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Our View: Sanctions against Turkey would only be a tool, not a solution

The meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council on Monday

Political parties all expressed their disappointment about the unwillingness of the EU foreign affairs council to impose punitive measures against Turkey for its unlawful actions and provocations against Greece and Cyprus. They all criticised the EU for restricting itself to “verbal condemnations” that will do nothing to stop Turkey’s aggression and failing to show its solidarity in practical terms.

It is almost as if the Cyprus parties welcomed this outcome because it allows them to take the moral high ground and engage in the obligatory sermonising for the domestic audience about the EU’s alleged lack of principles, its failure to show solidarity to a member state and so-called policy of appeasement towards Turkey. The bizarre thing is that their expectations were nothing more than wishful thinking, having no basis in EU political reality.

In the run-up to the council meeting, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell was advocating the need for EU-Turkey dialogue, a reflection of the European Commission’s unwillingness to follow a policy of confrontation with Turkey. Although his proposal, which appeared to have had the backing of the German presidency, did not secure the council’s approval on Monday many member-states still did not back the idea of punitive measures.

As a concession, the council will ask the European External Action Service to prepare an ‘options paper’ with a list of proposed measures that could be taken if the situation takes a turn for the worse. What form these will take was unclear although Cyprus Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides said measures would be targeted at different sectors of Turkey’s economy such as energy or tourism. This was another example of how the government raises expectations. It had done the same a year ago with the token ‘targeted measures’, the ineffectiveness of which has been illustrated by Turkey’s unlawful actions in the last 12 months.

It is very clear the EU sees dialogue with Turkey as the only way of easing the tension over gas explorations in the seas, a view the Greek government, which is not as gung-ho about sanctions as Cyprus, seems to quietly share. Christodoulides admitted that many member-states considered Turkey important with regard to the refugee issue but this is not all. The EU wants good relations with Turkey because it is also a major trading partner and because it wants to keep it under the western sphere of influence, something we seem incapable of accepting.

Rightly or wrongly, the EU believes the dispute over the gas exploration in the Mediterranean can be resolved through dialogue that would lead to a Cyprus settlement. As Borrell said “sanctions are a tool and not an end in themselves,” as our political parties seem to believe.

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