European Commission backs France in its ‘war of words’ with Turkey

Move comes amid increasing tension between Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

27 Oct 2020

The two leaders have traded insults since the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded a fortnight ago by a teenager after showing his students caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.

Paty was killed by an 18-year-old Moscow-born Chechen refugee, who was later shot dead by police.

On Sunday, Erdogan, in the latest in a series of verbal attacks, said that Macron “has lost his way” and “really must be checked up.” Some have taken his comments as a reference to the French president’s recent pledge to tackle radical Islam.

Turkey has now called for a boycott of French products, a move that has so far been largely ignored.

Macron, for his part, has defended the right to free speech of the media and schools in France which has five million Muslim citizens.

He said, "We will not give up cartoons. Paty was killed because Islamists want our future. They will never have it.”

“Political will from the Turkish authorities is needed on this positive agenda. Otherwise, Turkey will be even more isolated” High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell

In a tweet on Sunday, the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell intervened in the fast-growing dispute between the two sides, saying that Erdogan’s insults against Macron were “unacceptable.”

Borrell, a former Spanish MEP, said, “I call on Turkey to stop this dangerous spiral of confrontation.”

He said EU leaders had offered to relaunch the relationship with Turkey but said, “Political will from the Turkish authorities is needed on this positive agenda. Otherwise, Turkey will be even more isolated.”

On Monday, the European Commission was asked about the furore at a briefing for journalists.

A spokesman said it had taken “note” of the comments by Erdogan, adding, “we have reacted to his remarks and we renew our support for France on this.”

He said that Member States are due to discuss future relations with Turkey at a summit in December and there were no plans to bring the meeting forward, but added, “This does not mean that we are not doing anything (on the current situation). We are analysing the situation and the Council has been extremely clear on what the EU expects of Turkey.”

“Turkey is a very important partner for the EU and is a Nato member. This is why we want to engage with Turkey. Our relationship is very complex but increased confrontation will bring nothing to anyone and profit no one" European Commission Spokesman

He added, “We are looking for a change in statements, in the actions and behaviour of Turkey. We will see if we wait until the December summit or take action sooner.”

The spokesman also responded to criticism of Borrell’s response to Turkish attacks on the EU and France in particular, saying, “The High Representative is making a lot of effort to defuse tensions.

“There are a lot of big and fully fledged efforts going on and he is reaching out and talking to all stakeholders involved. He is intensely engaged in this.”

He added, “Turkey is a very important partner for the EU and is a Nato member. This is why we want to engage with Turkey. Our relationship is very complex but increased confrontation will bring nothing to anyone and profit no one. That is why the EU focus will be on the positive track.”

But he said that things appeared to be “not going in the right direction” and cautioned, “If we don’t succeed in our current approach we will have to change that approach.”

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