The EU sent out “a message of unity, solidarity and determination” with regard to Turkish hostility in the Mediterranean, said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis following a marathon EU summit meeting in Brussels on Thursday.
More specifically, the EU said it could impose sanctions on Turkey if the country continues its “provocations and pressures” on Greece over oil and gas resources and maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean.
“The European Union has made it very clear that the lifting of unilateral action is a precondition for the improvement of EU-Turkey relations,” said Mitsotakis.
Speaking to EU leaders on Friday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on Ankara to “abstain from unilateral actions” in the eastern Mediterranean, adding that “a positive and constructive relationship with Turkey would be also be very much in Ankara’s interest”.
“We therefore expect that Turkey from now on abstains from unilateral actions. In case of such renewed actions by Ankara the EU will use all its instruments and options available. We have a toolbox that we can apply immediately,” she said, leaving open the possibility of sanctions should Turkey continue its aggressive actions.
In the meantime, NATO members Greece and Turkey agreed on Thursday to establish a military hotline in an attempt to limit the risk of clashes in the region. The military de-confliction mechanism will work through diplomatic channels and direct communication to resolve potential conflicts.
Strains between the two countries were aggravated earlier this year after Turkey, which is claiming it has rights to search for and exploit oil and gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean, dispatched a research vessel accompanied by warships to the area, which is within Greece’s maritime borders.
Aiming to secure its maritime zones in the Mediterranean, Greece entered border agreements with Italy and Egypt, which angered Turkey, after it too had entered a similar deal with Libya’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.
Earlier this year, the international community condemned Turkey’s decision to convert the church and museum of Hagia Sophia – an UNESCO World Heritage site – into a mosque.
Turkey’s hostility in the region also topped the agenda of talks between Greece and the US during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s the two-day visit to Athens this week.
“The US encourages a return to dialogue and a peaceful resolution of any disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said, reiterating US opposition to unilateral actions in disputes among countries.
Other key conclusions of the EU summit include a political agreement and compromises by Turkey.
EU leaders agreed to review Turkey’s behaviour in December. If by that time Turkey has not stopped “provocations”, sanctions may be imposed, the statement said.
According to government sources cited by ANA-MPA, summit conclusions reflect Greece’s positions.
“[Holding a] dialogue with Turkey is an option. A precondition however is that [Turkey] does not carry out illegal actions. And this was confirmed at the summit,” ANA-MPA reported government sources as saying.
“The EU issues a clear threat of sanctions against Turkey should it continue to violate international law,” said Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, posting on Twitter after the meeting.