Opinion

Turkey at loggerheads with EU over east Mediterranean 

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, French President Emmanuel Macron, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, wearing face masks, speak with each other on the second day of an EU summit, in Brussels, Belgium October 16, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 October 2020

Turkey at loggerheads with EU over east Mediterranean 

  • Turkey’s decision to resend its vessel, Oruc Reis, to contested waters off Greek islands to resume gas exploration has infuriated the EU
  • It has been given a week to reconsider its position and to return to dialogue before the EU decides on potential sanctions

ANKARA: Turkey’s confrontation with Greece in the east Mediterranean has intensified, following accusations from powerful EU member states that Ankara was “provoking” Brussels with its acts.

Its decision to resend its vessel, Oruc Reis, to contested waters off Greek islands to resume gas exploration has infuriated the EU, and the bloc’s leaders discussed the crisis on Friday.

“The European Council urges Turkey to reverse these actions and work for the easing of tensions in a consistent and sustained manner,” a final meeting report said.

On Thursday, Turkey was given a week to reconsider its position and to return to dialogue before the EU decides on potential sanctions. These are expected to be deferred to its December summit. 

“Turkey remains consistent in its aggressive behavior,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday at the opening of the EU Summit in Brussels.

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Charles Ellinas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had missed a good opportunity by sending back the Oruc Reis.

“By doing so he snapped the EU and particularly Germany that put so much into bringing Greece and Turkey back from confrontation into discussions,” he told Arab News, saying that he did not expect the EU to go much further for the time being. 

“They will still give Ankara time, possibly to the start of December, to return to the original plans and commence discussions with Greece. This is the preferred way forward by the EU but, if aggressive actions continue beyond that, then the EU will be forced to act.” 

He said that Greece would not be drawn into a naval confrontation but would pursue all other avenues to resist Turkey's actions, and that only negotiations could lead to a resolution. But it was unclear how serious Erdogan was in wanting a resolution or if he was determined to stick to his guns for domestic political reasons.

“Especially as seismic surveys for hydrocarbons are nothing but an excuse,” Ellinas added. “Not only (as) these cannot take place effectively with so many warships around the Oruc Reis, but the likelihood of finding hydrocarbons is very small.”

Using maritime disputes in the east Mediterranean as leverage may be a strategy for the Turkish government to bolster domestic support ahead of any snap elections amid a worsening economy and the COVID-19 pandemic, regardless of what impact these actions may have on EU relations.

“With regard to the return of the Oruc Reis to disputed waters even Germany, who has adopted a more balanced and moderate view with regard to the conflict between Turkey and Greece, has the perception that Turkey has duped the EU on this issue,” Gallia Lindenstrauss, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told Arab News.

Germany has tried to broker a de-escalation in the eastern Mediteranean, but Turkey’s recently increasing assertiveness in the region has weakened support for any diplomatic initiative.

Lindenstrauss believed that Ankara wanted to negotiate.

“But it wants to come to the negotiations from a position of strength. Clearly its provocative actions in different arenas are meant to give it such an advantage, but it is not clear that indeed Turkey feels strengthened enough at this point to stop the escalation. The Turkish actions are causing a strong backlash that will also at some point force the Turkish side to moderate its actions.”

Turkey has also been aggravating its relations with other Western partners, namely the US. On Friday it fired a missile to test out a Russian-made air defense system.


Full steam ahead for Egypt-Sudan rail network

Updated 5 min 52 sec ago

Full steam ahead for Egypt-Sudan rail network

  • Gateway project will open continent to new trade and jobs, says Cairo minister

CAIRO: Egypt’s Minister of Transport Kamel Al-Wazir has discussed plans with Sudanese counterpart Hashem bin Auf to build a cross-border railway network between the two neighboring countries.

The pair discussed terms of a joint cooperation document for railway connectivity, which aims to provide funding for an economic, social and environmental feasibility study for the project. The planned network will extend from the Egyptian city of Aswan across the southern border to Sudan’s Wadi Halfa in its first phase.

Funding will be organized through cooperation between Egypt, Sudan and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development.

Al-Wazir signed the document and delivered it to the Sudanese ambassador in Cairo for signing by the country’s transport minister.

The two sides also discussed a number of road projects, including a prospective land road between Egypt and Chad through Sudan. 

The project aims to be a gateway for trade between the two countries, Chad and West Africa. 

The Cairo-Sudan-Cape Town road, which passes through nine African countries, was also mentioned by the ministers. Al-Wazir also said that Egypt is building a Cairo-Arqin road corridor inside its borders, which passes through the governorates of Fayoum, Beni Suef, Minya, Assiut, Sohag, Qena, Luxor and Aswan, and then then extends to the Egyptian border, passing through the Toshka junctions to Arqin, parallel with Sudan.

He added that the new project is important in achieving land connectivity and increasing trade with African countries, as well as serving Egyptian and African citizens, opening new job opportunities and encouraging comprehensive development. The Sudanese side also requested cooperation with Egypt in maritime transport and the training of maritime cadres at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport.

Al-Wazir said that Egypt will provide its capabilities to train the workers, whether through the Arab Academy, Egyptian ports or the Egyptian Authority for Maritime Safety.

The two sides also agreed to hold a joint meeting to follow up on the progress of other cooperation projects and to discuss the development of the Nile Valley Authority for River Navigation.

Al-Wazir’s team said that the coming period should include urgent plans to develop the authority, train river workers and provide support through specialized technical cadres.