EU weighs options as Turkey stand-off grinds on

Turkey has been challenging Greece over maritime territory in the Eastern Mediterranean. (File/AFP)
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Updated 04 December 2020

EU weighs options as Turkey stand-off grinds on

  • Next week’s EU summit will be held in Brussels with leaders meeting face-to-face
  • Turkey and Greece countries are NATO members and the alliance has set up a “de-confliction mechanism”

BRUSSELS: European Council chief Charles Michel said Friday that Turkey has not de-escalated its stand-off with Greece and warned EU members now need to consider tougher options.
“I think that the cat and mouse game needs to end,” Michel said, referring to Turkey’s repeated incursions into Greek waters with gas exploration vessels.
“We will have a debate at the European summit on December 10 and we are ready to use the means at our disposal,” he added.
Next week’s EU summit will be held in Brussels with leaders meeting face-to-face after videoconferences were held as a coronavirus prevention measure.
One possibility, backed by some members, would be economic sanctions, but many states are not convinced.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told a conference in Italy “the EU Council will have to take the decision that only the EU can take, because the sanctions regime, it’s a matter for the member states.”
“There are not very many positive signals that came from Turkey during these months — in Cyprus and on the drilling, the talks between Greece and Turkey have not been developing,” he said.
Turkey has been challenging Greece over maritime territory in the Eastern Mediterranean, repeatedly sending a gas exploration vessel into Greek waters.
Both countries are NATO members and the alliance has set up a “de-confliction mechanism” to help avoid accidental military clashes.
But a German-led diplomatic approach to Ankara has made little progress in resolving the underlying issues, and some EU members — notably France and Greece itself — are pushing for stronger action.
Other EU capitals are more cautious, some fearing an escalating stand-off could see Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government once again allow a wave of refugees to head for EU borders.
Michel, who will host the summit, expressed Europe’s frustration.
“In October, after a very dense and strategic high level exchange, we defined a very positive offer to Turkey, we extended our hands,” he told a news conference to mark his first year in office.
“But the condition to move in that area is that Turkey needs to stop unilateral provocations, hostile statements, and the non-respect of international principles and rules-based society.
“Well, since October, things have not been very positive,” Michel noted.
“Since that time, we’ve seen that there have been unilateral acts that have taken place, a hostile rhetoric has been expressed.”
Backed by Turkish navy frigates, the research vessel the Oruc Reis was first deployed in August and again in October to the waters off Kastellorizo island, in defiance of EU and US calls to stop.
It returned to port again in October, but may go back to the disputed zone while Ankara says that, with its long Mediterranean coastline, its claim to sovereign waters in the region is stronger than Greece’s, which is based on its ownership of tiny Kastellorizo.


UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly

Updated 23 January 2021

UK scientists warn too early to tell if new COVID-19 variant more deadly

  • PM Boris Johnson had previously said evidence showed higher mortality rate 
  • Top medics have said it is “too early” to say whether the variant carries with it a higher mortality rate

LONDON: The discovery of a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant in the UK should not alter the response to the pandemic, scientists say, despite fears that it could prove more deadly.
Top medics have said it is “too early” to say whether the variant, thought to be up to 70 percent more transmissible, carries with it a higher mortality rate.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed there was “some evidence” the variant had “a higher degree of mortality” at a press conference on Friday, Jan. 22, with the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, adding it could be up to 30 percent more deadly. 
That came after a briefing by the UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) said there was a “realistic possibility” of an increased risk of death.
Prof. Peter Horby, Nervtag’s chairman, said: “Scientists are looking at the possibility that there is increased severity ... and after a week of looking at the data we came to the conclusion that it was a realistic possibility.
“We need to be transparent about that. If we were not telling people about this we would be accused of covering it up.”
But infectious disease modeller Prof. Graham Medley, one of the authors of the Nervtag briefing, told the BBC: “The question about whether it is more dangerous in terms of mortality I think is still open.
He added: “In terms of making the situation worse it is not a game changer. It is a very bad thing that is slightly worse.”
Dr. Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling for the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said he was “quite surprised” Johnson had made the claim.
“I just worry that where we report things pre-emptively where the data are not really particularly strong,” he added.