‘Turkey must end illegal activities’, says European Parliament

(Updates with statements from Turkish Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan)

Members of the European Parliament condemned Turkey’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and expressed “full solidarity” with Greece and Cyprus in a statement issued on Thursday, passing a resolution on the escalating maritime dispute.

MEPs called on Turkey to “immediately end any further illegal exploration and drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, to refrain from violating Greek airspace and Greek and Cypriot territorial waters and stop ‘nationalistic warmongering rhetoric’,” the statement said.

European lawmakers called for “dialogue, diplomacy and negotiations,” and for all actors involved to “commit to an urgent de-escalation,” by withdrawing military forces from the area. The resolution adopted on Thursday by the MEPs said Germany’s and NATO’s initiatives for mediation had failed.

Turkish foreign policy and actions in the Mediterranean have damaged stability in the region, including in Syria, the EP statement said.

“Further sanctions (against Turkey) can only be avoided through dialogue,” it said, calling on the European Council to “stand ready to develop further restrictive measures,” while remaining mindful to not harm Turkey’s population or refugees residing in the country.

The Eastern Mediterranean is “blighted by a long-standing, multi-layered set of disputes,” the resolution said, “whereas escalating tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean are fuelled by unilateral steps by Turkey.”

Turkey has challenged Cyprus’s and Greece’s claims to exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean since the early 2000’s, when offshore natural gas reserves were discovered, it continued, while the continental shelf issue between Turkey and  Greece “has remained unresolved since November 1973.” Greece and Turkey interpreted maritime law differently, it said, calling Turkey’s interpretation and actions illegal.

The resolution said European Union was “clear and determined” in defending its interests, “demonstrating its unwavering support and solidarity with Greece and Cyprus and upholding international law,” and that Turkey’s actions resulted in “an intense and dangerous militarization” in the maritime region.

France deployed fighter jets in the area in mid-August, taking part in military exercises with the Cyprus, Greece and Italy, which was met with “an extremely hostile reaction by Turkish warships,” it said.

Turkey signed a maritime delimitation agreement with Libya’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in November 2019, following January 2019’s establishment of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum among Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. According to the MEPs, “if applied, (the Turkey-GNA agreement) would effectively draw a dividing line between the eastern and western parts of the Mediterranean, and thus threaten maritime security.”

The European Council has sanctioned Turkish officials over “illegal drilling activities” in 2019 and will discuss further restrictive measures at the special European Council summit on Sept. 24 and 25.

European leaders will get together to discuss possible sanctions against Turkey later in the month.

In the resolution, the European Parliament condemned Turkey’s Sept. 15 Navtex to extend drill ship Yavuz’s activities until Oct. 12 while welcoming its “decision on 12 September 2020 to withdraw its seismic research vessel Oruç Reis, thus taking a first step to easing the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

Turkey’s Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın, in a Thursday online event hosted by the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Oruç Reis’s return to port offered an opportunity for dialogue. “Our president has given a chance to diplomacy again,” Financial Times cited Kalın as telling the council.

Turkey and Greece will “soon” start anew talks over the Mediterranean dispute, Kalın said. “Hopefully the Greek side will use this as an opportunity to advance the talks.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke with European Council President Charles Michel on the phone later in the day, to discuss the Eastern Mediterranean dispute and Turkey’s overall relations with the EU, his office said in a statement.

Erdoğan "reiterated his call to EU institutions and its member states for 'an objective and consistent stance on all regional issues, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean, without being deceived by provocations'," the statement said. It continued:

"Emphasizing that Turkey was open to a solution in which the rights of all parties were protected through negotiations based on a sincere dialogue and justice, President Erdoğan stated that they would continue with determination to protect Turkey’s rights and interests every time and everywhere against attempts to ignore and unilateral steps."