‘Watershed moment’ in December will determine EU’s future relations with Ankara, bloc’s top diplomat says

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The Turkish national flag (L) and the EU flag (AFP PHOTO / THIERRY CHARLIER )

Ankara’s behavior is “widening its separation” from the European Union, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday, stressing that the bloc’s relations with the country are on the verge of a “watershed moment.”

“We consider that it is important that Turkey understands that its behavior is widening its separation from the EU. … In order to return to a positive agenda, as we wish, will require a fundamental change of attitude on the Turkish side,” Borrell underlined during a Thursday teleconference of the bloc’s foreign ministers.

Turkey’s rhetoric on Cyprus is aggravating tensions with the 27-nation bloc, Borrell said.

He was referring to comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who called for an equal “two-state” solution in Cyprus during a visit to the island.

Earlier this week, Erdoğan visited the Turkish breakaway state in northern Cyprus, founded after a Turkish intervention in 1974 that followed a coup by Greek nationalists who sought unification with Greece amid a civil war between Greeks and Turks living on the island. Speaking about hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish president said Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots were committed to protecting their interests.

In September Turkey sent a survey vessel, escorted by warships, to disputed waters in the Mediterranean purportedly rich in hydrocarbon resources. The ensuing escalation saw Ankara and Athens dispatching naval vessels to the region.

The EU has threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey over illegal exploration in the Mediterranean when its leaders meet next month.

“Time is running, and we are approaching a watershed moment in our relationship with Turkey,” Borrell said.

The EU’s attempts to persuade Ankara to stop exploring waters disputed by Greece and Cyprus have failed. But the bloc has so far refrained from imposing the sanctions that Athens and Nicosia are seeking.

Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, which has so far favored diplomatic talks with Ankara over sanctions, said on Thursday that European leaders would discuss the future of EU-Turkish relations at their summit on Dec. 10.

“It is up to Turkey what decision will be taken at the EU summit in December,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

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