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Germany to Turkey: Calm tensions or face EU sanctions

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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged Turkey on Thursday to stop provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean or face potential EU sanctions next month, indicating that Berlin is increasingly losing patience with Ankara.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also increased the pressure on Turkey. He warned Ankara that it is “widening its separation from the EU” and said the bloc was “approaching a watershed moment in our relationship with Turkey.”

EU leaders agreed in early October they would take “appropriate” measures against Turkey at their December meeting should Ankara not “stop illegal activities vis-à-vis Greece and Cyprus,” such as sending vessels for gas exploration into the waters of those countries. Leaders warned the EU “will use all the instruments and the options at its disposal” — a clear reference to sanctions.

Yet the EU has since seen an increase of tensions with Turkey, such as the extension of gas exploration activities, insults by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, and a controversial visit by Erdoğan to Northern Cyprus last weekend that drew condemnation by the Greek Cypriot south, an EU member.

Speaking before a videoconference of EU foreign ministers on Thursday, Maas said that “it is up to Turkey to decide what decisions will be taken at the European Council in December.” He added: “If there are no positive signals from Turkey by December and only additional provocations, like the Erdoğan visit to Northern Cyprus, then we will certainly have a difficult debate.”

Asked whether such a “difficult debate” would also imply sanctions against Ankara, Maas replied: “Certainly. There are some member states, as has been the case in the past, who have always put the issue of sanctions on the table. If there is no improvement in relations with Turkey, I assume that the issue will certainly play a role again in the European Council in December.”

The German foreign minister’s words mark a hardening of Berlin’s position. Germany has previously taken a more cautious line, in contrast to some other EU members, notably France.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was the main driver behind an offer of a “positive political EU-Turkey agenda” that was also agreed by EU leaders in early October, promising Ankara increased political, economic and social ties if it reduces tensions.

Speaking after the foreign ministers’ meeting, Borrell said that a “return to a positive agenda” with Ankara would “require a fundamental change of attitude on the Turkish side.”

“The European Council will provide crucial direction on this next month,” he said.

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