EU ready to drop sanctions against Turkey despite calls for tougher action

Human rights groups have called on the European Union to take tougher action against Turkey as the bloc appears ready to drop the threat of sanctions.

European leaders will meet in Brussels from March 25 to 26, where Turkey will be on the agenda amid tensions with EU member states Greece and Cyprus over access to hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean.

A European Council meeting in December approved sanctions on Turkish individuals and companies involved in drilling operations off the coast of Greece and Cyprus.

But the measures stopped short of concrete action ahead of a report into Turkey relations by EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.

And the EU is now expected to shelve the sanctions threat, Reuters reported on Thursday.

“Work has stopped on additional blacklistings of Turkish individuals, and we are not talking of economic sanctions anymore,” Reuters cited one EU diplomat as saying.

“The diplomatic track is being prioritised,” another EU diplomat told the press agency.

Both Turkish and EU officials have shown a growing willingness in recent months to overcome their differences.

In January, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a video conference with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, and emphasised his country was willing to “turn over a new page”.

This meeting, followed by face-to-face talks between Borell and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, proved crucial to the EU softening its position, Reuters said.

Plans for EU sanctions targeting Melih Han Bilgin, chairman of the state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO), over drilling in the eastern Mediterranean will now be dropped, it said.  

On Monday, Borell also indicated the EU was willing to renew the controversial 2016 migrant deal aimed at limiting the number of refugees crossing from Turkey into the EU through Greece.

However, in a joint letter to Borell on Tuesday, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch warned the EU’s focus on the eastern Mediterranean and migration risked taking away from human rights concerns in Turkey.

Cooperation over these issues should not come at the cost of ignoring “escalating levels of repression in the country”, the rights groups said.

Turkish authorities on Wednesday began legal action to close the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third-largest group in parliament, a move condemned by the United States.

But diplomatic sources told Reuters that Turkey shuttering the HDP was unlikely to revive EU sanctions.

Erdoğan and von der Leyen will hold further talks on Friday to discuss relations ahead of the upcoming EU summit.

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