EU leaders unblock sanctions against Belarus and warn Turkey about “carrot and stick”

After weeks of bickering, EU leaders broke a longstanding deadlock to impose sanctions against members of the Belarus regime on Friday night (2 October) and fired a warning at Turkey over its gas drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

The biggest challenge at the extraordinary in-person EU summit was the bloc’s own unanimity rule, which had made it difficult to reach decisions among the 27 member states on Belarus and Turkey sanctions in the past month, exposing once again the shortcomings of EU foreign policymaking.

The first day of summit talks was dominated by the EU’s ties with Ankara, entangled in a dangerous stand-off with Greece and Cyprus over maritime borders and energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

Sanctions against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime had been blocked by Cyprus, which wanted measures to be imposed on Turkey for its energy explorations in Cypriot and Greek waters.

Plans by the European Union to slap sanctions on Belarus have fallen into disarray, sources say, a hostage to internal politicking that one EU official described as a threat to the bloc’s credibility.

Negotiations went through three drafts of conclusions as Athens and Nicosia rejected statements on the basis that they contained no prospect of sanctions against Turkey and instead merely expressed “solidarity with Greece and Cyprus.”

In a final summit statement hammered out over more than eight hours, EU leaders agreed on language that warned Ankara could face “immediate” sanctions if it persists with gas exploration in Cypriot waters.

The compromise struck was an agreement to “closely monitor developments”, review Turkey’s behaviour in December and impose sanctions then, possibly including swinging broad-based economic measures, if its “provocations” have not stopped.

Adopting a ‘carrot and stick’-approach, the leaders’ statement offers Ankara the prospect of closer ties and better trade if it commits to “pursuing dialogue in good faith and abstaining from unilateral actions”.

“In case of such renewed actions by Ankara, the EU will use all its instruments and options available. We have a toolbox that we can apply immediately,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters after the summit.

“But we are very clear that in the opposite case, we have all necessary tools at our disposal,” von der Leyen said, of which one option is sanctions, but it is not the preferred option, she clarified.

European Council President Charles Michel described it as a “double strategy” towards Ankara.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that for various reasons, there were countries in the EU neighbourhood towards which the EU would be more stringent, and others with which it should show more flexibility.

The final text also stresses that the EU “calls on Turkey to start dialogue aimed at resolving all maritime disputes with Cyprus” and notes that the EU member states “remain fully committed to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue.”

The agreement came as Turkey-Greece tensions have eased slightly in recent days, as the two sides agreed to resume long-stalled talks and on Thursday set up a technical military hotline at NATO to avoid accidental clashes in the region.

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