Eastern Mediterranean tensions: MEPs call for urgent de-escalation and dialogue
Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee say Turkey must end its illegal gas exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In a debate with Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs for European affairs of Greece, and Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Thursday, MEPs in the Foreign Affairs Committee voiced their serious concern over the alarming military build-up in the Eastern Mediterranean by NATO members Greece and Turkey, following the latter’s continuous gas drilling and exploration operations in the exclusive economic zones of Greece and Cyprus.
They expressed their full solidarity with EU members Greece and Cyprus and firmly called on Turkey to stop its controversial energy activities, which the EU considers illegal, as well as its constant provocations and violations of international law and the maritime zones of its neighbors.
“Cannot accept military pressure or threats”
A de-escalation of tensions is now urgently needed, and the European Union must be united on this issue, MEPs said. They also stressed the importance of both sides sitting down at the negotiating table to resolve the ongoing disputes through dialogue in good faith.
Mr Varvitsiotis said that his country does not want to solve any problems through military action, but also explained that no dialogue can take place against the backdrop of “military pressure and threats”. He also condemned the Turkish unlawful presence and actions in the area, which he said undermines the security situation in the whole region as well as the EU’s direct interests.
Members also quizzed Mr Varvitsiotis on a range of issues and the way forward in EU-Turkey relations, including on the possibility and efficiency of new EU sanctions against the country, which will be discussed by EU heads of state and government at the next EU summit in Brussels on 24 and 25 September. Others raised the prospect of imposing an EU arms embargo on Turkey, in order to respond to its increasing provocations.
“We are ready for unconditional talks”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stressed in his intervention that the Turkish side is ready for dialogue, while criticising the Greek government for having rejected several proposals for “unconditional talks” to solve the disputes, including from NATO and EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell.
He also expressed his dismay over what Turkey considers to be the “maximalist positions” of Greece and Cyprus, with regard to the establishment and perception of territorial waters and subsequent economic rights, and criticised the Greek government of having signed maritime deals with neighbouring Mediterranean countries in violation of Turkey’s continental shelves.
Mr Çavuşoğlu further accused the EU of “blindly” taking the sides of Greece and Cyprus, despite the EU having “no competence” to settle maritime affairs.
MEPs questioned the minister on several subjects, including what concrete steps can be taken to de-escalate the current tensions, on the relations with Cyprus and if the country is ready to settle the maritime disputes at international courts.
“The position of the Foreign Affairs Committee is very clear: a path to end the hostilities in the Eastern Mediterranean is urgently needed. We are in full solidarity with EU Member States Greece and Cyprus. This conflict can only be resolved through dialogue and negotiations, not threats and military posturing. Concrete steps should be taken to create an environment conducive to dialogue in good faith. In this respect, I am glad that both Ministers expressed their countries’ readiness to come to the negotiating table and I hope these talks will start as soon as possible”, said David McAllister (EPP, DE), Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, at the meeting.
For the past weeks, tensions are mounting over Turkey’s increased and disputed gas exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, which EU member states Greece and Cyprus say violates their continental shelves and territorial waters. Both sides have also deployed warships to the area in a show of strength, prompting fears that the standoff might spill over into a direct military conflict.