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.


Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

Updated 15 January 2021

Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

  • Parents being targeted for investigation because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands
  • The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant

THE HAGUE: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government resigned on Friday over a child benefits scandal, media reported, threatening political turmoil as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of parents were wrongly accused by Dutch authorities of fraudulently claiming child allowance, with many of them forced to pay back large amounts of money and ending up in financial ruin.
The fact that some parents were targeted for investigation by tax officials because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands.
Dutch media said Rutte was due to give a statement at 1315 GMT about the resignation of his four-party coalition cabinet, which comes just two months before the Netherlands is due to hold a general election on March 17.
A hard-hitting parliamentary investigation in December said civil servants cut off benefits to thousands of families wrongly accused of fraud between 2013 and 2019.
The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant that first emerged in Britain.
Rutte had opposed the cabinet’s resignation, saying the country needs leadership during the pandemic.
He had however said that if it resigned he could be authorized to lead a caretaker government until elections — in which polls say his Freedom and Democracy Party would likely come first.
Other parties in the coalition had pushed for the government to take responsibility for the scandal, which Dutch media said some 26,000 people had been affected.
They could have also faced a confidence vote in parliament next week.
Pressure mounted on the government after opposition Labour party chief Lodewijk Asscher, who was social affairs minister in Rutte’s previous cabinet, resigned on Thursday over the scandal.
Victims also lodged a legal complaint Tuesday against three serving ministers and two former ministers including Asscher.
Many were required to pay back benefits totalling tens of thousands of euros (dollars).
Tax officials were also revealed to have carried out “racial profiling” of 11,00 people based on their dual nationality, including some of those hit by the false benefit fraud accusations.
The Dutch government announced at least 30,000 euros in compensation for each parent who was wrongly accused but it has not been enough to silence the growing clamour over the scandal.
Rutte has led three coalition governments since 2010, most recently winning elections in 2017 despite strong opposition from far-right leader Geert Wilders.
Polls say he is likely to win a fourth term in the next election, with public opinion still largely backing his handling of the coronavirus crisis.