Is the EU trying to subdue Turkey?

The EU has been incensed over Turkey's latest action in what it deems its own sphere of influence. Many member states have also been angered by the recent Turkish decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque. However, the bloc has decided to push negotiations with Turkey, hoping that it will be able to subdue it. It remains to be seen how Turkey reacts to the bloc's move.

EU angry at Turkey

EU countries on Monday agreed to step up efforts to calm raging tensions with Turkey through dialogue — while also lining up fresh punitive measures should Ankara not respond. It seems that the EU is very angry with Turkey over the latter’s allegedly unilateral moves in the EU’s sphere of influence, but could it be that the EU is actually angered over Turkey bypassing it in decisions?

Turkey was top of the agenda as the EU’s 27 foreign ministers met in Brussels for talks for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic erupted.

EU angry at Turkey over a whole host of issues

The European nations are angry at Ankara over a host of issues from its domestic rights record to its drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus and its intervention in the Libya conflict.

The ministers also condemned the decision by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to turn Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.

After the meeting EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said the ministers had asked him to “explore further paths that could contribute to lowering tensions and reach understandings on issues that are increasingly stressing the relationship”.

Borell said there is a consensus among foreign ministers that relations between Turkey and the EU have been under “continuous strain,” adding that developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya directly affect EU interests.

Read more: Here’s why allies Russia and Turkey fighting each other in Libya

“Also I will prepare options on further appropriate measures that could be taken in response to the challenges we are facing as a result of Turkish actions including in the eastern Mediterranean,” Borrell said.

“Several serious issues must be addressed by Turkey in order to change the current consultations and dynamics and create an environment of trust with Turkey which everybody wishes,” he said.

France has been particularly incensed about fellow NATO member Turkey’s military support of the Tripoli government, suspecting Ankara of breaching a UN arms embargo on restive Libya.

EU angry at Turkey but stresses dialogue 

Borrell, who travelled to Ankara for talks with Turkish ministers last week, has stressed the need to defuse tensions through dialogue, despite pressure from some EU countries to take tougher action such as sanctions.

Since 2016 the EU has relied on Turkey to stem the flow of migrants trying to reach Europe from the Middle East, Asia and Africa — a fact Ankara has not shied away from leveraging.

Despite the challenges, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Turkey remained of “strategic importance” to the EU and it was crucial to maintain dialogue.

Read more: Turkey honours Hagia Sophia by converting it in to a Mosque

“But we have also made it clear that we expect that there are positive signals from Turkey where it affects the interests of member states of the European Union, for example with regard to the Mediterranean drilling,” he said.

But anger is running high among some EU countries, with Luxembourg’s veteran Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn slamming the Hagia Sophia move as a “strike against civilisation” and warning Ankara’s actions against rights defenders suggested it “despises democracy and despises its own people”.

Alexander Schallenberg, the foreign minister of Austria — which frequently takes a tough line on Turkey — called the Hagia Sophia change “the latest link in a chain of provocations” and said Ankara was “simply not a reliable partner for Europe”.

Ministers also discussed Beijing’s new security law for Hong Kong, agreeing to work on a coordinated response and look at making it easier for Hong Kongers to come to Europe.

What is the source of friction?

Some EU countries have taken exception to Turkey’s military aid to Libya’s UN-recognized government headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj – given under a security pact between Ankara and Tripoli signed last December – as well an agreement laying out the countries’ maritime boundaries, reached the same month.

France has criticized Turkey while supporting Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, who has waged a war against the country’s legitimate government.

Read more: France wants NATO to take cognizance of ‘Turkey problem’ in Libya

Borell also said the foreign ministers condemned Turkey’s decision last week to turn Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and urged Turkey to reconsider the decision.

Turkey has denounced foreign countries and organizations trying to tell it what to do about Hagia Sophia, calling such efforts attempts to damage its sovereignty.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk