After Russia, Turkey is questioning the territorial integrity of the EU
A memorandum of understanding signed between the government of Tripoli and Turkey on offshore hydrocarbon exploration openly challenges EU territory. In Brussels, given the ongoing war in Ukraine, the situation is causing renewed uneasiness.
“Recent Ankara deal shows Turkey is following a pattern”a European source told EURACTIV ahead of an EU summit this week that will be attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The interim energy exploration agreement was signed between the Libyan government of national unity and Turkey and is seen as an extension of a broader memorandum of understanding between the two countries in 2019.
The deal jeopardizes Greece’s territorial waters south of the island of Crete and has provoked strong reactions.
The EU, Washington and Athens have all condemned the agreement, saying it destabilizes the region, undermines third countries’ sovereign rights, violates the law of the sea and cannot have legal consequences for third countries.
Since the Arab Spring, Libya has faced a fragile political landscape due to the presence of two rival governments: the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity, which signed the agreement with Ankara, and the Sirte-based Government of National Stability.
The latter also criticized the agreement, saying that any agreement by an outgoing government is not binding on the Libyan state.
“We’ll poke your eyes out”
Furthermore, Ankara is escalating its rhetoric on a daily basis, openly questioning the sovereignty of the Greek islands.
In particular, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s far-right government partner, Devlet Bahçeli, recently said that the sovereignty of the Dodecanese and North Aegean islands is Turkish, not Greek.
“We will gouge out anyone who tries to cover up our rights and our justice”said Mr. Bahçeli.
A European source told EURACTIV that Brussels is closely monitoring the escalation in the Mediterranean and has no intention of facing another front of instability after Russia’s invasion of Eastern Europe.
“All of Turkey’s steps, both in rhetoric and in practice, show that Mr. Erdoğan is following a pattern by repeating certain gestures.”said the EU source.
The source pointed out that in 2019 the Turks signed the Turkish-Libyan memorandum with one goal, as they are present again in 2022 to consolidate it in the same way.
“The aim is to challenge the current status quo”added the source.
In the past, EU member states have been divided on the Turkey issue due to differing individual interests. For example, in 2015-2019, 43% of arms imports to Turkey came from Italy and Spain.
“Before Russia invaded Ukraine, the further away you were from a crisis, the less you cared. But after Russia’s aggression, things have changed because we can see where questioning the sovereignty of European territory has taken us.”said the European source.
The same source also stressed that it should not be ignored that Turkey will hold elections in 2023 and that Mr Erdoğan is trying to win over the electorate again “patriotic” given the ongoing deterioration of the Turkish economy and the impossibility of finding easy solutions.
Since last May, Mr Erdoğan has cut off all communication with the Greek government, saying Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis “no longer exists” for him.
The two leaders will attend the Prague summit, but a bilateral meeting seems unlikely. However, Athens said a meeting could take place if Ankara so wishes.
The currently increasing tensions are against the background of the Turkish occupation of the northern third of the EU member state Cyprus. The problem has stalled for years, dividing the country by a heavily guarded border.
This week, the UN special envoy for Cyprus, Colin William Stewart, said he saw no way out.
“I am very concerned that the possibility of an amicable solution to the problem – that is, a mutually acceptable formula for reunifying the island – is slipping away and will not be possible for a long time to come.”he added.
The President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, also spoke on the issues discussed at the Cyprus Forum.
“Europe cannot really be complete until then [l’île de] Cyprus remains divided”she said before adding that “The only way forward is a single, sovereign European state, a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation, in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolutions. »
At the same time, Mr. Erdoğan contented himself with repeating his call for the international community to recognize the supposed “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.
The West is also observing Turkey’s attempts at rapprochement with the Russia-China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is considered a NATO rival, with great skepticism.
“It is no coincidence that Washington lifted its arms embargo on Cyprus immediately after Turkey’s participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit.”a Cypriot diplomatic source told EURACTIV Greece.
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