At a special summit at the beginning of October, EU states discussed sanctions against Turkey because of the dispute in the Mediterranean. While the EU’s decision-making mechanisms are inhibited in foreign policy issues, Turkey is proving to be an important actor.
On October 1 and 2, the EU member states convened a special summit to discuss the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean and possible sanctions against Turkey, among other things. The French President Emmanuel Macron, in particular, has called for tougher action against Turkey. On the other hand, Germany demanded that the crisis be resolved by diplomatic means. The crisis in the eastern Mediterranean region shows that the disagreements within the EU are hampering its decision-making mechanisms so that it cannot pursue an effective foreign policy. Turkey, for its part, is proving in this crisis that it interacts on an equal footing with the EU and is an influential player in the international arena.
The results of the special summit
Turkey is a determining factor in EU decision-making. This is clear from the statements made by the member states after the special summit. Southern Cyprus had prevented the sanctions against Belarus because the Southern Cypriot government had demanded a tougher approach to Turkey. The other member states were finally able to persuade Southern Cyprus to agree to sanctions against Belarus without also imposing sanctions on Turkey. In its position, Southern Cyprus had relied above all on French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron had already made it clear before the summit that Turkey was no longer a partner of the EU and that the EU had to take tougher action against Turkey.
Besides Southern Cyprus and France, Greece, as Turkey’s main conflict party, had the same demands. Austria was also in the alliance. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called for a halt to the accession talks with Turkey and repeated this demand at another EU summit. On the other side, however, there are other EU states, such as Germany, Italy, Hungary and Malta, which are working for a diplomatic solution. The final result of the special summit shows Germany was able to assert itself with its supporters. Chancellor Angela Merkel even said that they wanted to negotiate with Turkey until December on, among other things, the expansion of the customs union and visa exemption. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also spoke out in favor of diplomatic talks with Turkey after the summit.
Obstructed decision-making mechanisms of the EU
The special summit can be viewed and evaluated from many perspectives. If one looks at the relationship between the EU member states, a certain disagreement can be observed. This internal disagreement is mainly caused by the difference of opinion between France and Germany. Emmanuel Macron supported the Greek government and sent military ships to the eastern Mediterranean in a demonstrative display of France’s military power. On the other hand, there was Germany, which did not take sides directly, but always tried to de-escalate and play the role of mediator between Greece and Turkey.
The duel between France and Germany should be placed in a larger context. France has been trying for years to establish itself as the leading power in Europe and has therefore always acted proactively in international politics. France’s Syria policy with the support of the YPG/PKK, the support for Khalifa Haftar in Libya against the UN-recognized government, and last but not least the military presence in the eastern Mediterranean are all indications of France’s claim to leadership in the EU. Meanwhile, the disagreements within the EU are proving to be very counterproductive, as decisions are made very late or not at all. EU politicians described the delayed sanctions against Belarus as embarrassing, referring to the veto of southern Cyprus.
Macron’s fight against all
With regard to France, the decisions of French President Macron in the international arena can be explained by his impending loss of power in his own country. The yellow vest demonstrations and not least the unsuccessful local elections are clear signs that the French people are not satisfied with their president. France’s aggressive foreign policy is not by chance. Indeed, Macron hopes to achieve success at least on the international stage. In the eastern Mediterranean, for example, he has tried to isolate Turkey with the support of other Mediterranean countries. However, the French president did not receive the desired support at the EU summit. Malta and Italy, which are also important players in the Mediterranean, made it clear at the special summit that Turkey is an important partner for them.
Expansion of the customs union as an opportunity for Turkey-EU relations
The crisis in the eastern Mediterranean region has led to a paradigm shift in Turkey-EU relations. Since Turkey did not deviate from its position and the EU could not agree on a unified solution, the EU had to accommodate Turkey. The newly published commentary by the Bundestag-funded Foundation for Science and Politics (SWP) accurately reflects the EU perspective on relations with Turkey. The commentary, which was developed and written in cooperation with six European think tanks, points out that above all the expansion of the customs union and the accession talks with Turkey should be considered independently of each other. The expansion of the customs union is not only in Turkey’s interest but also important for the economic development of the EU. In particular Spain, Poland, Italy, Greece, France and Germany are mentioned as member states that would benefit from this extension. On the other hand, Turkey is far from continuing the EU accession talks. The reason for this is the decline in the rule of law and freedom as well as the current Turkish foreign policy in Syria, Libya and the eastern Mediterranean. In its commentary, the SWP emphasizes that despite many differences with Turkey, the EU should conduct a dialogue on a rational level.
In recent years, the EU has repeatedly taken decisions that have proven to be counterproductive. In doing so, Turkey has always been prepared to enter into a partnership with the EU in which both sides would benefit. The fact that the EU is open to the expansion of the customs union can be seen as a first sign that the EU and Turkey are coming together. However, the EU has a strong interest in not executing the expansion of the customs union without a counterpart from Turkey. Indeed, the EU fears that Turkey might otherwise see this step as a triumph of its policy in the Eastern Mediterranean. Taking a step towards Turkey would mean a defeat in the negotiations with the country, so the EU wants to avoid this.
Furthermore, as also mentioned in the SWP commentary, the expansion of the customs union could trigger a “spill-over” effect, i.e. a positive influence on other areas of relations with Turkey. Turkey also hopes for this effect and still wants to work closely with the EU. The crisis in the eastern Mediterranean region can therefore even mean a rapprochement between Turkey and the EU, if the parties involved can reach an agreement and Germany as EU Council President can assert itself in its role as mediator.
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