International Court of Justice, if no solution is found bilaterally.

But it would constitute a grave mistake for the EU to consider that the resumption of a fragile Greek-Turkish dialogue alone, particularly under the constant threat of the return of Turkish warships, is a sustainable basis for exiting this crisis and promoting peace, stability and security in the region. This is so, especially as Turkey is intensifying its drilling operations in the EEZ of the Republic of Cyprus.

The only way Greek-Turkish dialogue can be sustainable, is if it is firmly based on the revitalization of the EU-Turkey dialogue under new terms. These terms –which must not lead to the cancellation of the “frozen” Turkish accession process– must include the adoption of a robust mechanism for the imposition of an array of sanctions if Turkey continues to violate the sovereign rights of member states. These terms must also include a concrete positive agenda involving customs union modernization, economic cooperation, implementation and updating of the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement, as well as a strategic dialogue on regional issues, if Turkey decides to leave behind unilateral illegal actions and provocations. There is no doubt about the cost, not only for Turkey, but also for the EU, if Ankara chooses the first path. But there is also no doubt about the mutual benefits of the second choice, as we saw during the refugee crisis of 2015-2016. Let us not forget that it was the positive EU-Turkey agenda during that period, that gave momentum to the Cyprus talks, while it was the collapse of this agenda after the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, that contributed greatly to the failure of these talks.

Clearly, the easiest path is neither to invest in an ambitious EU positive agenda with Turkey, nor to adopt a robust European sanctions mechanism. The easiest path is to maintain the often sensitive and valuable national bilateral balances with Turkey intact, to point to the resumption of Greek-Turkish exploratory talks as “good enough” and to preserve a low-intensity EU-Turkey dialogue with a low level of ambition. Another easy path is to support either a positive agenda, or a sanctions mechanism, according to national interests, with no regard to the delicate balance necessary to engage Turkey effectively. These choices will not only lead to the ultimate failure of the Greece-Turkey talks themselves, a return to crisis and a new costly arms race in the Aegean, they will also endanger any possibility for a viable resumption of the Cyprus talks in the coming period. It is more important than ever to show the world that the EU is assertive and decisive in protecting its member states and values, as well as forward-looking enough to engage actively with an important partner in resolving the global and regional challenges of our times.

Now at a crossroads, the EU must leave behind a decade of crisis, indecisiveness, national entrenchment and fragmentation, for the benefit of the peoples of Europe and of the region. In facing the dire consequences of a global pandemic by deciding on the Recovery Fund, the EU took important steps forward in this direction. It is just as essential that the EU carries out bold steps in reforming the Common European Asylum System on the basis of real and effective  solidarity, putting an end to the unacceptable conditions we see at the EU borders, including in the Aegean. Unfortunately, the Pact proposed by the European Commission does not move in this direction.

In the same way, it is, today, more important than ever that the EU assumes its great responsibilities in revitalizing the EU-Turkey dialogue under new terms.

I hope for your support and engagement in this regard, as a leader who believes in the role Europe should have in promoting global and regional peace, stability and development.



Alexis Tsipras

Leader of the Main Opposition

President of SYRIZA-PA

f. Prime Minister/ibna