Sat | Jun 6, 2020

EU nations commit to arms export ban against Turkey

Published:Tuesday | October 15, 2019 | 12:12 AM
Incoming European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell
Incoming European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell


European Union (EU) nations vented outrage Monday at Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria against the Kurds and joined France and Germany in banning arms sales to Ankara, a rare move against a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally for many of them.

Many EU foreign ministers were looking beyond a strong statement condemning the military operation that has destabilised the whole region and wanted to make sure their move would carry some sting.

They also prepared sanctions against Turkish companies and individuals involved in the gas drilling in the Mediterranean Sea close to EU member Cyprus and were poised, if necessary, to implement that at short notice. France and Cyprus are conducting naval manoeuvres there now.

Over the years, Turkey has become increasingly less dependent on European nations for its defence needs, and it was unclear what the impact of such a measure would be beyond applying diplomatic pain.

“There is a strong commitment by all members of the council to take the actions required to stop selling arms to Turkey,” Josep Borrell, the Spanish foreign minister who is slated to become EU foreign policy chief next month, told The Associated Press.

Relations between the bloc and Turkey under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have steadily worsened over the years, especially after he likened some German moves to Nazi practices.

And even though both sides agreed on a deal in 2016 to stop migrants from travelling westward from Turkey to the European mainland, Erdogan is now wielding that like a cudgel. Since his operation in northern Syria began last week, he has sought to quell Europe criticism of it by warning that he could “open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees your way”.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said Monday that “we should not cave in to blackmail”.

Despite such abrasive relations, Turkey’s links with most EU nations are cemented through the NATO alliance and its commitment to stand by each other’s side in times of need. NATO’s Article 5 says an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all.

Erdogan on Monday criticised his European allies, saying,“We are a NATO ally. Please note that these countries are all NATO countries.”

He added, “Whose side should they be on, according to Article 5?”

Still, many think Turkey crossed more than just a physical border when it went into northern Syria last week to attack Syrian Kurdish strongholds – it also endangered the fight against Islamic State militants.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made that point Monday, telling NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly in London that he expects “Turkey to act with restraint and in coordination with other allies so that we can preserve the gains we have made against our common enemy”. the Islamic State group.