(AGENPARL) – BRUSSELS (BELGIUM), mar 15 settembre 2020
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Señor Presidente, Mr President, dear friend, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
The subject of our discussion today is the preparation of the Special European Council, but focusing on the dangerous escalation and the role of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean. That is what I am going to try to do, although –as the Presidency of the Council has pointed out rightly- there are many other issues. Yesterday we had this important High-level talk with China, and, in general, Europe is facing a situation in which we can say that the old Empires are coming back, at least three of them: Russia, China and Turkey; big empires in the past who are coming back with an approach on their immediate neighbourhood, globally, which represent for us a new environment. And Turkey is one of these elements that changes our environment.
This debate is very timely, I have to say that tensions continued to rise over the summer. I have spent the last few months –including the summer – trying to facilitate de-escalation efforts. But the least I can say is that more efforts are needed – the softest way of saying that the situation has not been improving.
The latest move by Turkey to discontinue seismic exploration in the continental shelf of Greece is a step in the right direction and gives us some hope that it will lead to further steps towards dialogue. Because as the Presidency said, we are not going to solve it by military means, but through dialogue and negotiations.
EU and Turkey relations were at the forefront of an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Ministers discussion at the meeting we hold on 14 August and of our Gymnich meeting at the beginning of September. We will continue next week at the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday and then at the European Council at the end of the month.
All that is good and needed, because the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean requires urgent and collective engagement. What has been happening during the summer are unacceptable events. Turkey has to refrain from taking unilateral actions. This is a basic element to allow the dialogue to advance -well, better, to start.
The position of the Foreign Affairs Ministers has always been very clear: to defend the European Union’s interests and stand in full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus. Immediate de-escalation is essential to allow for the resumption of dialogue and negotiations, which is the only path towards stability and lasting solutions.
My colleagues, the European Union Foreign Ministers, were very clear about the possible consequences in the absence of progress in engaging with Turkey. The European Council will consider these in the light of the most recent developments by the time they meet.
There are still some days, the reaching out continues hoping that the European Council will be able to develop a constructive approach to our relations with Turkey, which are –I can say that firmly- at a watershed moment in history. The world will go one side or the other, depending on what is going to happen on the next days.
I, therefore, ask you to support my efforts and the efforts of the Council to create the urgently needed space to work with the Turkish leadership, to achieve a de-escalation that will allow to pursue lasting solutions to the underlying problems of today’s crisis.
Anything else would also undermine the perspective for the resumption of talks on a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem the United Nations are ready to restart after the elections of the Turkish community in Cyprus in October. I have been talking with the Secretary General of the United Nations about it and I think that we need to push for the resumption of these talks.
The European Union – and I, as High Representative – will continue to do everything we can to support the efforts to achieve this comprehensive settlement under United Nations auspices, in accordance with relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions and in line with the principles on which we have founded our acquis.
In terms of domestic developments in Turkey, we perceive a worrying backsliding in the area of rule of law and fundamental freedoms that continues to raise our concerns. We still fail to see Turkey delivering on its promises to take effective measures on strengthening the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.
Turkey’s serious backsliding away from European Union values and reforms and tense relations with several Member States led the Council to decide in 2018 for a “standstill” of the accession negotiations and suspension of work on modernising the Customs Union. These were commitments that we took with Turkey on the 2016’s agreement and in 2018 the Council decided to standstill on these negotiations and suspend the work on modernising the Customs Union. With the serious developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkish foreign policy actions in the region since last fall, things have become even more worrying and complex. As I said, this is a watershed moment in history on our relations with Turkey.
Mr President, Honourable Members,
It is clear that solutions will not come from an increasingly confrontational relationship. We do not want it, we do not look for it. Turkey is an important neighbour for the European Union –we are not going to change geography, it will remain so– and it is a key partner in many areas, migration for example. It is going to be difficult to believe that we can solve the migration flows without the help of Turkey, both at the Eastern Mediterranean and now with the Libyan crisis also in the Central Mediterranean.
It is a candidate country for accession, and a large majority of its population embrace our values and look to the European Union as a societal model. But it is clear that developments in Turkey and Turkey’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond put into question how our relations will develop in the future. We have to look for an answer to these questions urgently.
I strongly believe in the need for a solid relationship anchored in a common agenda of partnership that respects mutual interests and based on values, but this requires us to look at the full relationship in a comprehensive way.
I think that this discussion will help to advance on this direction.
Thank you Mr President, thank you Honourable Members [of the European Parliament].
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-194723