EU foreign affairs chief: Europe faces threat from three ‘re-emerging empires’

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Josep Borrell said the three resurgent “empires” were Russia, China and Turkey.
Josep Borrell

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

15 Sep 2020

Borrell told Parliament’s plenary that “Europe faces a situation where empires are coming back - there are at least three of them.”

The former MEP said Russia, China and Turkey - “big in the past” - were now “coming back with an approach on their immediate neighbourhood and also globally.”

His comments came during a debate with MEPs on the “dangerous” escalation and the role of Turkey regarding offshore natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regional ambitions and push for control of gas resources in Eastern Mediterranean have put Turkey on a collision course with the European Union.

Tensions flared last month after Turkey sent a seismic research vessel to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects in waters claimed by Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.

“We do not want a confrontation with Turkey. Turkey is an important and key partner for the EU and an accession candidate, but it is clear that this has now been put into question” Josep Borrell, EU High Representative

NATO members Turkey and Greece have overlapping claims to continental shelves and rights to potential energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Ankara now faces potential sanctions from the EU, which says it fully supports Member States Greece and Cyprus.

Dangerous military incidents involving Turkey, Greece and France have raised the risk of conflict. EU Member States have been split on how best to manage relations with Ankara, with France seeking a tougher stance while Germany urges caution.

But the more Turkey continues its current course of action the likelier it is that the EU will shift towards imposing economic sanctions.

Borrell joined some Member States, including Germany, in saying he wants to defuse the stand-off through dialogue.

He said, “This debate is timely because tensions have continued to rise in the area and more efforts are needed to defuse the situation. This will not be solved by military means but with dialogue. But what has been happening in the summer is unacceptable.”

“That is why I believe our relations with Turkey are at a watershed which can go one side or the other depending on what happens next. I have called for a de-escalation of the crisis but the further and serious backsliding in the rule of law in Turkey is a concern.”

“We have recently witnessed an alarming and dangerous military build-up in the eastern Mediterranean and we should be extremely concerned about the risk of direct military confrontation” David McAllister MEP

Borrell added, “We do not want a confrontation with Turkey. Turkey is an important and key partner for the EU and an accession candidate, but it is clear that this has now been put into question.”

German EPP deputy David McAllister, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told the plenary session, “We have recently witnessed an alarming and dangerous military build-up in the eastern Mediterranean and we should be extremely concerned about the risk of direct military confrontation.”

“That is why a de-escalation is urgently needed but let’s be clear: Turkey’s drilling in the area is illegal.”

Spanish Socialist MEP Nacho Sánchez Amor said, “Turkey needs to immediately withdraw its vessels from the area”, while Dutch RE MEP Malik Azmani cautioned that the dispute “could have devastating consequences and that is why the EU must respond strongly.”

He added, “Right now, it is difficult to see Turkey as a candidate country.”

Speaking at a news briefing in Parliament on Tuesday, Socialist leader Iratxe García Pérez called for a peaceful resolution.

She said, “Turkey is a NATO member and I hope that the initiative by Josep Borrell calling for dialogue will be successful, otherwise sanctions against Turkey may be necessary.”

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