Europe needs to respond robustly and without hesitation to Turkey’s provocations, in matters relating to security and to the migration problem, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said on Monday after meeting Malta’s European and Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo in Athens.
“Europe is capable of doing this completely effectively. The choice is simple and it is up to Turkey to choose: dialogue without threats and blackmail or else sanctions,” the minister said.
As he pointed out, Turkey’s actions are not only directed against a European Union member-state but also against the EU itself, as became apparently last February in Evros and as was now apparent in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. “They are violating the essence of the Union’s principles, the essence of the common European acquis. And these challenges, which are common, demand a common response,” Dendias added.
He repeated that Greece is always ready to engage in dialogue with Turkey but only a dialogue within the framework of international law. He also clarified that dialogue is inconceivable as long as Turkish threats and blackmail continue, as is the idea of dialogue with the continued presence of Turkish research and war ships in Greek waters.
“Greece is a modern European state governed by the rule of law, which respects and is guided by international law. It does not threaten or blackmail and nor will it be threatened or blackmailed,” he said.
He also noted that the EU “is not an alliance of states, it is a family that is based on common values, chief of which are solidarity and the rule of law.” He said that Greece understood that many members of this family might have different concerns, especially islands and small countries, but it remained important to avoid compromising the values that acted as the foundation for the union’s existence.
“These compromises cancel out the European enterprise and send the wrong message to third parties that sully our Union’s image, first in the eyes of our own public opinion and then in the eyes of humanity,” he pointed out, noting that an island state like Malta cannot help but align itself with the key concerns and views of the EU’s other island state, Cyprus.
“God forbid if the self-evident European solidarity should be blunted,” he added.
Dendias said the discussion with Bartolo had focused on developments in the Eastern Mediterranean ahead of the special EU summit on Turkey and the situation created as a result of Turkey’s provocative and illegal actions with regard to Libya, Cyprus, Iraq and Syria.
“Turkey is the only country that is opening up military fronts everywhere, the only country that threatens its neighbours with war if they choose to exercise their legal rights, which is in blatant violation of the UN charter,” he said.
The minister pointed to a series of illegal and provocative actions by Turkey, such as the repeated issue of illegal NAVTEX notifications, inflammatory rhetoric, direct threats, military exercises using real fire, violations of Greek air space, failure to respect world heritage religious monuments and the instrumentalisation human suffering in the migration issue.
Dendias and Bartolo also discussed the situation in Libya and the operation to uphold the arms embargo, with Greece stating its desire to have a positive role in Libya through its participation in the Berlin Process.
“Greece fully understands that the situation in Libya is a huge issue for Malta, as it affects the control of migration flows that could put Malta’s island community in a very difficult position,” the Greek minister said.
He noted that developments in migration and the way this was being used by Turkey demanded “close cooperation between our states ahead of work for the revision of the common European asylum system” and stressed that Turkey must abide by the EU-Turkish Joint Statement of 2016.
The two ministers also discussed cooperation at the upcoming Med-7 meeting of EU Mediterranean states in Corsica and signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the two ministries for cooperation in diplomatic training.
Bartolo expressed his full support to Greece and Cyprus during the meeting, and underlined the need for a peaceful resolve of differences in the eastern Mediterranean in the context of International Law, and further mentioned the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which, for Malta, he said, is not just “an international law that we want to preserve, but it is part of our heritage, it is part of our national DNA.”
Bartolo also warned of unforeseen consequences if the current crisis in the eastern Mediterranean is not handled with ‘careful moves’, as he said and elaborated: “In the case of Libya we have a typical such example. When (Muammar) Gaddafi left, years ago, a president left and we ended up with two presidents, President Erdogan and President Putin. I do not think that was the original intention,” he observed.
“If the EU does not do something for the South, then it leaves its southern borders in the hands of others,” he said.
Referring to the situation in Libya in more detail, the Maltese minister pointed out that although there is now a ceasefire, “the social situation has deteriorated tremendously. Jobs continue to be lost, they only have power four hours a day, their currency is weakening, prices are rising and hence there is social unrest, while Libyans have started to leave their country.”
“A humanitarian crisis in Libya could easily become a crisis in Europe,” he said, noting that Malta is the southern-most border of the main Mediterranean route, and is particularly concerned about the situation there.