EU-Turkey relations: Erdogan plays the refugee card while beefing up gas operations in the Eastern Mediterranean sea

G20 Summit in China. Date: 04/09/2016. Location: Hangzhou. © European Union, 2016 Source: EC – Audiovisual Service Photographer: Etienne Ansotte

EU accession talks with Turkey have been suspended as Turkey is showing poor results in upholding human rights, the rule of law, media freedom and the fight against corruption. Turkey is attempting though to change this situation and enhance its relations with the EU discussing current matters with the EU officials and especially with Germany as far as Turkey’s accession to the EU is concerned. However, the incoming President of the European Commission mentioned that Turkey had not made enough progress on key conditions and that is why EU membership is still too far away.

At the same time, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey is thinking of acquiring a third drillship to place it in the Eastern Mediterranean sea in order to strengthen its position and search for natural gas in waters where Cyprus government has exclusive rights. What is more, Turkey is once more threatening the EU to open its borders to migrants from Syria insisting on the fact that has not yet received the money that the EU promised in 2016 through the hefty migration deal of 6 billion euros.

Tension in the Mediterranean

Tension has been rising in the Eastern Mediterranean over exploitation of the region’s natural gas as the Turkish sultan has been sending ships to drill in the Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The US and EU have been responded with sanctions but Turkey doesn’t seem to be affected whatsoever.

Furthermore, the Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has made an offer to Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to give a share of 30 percent from the energy fund to be established in 2022 acquiring the natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean sea. In return Turkey and Turkish Cypriots would compromise with Cyprus on the exclusive economic zones. But even then, Mustafa Akinci rejected the offer mentioning that the Turkish side would not be given a place in the management of the drilling activities.

And as it was not enough, Turkey is expected to acquire a third drillship and deploy it to the Cyprus waters to look for gas resources. More specifically, the Turkish President said last Thursday during a meeting of his Justice and Development party: “If today we have a say in the gas exploration developments, we owe it all to our drillships and seismic survey ships..a third drillship might also be acquired..Our ships are in the area. All our frigates are near them. Our airplanes are ready at any moment. No one can impose themselves on Turkey.”

Migration flows threats

Even if migrants’ influx has been slowing down, the EU member states have yet to find the solution to this long-lasting issue at the moment when populist anti-migration parties have been gaining power. Under these circumstances, Turkey has always been using the threat of opening its borders for the refugees to arrive in the EU. And that despite the fact that it signed a deal with the EU bloc in 2016 to receive financial assistance of six billion euros for returning to Turkey irregular migration flows whose asylum application is judged as inadmissible.

Currently, the Turkish leader is claiming that the EU is not respecting the migration agreement and has not yet provided the financial assistance promised. In detail, Erdogan said: “Up until now, about 3 billion euros were sent [to Turkey] for support. But our [spending] is on a much different level. They did not keep their promises, but we will continue to take these steps whether they provide support or not.. But if the process stalls, Turkey will have to open its borders.”

On the contrary, the representative of the European Commission (EC) Natasha Berto stated that the European Union has already supported Turkey with 5,6 billion euros out of the agreed six billion and added that the remaining are going to be provided very soon.

EU-Turkey accession negotiations on a standstill

Turkish officials keep on meeting with EU officials in order to negotiate its membership to the EU. Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Faruk Kaymakçı met two days ago with Germany’s Federal Foreign Office State Secretary Andreas Michaelis in Berlin to discuss Turkey’s accession to the EU among other matters. Kaymakçı also had the chance to talk with the president and members of the Committee on European Union Affairs of the German Federal Parliament, MPs, officials, media and think tanks.

However, Ursula von der Leyen, the president elect EC President, commented yesterday on Turkey’s accession to the EU. Her exact words were: “As regards Turkey, I have not seen this progress in the last years. On the contrary … Turkey needs to show that it wants to be closer to European values, to European rules, the rule of law, liberty and fundamental values”.

Thus, the EU is unlikely to resume accession talks given the Turkish position on migration crisis, the deteriorating state of democracy and Eastern Mediterranean gas exploitation issues. Thus, the Old Continent stands ready to provide once more financial assistance to Turkey in order to prevent Erdogan from “flooding” Europe with refugees.

All in all, EU’s stance on Turkey’s authoritarianism regarding its drilling operations off the coast of Cyprus may be stricter than just a reduction of financial aid.

The EU may as well show that the bloc remaind united and supports each and every member state when facing threats in its econonic interests.

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