EU tasked with drawing up new sanctions on Turkey over regional aggression

Turkey has shown no readiness for compromise with European neighbours over policies on Libya and the Mediterranean

The EU took a step closer to imposing sanctions on Turkey on Monday as foreign ministers lined up to criticise the direction of the bloc's large south-eastern neighbour.

Anger over the decision to change the cultural designation of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul to a mosque has compounded European frustration with Turkey's aggressive Mediterranean policies and its intervention in Libya.

EU foreign ministers gathered face to face for the first time since the spring for a summit at which Turkey dominated.

The EU opposes Turkey's drilling for oil and gas off the coast of Cyprus, and Ankara's actions in support of the Tripoli-based government in Libya.

Both moves have been made under a maritime accord between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's administration and the Government of National Accord in Tripoli.

The 27 countries said that for the time being, efforts to engage with Turkey for policy concessions would continue but new options for imposing sanctions would be brought forward.

Heiko Maas, the German Foreign Minister, led the meeting and said the "difficult" session on Turkey raised the challenges posed by Mr Erdogan in some detail.

"All the member states said positive signals were needed from Turkey," he told a later meeting of the European Parliament.

Among the demands were a complete stop of exploratory drilling off Cyrus and promises that Turkish companies would not drill around the Greek island of Crete.

"Given the strategic importance of Turkey we do need dialogue," Mr Maas said.

"We need understanding from Turkey on Cyprus, on Libya and Crete.

"Right now I cannot see a basis for those discussion but we need to reach out. Turkey is in a key position along those fault lines facing Europe."

Mr Maas said the dynamics between Turkey and Russia in conflict zones around the Mediterranean would be closely monitored.

He said he did not want the pair to carve up warring states.

"We will not allow a monopoly to these players," Mr Maas said.

After failing to make progress in a trip to Turkey last week, Josep Borrell, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, said the issue would be raised again in August.

"You know that our relationship with Turkey is not especially good at this moment," Mr Borrell said.

France has demanded a common front against Turkey after an incident in which the Turkish navy turned its targeting radar on a French frigate trying to intercept an arms shipment to Tripoli.

Paris believes Ankara has repeatedly breached the UN arms embargo on the oil-rich North African country.

Before the summit, the European Centre for Foreign Relations said the eastern Mediterranean posed a litmus test for how Turkey was expanding its influence in the region.

"The fact that Nato allies are staring each other down on the EU's doorstep should cause all Europeans to pay greater attention to the region," the centre said.

"What happens in the eastern Mediterranean is no longer a peripheral issue."

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister, Jean Asselborn, said that Turkey, with its decision to abandon the Unesco designation of the Hagia Sophia, had effectively turned away from the orientation of its strategic policies towards Europe.

“When I see now what is happening with Hagia Sophia, that is a blow," Mr Asselborn said.

The Hagia Sophia was originally built in Istanbul as a Christian cathedral, and the pope and many countries have expressed their sadness and criticism over the move by Mr Erdogan.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said that the movements in the Mediterranean were “a reason for worrying" and insisted that human rights and democracy issues were taken up during the meeting.

Alexander Schallenberg, the Foreign Minister of Austria, called the Hagia Sophia change "the latest link in a chain of provocations" and said Ankara was "simply not a reliable partner for Europe".

Updated: July 14, 2020 04:24 AM

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