Manfred Weber: Turkey is not only a Greek or French issue anymore, it is a European issue
Manfred Weber, the German leader of the European People’s Party, which is the largest group in the European Parliament, called for the EU to take solid steps towards the imposition of sanctions against Turkey in an interview with Euronews.
Weber stated that it is time for the EU to show its economic power. Referring to the latest tensions between France and Turkey, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s harsh rhetoric about Macron and France, he said, “It is apparent that Erdoğan is playing with us. That’s why now action is needed. As far as the EU’s credibility is concerned, we have to act now. Words are not enough anymore. We must use our economic power. The EU is much important to Turkey than Turkey is to us”.
But the issue isn’t so simple, with the economic fortune of many EU countries being tied to Turkey.
According to the European Commission, Turkey was the EU’s fifth largest trading partner in 2019, which includes imports and exports. Turkey’s number one trading destination is the EU.
But Europe’s main exporters to Turkey are three of its most influential countries: Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, each being worth €21bn, €8bn, and €6bn, respectively.
Nevertheless, Weber said it was important for the EU to speak with one voice.
“It is not a Greek issue; it’s not a Cyprus issue; it’s not a French issue, it’s a European issue,” he said. “That’s why it’s on the table and that’s why we all together have to answer these attacks against the European Union”.
“Let me be very clear, if President Erdoğan is now stopping French products coming to Turkey, then he must understand that this is part of the customs union agreement between the European Union and Turkey, that all European products must have free access to the market of Turkey.”
“He cannot separate individual products and that’s why this is a big attack against the principle of the customs union and that’s why the next European Council must consider to redraft and reorganise the customs union that we have currently in place”.
But with varying economic interests, having one single voice is hard to achieve.
And these interests vary from trade to investments to bank exposure and even arms exports, which is one issue that is particularly difficult to navigate, with Greece arguing that these weapons could eventually be used against them.
According to the latest EU data, the biggest EU arms exporters to Turkey are France, Spain, Italy and Germany, although France has since imposed a partial embargo against Ankara over its actions in Syria.
But then there’s the other side, which is Turkey as a strategic partner on one of EU’s most divisive issue: migration.
Knowing that if Turkey’s economy goes bad it will diminish its capacity to host refugees, the EU leaders are facing a serious dilemma.
Also, half of Turkey’s population does not support Erdoğan and his government’s policies. If sanctions are imposed, it will mean that millions of people supporting the European vision will also be punished.
Report: Irregular migrant arrivals from Turkey to EU drop by nearly 70% on last year
In the first nine months of the year, significantly fewer migrants have come to Europe from Turkey by irregular means. That's according to a German media report that cites EU sources, which also revealed that Germany is no longer receiving the most asylum requests in Europe.
The number of irregular entries into the European Union from Turkey has dwindled, German daily DieWelt ("The World") reported on Tuesday (October 27), citing a confidential "situation report" of the European Commission and the European External Action Service.
According to Die Welt, the number of irregular entries from Turkey declined from 48,554 last year to 14,579 in the same period this year -- a drop of nearly 70%.
Of these entries, almost 12,000 people came to Greece, more than 2,300 to Italy, 35 to Bulgaria and close to 300 directly by boat to Cyprus.
On October 16, EU border and coast guard agency Frontex announced that the number of irregular border crossings at the EU's external borders "fell by 21% in the first nine months of this year to 72 500."
According to Die Welt, the confidential report also showed that from January to September, more than 321,000 asylum applications were filed in the EU -- despite the coronavirus pandemic. Spain now tops the list with 72,500, followed by Germany (60,694), France (60,621) Greece (36,127) and Italy (16,051).
In 2016, Turkey and the EU struck a deal under which Turkey prevents irregular migration to the EU and receives financial support to provide for the refugees in return. Turkey currently hosts the largest number of refugees in the world with some 3.6 million from Syria alone.
The situation on the Greek Aegean islands, meanwhile, remains tense. According to Die Welt, the document it cites also says that more than 21,000 people who came from Turkey are currently still on the Greek Aegean Islands. That's despite the government having brought more than 27,000 migrants to the mainland due to overcrowding in the island camps.
Under the EU-Turkey deal, Turkey is obliged to take those migrants back who have no chance of receiving asylum in the EU.
The EU initiates investigation regarding the pushing back of refugees
EU border security agency Frontex started an investigation after the news reported that Greece has been pushing refugees and Frontex was supporting these incidents.
Fabrice Leggeri, the Director of Frontex Contents, said, “We are investigating the accusations regarding certain incidents at Greece’s outer borders”. He stated that Frontex would not tolerate any violation of fundamental rights. Then he added that there are no evidences to prove the accusations at the moment.
In a previous statement, Frontex had said that the disputes between Greek and Turkish naval forces have caused difficulties in their operations. In the meantime, an internal investigation case has been opened in Greece.
The EU Commission has instructed Frontex to open the case last Monday. One of the spokesperson of the Commission has stated that the EU takes this issue very seriously and that it is very concerned about the news regarding the push-backs and any violations of the rights of asylum.
24 refugees rescued by Turkish Coast Guard after being pushed back by Greece
EU border security agency Frontex’s involvement in the illegal pushing away of refugees by Greece has been documented in the past few weeks. The report stated, “Breaking the law has turned into an everyday-incident on European frontiers, and the EU is condoning these actions”.
There has been another such incident on October 26th. A group of Afghan refugees who reached the island of Lesvos have been pushed away by Greek forces back to the sea. Turkish Coast Guard rescued the 24 refugees including women and children at the coasts of Bodrum. Refugees have been admitted to Muğla Provincial Directorate of Migration Management.
German Spiegel Magazine: Frontex supported Greece in pushing refugees back to the sea
The German Spiegel magazine reported that the EU border security agency Frontex is aware and has at times been actively involved in Greece border guards’ actions that violate international law.
The report stating that Greece is pushing refugees back to open seas and that Frontex is actively supporting these actions was based on video footages, written statements, and witnesses.
According to the information gathered, Greece border guards have been placing asylum-seekers who are trying to access Europe in inflatable lifeboats and sending them back at the sea instead of processing their asylum applications.
The footage of a Frontex plane stopping refugees at the sea was immediately shown to the Frontex General in Warsaw, but Frontex did not send help to save the refugees.
Even though Spiegel and other media platforms have documented most of these push backs, the Greece government refused to acknowledge any incidents that refugees were being forcedly sent to Turkey.
An international law professional at Max Planck Institute, Dana Schmalz, commented, “The collective resending of asylum-seekers is a violation of the maritime law. If Frontex officials stop a crowded lifeboat, they must save the people in it immediately. If they do not do this and if they instead create waves in the sea for Greece to do the dirty work, then it means that they are involved in the illegal push backs.”
The research showed that Frontex has been involved in at least six incidents of repelling since April, and Frontex did not refuse this claim.
Spanish Ambassador: We do not believe in sanctions against Turkey and want to expand economic ties
The Spanish Ambassador to Ankara has made his country’s position clear on Turkey’s near daily war threats and violations of the sovereign rights of European Members Greece and Cyprus – No Sanctions.
In an interview with Turkish state-funded Anadolu Agency, Spanish Ambassador Javier Hergueta claimed both Greece and Turkey are a “very good friend” of his country but “we don’t believe in sanctions.”
This is an unsurprising statement considering that Spanish banks are the most exposed to Turkey’s rapid economic decline.
Despite Turkey’s constant threats of war against Greece and Cyprus, and daily violations of their sovereign rights in the East Mediterranean, Hergueta’s solution to these issues is to reward Ankara.
Even ignoring Turkey’s relations with ISIS, invasion of northern Syria, occupation of northern Cyprus, transfer of terrorists to Libya and Azerbaijan, and killing Iraqi soldiers, among many other things, Hergueta wants to give concessions to Turkey.
“We don’t believe in sanctions, what we believe is that we have to offer Turkey, a possibility of approaching the union, a perspective,” said Hergueta adding EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell “has a mandate of the council precisely to explore that.”
“The way to explore it is that we accelerate the starting or the restarting of negotiations in certain aspects that we have pending, like, for example, visas, the migration issue, and the agreement on the Customs Union,” he said.
Germany, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Malta are the main instigators blocking an embargo and sanctions against Turkey due to a network of economic reasons and fear of illegal immigration which has been instrumentalized by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as previously reported by Greek City Times.
Deputy Foreign Minister Kıran: “The process of Rakhine refugees’ safe return home must be accelerated”
Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kıran said, “We want to make sure that the Rohingya Muslims return to their homes in Myanmar safely and in a humanitarian manner. For this purpose, the international community should give momentum to the ongoing efforts”, during his speech at the Conference for the Maintenance of Aid for Rohingya Refugees.
He stated that the crisis in Rohingya is one of the greatest tragedies of our time and that Rakhine Muslims need all the help they can get. Saying that Turkey has been on Rohingya Muslims’ side since the beginning of crisis, Kıran also emphasized the appreciation, encouragement and support Turkey has for Bangladesh for opening its borders to Rakhine refugees.
The aid Turkey has provided since 2012 has reached 65 milion dollars.
201 Refugees saved by Turkish Coast Guards after Greek soldiers crossed the sea border and left them in Turkish waters
Greek soldiers crossed Turkey’s sea borders and left 121 refugees in three lifeboats near the shores of Bodrum. After being informed about the irregular migrants approaching in lifeboats, Turkish Coast Guard teams arrived at the area early in the morning and saved the 121 refugees.
80 refugees were also saved at another region by the Turkish Coast Guard teams. The health conditions of rescued refugees are fine.
Five countries blocked EU sanctions against Turkey
The EU leaders’ summit on Friday did not bode well for Greece, especially as five countries are blocking sanctions against Turkey. More precisely, it had a worse ending than the previous Summit on October 2. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis did what he could to strengthen its diplomatic line of defense against intentions of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. However, Mitsotakis’ ambitions clashed with the different interests of specific Member States of the EU.
The Greek side submitted a proposal on the imposition of an embargo on arms sales to Turkey, which was ultimately not included in the text of the previous conclusions. The Prime Minister in his press conference did not try to cover the back and forth of European leaders. The opposite. The atmosphere prevailing in Brussels for Turkey was summed up by a Community diplomatic source with the phrase “difficult days are coming”.
Athens is fully aware of the situation and the obstacles they will need to overcome. They understand that the sanctions, at this stage, will mean the destruction of all hope for dialogue with Turkey and that is why Mitsotakis wants the threat to be on the table but does not demand their immediate imposition.
Turkey’s continuing provocation in the Eastern Mediterranean was not to be discussed at this Summit and the issue was reopened due to the insistence of the Greek Prime Minister and Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis. Finally, the European Council’s “strong disapproval” of the new unilateral and provocative actions of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean, including recent research activities, was included in the Conclusions. There is also an explicit reference to the need for Turkey to respect Security Council Resolutions 550 and 789 on Varosha in occupied northern Cyprus. The European Council called on Turkey to reverse these actions and work to reduce tensions in a consistent and systematic manner, and warned that it would continue to monitor the issue closely.
Regarding the arms embargo on Turkey, Mitsotakis reminded the other leaders that in previous European Council decisions on the Turkish provocation in Syria, decisions were taken by some member states, which referred to an embargo.
Germany and France had requested an arms embargo against Turkey in October 2019, but failed to reach a unanimity. Mitsotakis added that the United States had decided not to sell fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets to Turkey because it had bought S-400s from Russia, a weapons system that poses a threat to NATO, and that Canada had stopped exporting weapons systems to Turkey following the events in Artsakh.
Maybe, but that did not stop, according to information, Germany, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Malta from blocking the embargo, due to a network of economic reasons and fear of illegal immigration which has been instrumentalized by Erdoğan. Greece was supported by France, Austria and Slovenia, while the other countries simply did not care. Especially the Eastern ones, after the imposition of sanctions on Belarus, do not deal with Turkey at all.
The government believes that it must save time because time is on its side. It also consciously avoids responding to Turkish provocations in a way that would trigger conflict through our own fault in order to keep intact the grid of alliances it has formed to exploit it in a possible military engagement. Although he avoids it, the Prime Minister has put the Armed Forces on standby.
French President Emanuel Macron is firmly on the side of Greece.
“We reiterated our support in Greece and Cyprus. We will come back with decisions,” he said on Friday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not hide her anger at Erdoğan, whom she blamed for the failure of its mediation effort, and described Turkey’s actions as “sad and unnecessary”, but maintained that it was in the interest of developing the EU-Turkey relationship.
Erdogan does what he can get away with – Op-Ed on Bloomberg
In 2010, Turkey’s “Zero Problems” foreign-policy doctrine was the marvel of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country was using diplomacy and commerce to develop cordial — or at least civil — relations, not only in its neighborhood and near abroad, but across the world. Erdogan himself was the toast of the high table of international affairs, where leaders of the great powers sought his counsel and company.
Ten years later, Turkey’s foreign-policy landscape might more accurately be described as “Only Problems.” Ankara is deploying hard power and harsh rhetoric, rather than diplomacy, to maintain its influence.
It is in various degrees of confrontation with most countries that adjoin either its land borders or the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean: Greece, Syria, Israel, Cyprus, Iraq, Armenia and Egypt. Farther afield, it is in conflict with France, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
And at a time when the world powers can’t seem to agree on anything, they seem to reached near unanimity that Erdogan is a troublemaker.
Turkey’s pugnacious president has recently been attracting sharp jabs even from those who used to pull their punches. The U.S. State Department has said it “deplores” Turkey’s decision to restart a controversial geological survey of the Eastern Mediterranean, and called on Ankara to “end this calculated provocation.”
This language is some of the strongest that the Trump administration has directed against Erdogan, who has the ear and affection of his American counterpart.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin, described by Erdogan as a “good friend,” is taking a dim view of his role as cheerleader of the Caucasian conflict, where Turkey is enthusiastically backing Azerbaijan against Armenia. The Kremlin has accused Turkey of adding “fuel to the flames” of the long-simmering dispute over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. A ceasefire called by Moscow has not ended the fighting.
Other sources of criticism are more predictable. French President Emmanuel Macron, who has fulminated against Erdogan for Turkey’s intervention in the Libyan civil war (pot, meet kettle), has added its conduct in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Caucasus to his list of grievances. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has fended off wider European calls to punish Turkey, finds herself in an awkward position with the resumption of exploration in the troubled waters. It “most certainly would be anything but conducive to the continued development of EU-Turkish relations,” her spokesperson said.
As if all this wasn’t enough, condemnation has come from unexpected quarters — such as India, which was not pleased by Erdogan’s comments about Kashmir to the United Nations General Assembly. “Turkey should learn to respect the sovereignty of other nations and reflect on its own policies more deeply,” sniffed New Delhi’s Permanent Representative to the UN.
The “how” of Turkey’s foreign-policy freefall is well documented: Most of Ankara’s conflicts are of Erdogan’s choosing. He might have easily avoided entanglement in the Libyan civil war or the Caucasian crisis, and held his rhetorical fire on Kashmir. In each instance, he elected to wade in.
The “why” of it all is harder to fathom. Those seeking doctrinaire explanations for Erdogan’s adventurism can choose from neo-Ottomanism, Turkish ethno-nationalism and Islamism. Others point to geopolitics: Turkey, they say, is maneuvering for space in an emerging multipolar order, where it sees itself as a mid-sized world power, with an economic and cultural reach to befit that status as well as the requisite military muscle. Seen in this light, the aggressive foreign policy is an assertion of rights.
Still others focus on more narrow mercantile motivations, such as the scramble for hydrocarbon resources and the quest for new markets. And then there’s the argument from domestic politics, which posits that Erdogan, his approval ratings sinking amid the deepening economic gloom, is waving the Turkish flag abroad to distract his people.
There is more than a little truth in all those explanations. But if you’re looking for a unifying theory for Erdogan’s foreign policy, it is this: Turkey’s president does what he does because he gets away with it.
Whether in domestic politics or regional trade, he has not paid a significant price for his adventurism. The cost in Turkish blood has been remarkably low, not least because a great deal of the fighting is done by foreign mercenaries recruited from the killing fields of Syria. If there is any Turkish presence in the Libyan or Caucasian frontlines, it is more likely to be in the air — showing off the country’s burgeoning capabilities in drone warfare — than on the ground.
In contrast, Turkey’s antagonists among major powers have enormous economic leverage, but they have been reluctant to use it. In the European Union — far and away Turkey’s biggest trading partner — diplomats talk airily about a “carrots and sticks approach” toward Ankara, but they are beginning to recognize that it isn’t working. The problem is that they are unwilling to wield the stick.
One hundred and one recognised refugees left Greece for Germany
One hundred and one recognized refugees living in the islands of the Eastern Aegean left for Germany on Friday, on a flight from "Eleftherios Venizelos" airport in Athens, ANA reports. Their transfer is part of the agreement between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for the relocation of a total of 1,553 recognized refugees following the fire in the reception and identification centre of Moria, Mytilene.
Protest in Istanbul calling for the termination of the ‘EU-Turkey deal’
25 organizations including We Want to Live Together Initiative (Birlikte Yaşamak İstiyoruz İnisiyatifi), People’s Democratic Party’s Commission of Migration and Refugees (HDP Göç ve Mülteciler Komisyonu), People’s Democratic Congress’ Council of Migration and Refugees (HDK Göç ve Mülteciler Meclisi) and Labour Party (Emek Partisi) got together in Kadıköy, Istanbul to protest against racism towards and exploitation of migrants and refugees on Migrants’ Day of Transnational Opposition (Göçmenlerin Ulusötesi Mücadele Günü).
The protests’ spokesperson Deniz Şensöz said, “Refugees are kept on being used as leverage in negotiations with the EU. This is evident in the spokesman of JDP (AKP), Omer Celik’s recent comment, ‘If the EU imposes sanctions on Turkey, it should not expect cooperation on migrants’. The result of this cooperation has been the death of at least 37 refugees in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of this year. 17000 refugees have been denied access at the borders, and Turkey decided to deport 125 refugees that Greece has declined. Seven months ago, the government pushed thousands of refugees towards the Pazarkule border with the fake news that the borders have opened. The refugees that were stuck in between Turkish and Greek police forces tried to cross the borders for days. When the government tried to ease the tension between Turkey and the EU, the refugees were locked into readmission centres and gyms. In order for these tragedies to end, we demand the termination of the ‘EU-Turkey deal’ and both the Turkish government and the EU countries to unconditionally recognize refugees’ right of asylum”.
Greece building a 27 km wall on border with Turkey
“Still worried that Turkey might again try to get refugees and migrants to cross over, Greece is building another fence on the border, a 62.9-million-euro ($73.7 million) project in the area of Feres.” It's being constructed by a consortium of four companies and will be 27 kilometers (16.77 miles) long. “Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will visit the area near the Evros River to survey the work with Greece entangled in rising tensions with Turkey which is planning to drill for energy in waters of Greek islands.”