Ankara faces new wave of biting sanctions, now from Europe

A Turkish Navy warship patroling next to Turkey's drilling ship "Fatih" dispatched towards the eastern Mediterranean near Cyprus. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2019

Ankara faces new wave of biting sanctions, now from Europe

  • The decision came after months of escalated tension in the region

ANKARA: The European Council’s decision to impose sanctions on Turkey over its drilling activities in disputed offshore territories in the eastern Mediterranean has caused a political earthquake in the country.

In the final declaration, the council said it would suspend civil aviation talks and “agree not to hold … further meetings of the EU-Turkey high-level dialogues for the time being” due to Ankara’s “continued and new illegal drilling activities” near EU member Cyprus.

The decision came after months of escalated tension in the region, where Ankara has deployed three gas exploration ships to expand its drilling operations. Greek Cypriots issued arrest warrants for the ships’ crews.

Pre-EU accession financial aid for Turkey will be cut next year. The EU also advised the European Investment Bank, which supports infrastructure-related investments, to review its lending programs to Turkey.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, said the sanctions will have little impact on the economic dimension of the Turkey-EU relationship. 

“Of more concern however is the very palpable path to further escalation. This predicament underlines the EU’s strategic miscalculation,” he told Arab News. 

According to Ulgen, the EU is struggling to design a smart engagement policy with Turkey. 

“Instead, it (the EU) has become reliant on punishments like sanctions or the scaling down of financial assistance. Ideally, the EU should create a positive agenda that can be more influential in impacting Turkey’s behavior,” he added. 

The civil aviation negotiations on the EU’s Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement, which regulates commercial flights in the region, were suspended under the new sanctions. 

“On the aviation agreement, the suspension of the negotiations means that further liberalization in air transport will be postponed,” Ulgen said. 

Such liberalization, he added, would have been beneficial for Turkish consumers. 

“The impact on Turkish Airlines is less clear. It would have depended on how successful it would be in capturing market share within the EU,” Ulgen said.

Ankara promptly reacted to the declaration by emphasizing that it would continue its activities near Cyprus and would send a fourth ship to the region “as soon as possible.”

The council’s declaration emphasized that additional “targeted measures” were being considered to further punish Turkey. 

The EU sanctions coincide with impending US sanctions over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Madalina Sisu Vicari, Brussels-based expert on European energy policies and geopolitics, believes the EU sanctions are delicately calibrated to avoid a significant economic impact and widening the political rift between Brussels and Ankara. 

“They were purposefully crafted in order to send a political message, not to harm the Turkish economy,” Vicari said.

Ankara, which does not formally recognize the Republic of Cyprus in the Greek south of the island, began accession talks to join the EU in 2005. Negotiations have not progressed for over a decade because of Turkey’s stance on Cyprus.

Regarding the air transport agreement, Vicari said she thinks it will not impact flights out of Istanbul airport. 

“The air transport agreement has been under negotiation since 2010, and it aims to remove nationality restrictions and to operate flights between any EU destination and Turkey. The EU chose to suspend this agreement instead of the EU-Turkey Customs Union negotiations, which are far more important for both sides,” she said. 

According to Vicari, suspension of the air transport agreement is a symbolic political move instead of a tool aimed at triggering a change of behavior from Turkey. 

However, Vicari anticipates that — depending on political developments — the EU may impose targeted measures on those involved in the drillings.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 48 min 25 sec ago

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”