Macron urges tough EU stance against Turkish 'provocations'

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Photo credit French President Emmanuel Macron gives a press conference at Corsica's prefecture in Ajaccio, Corsica island, Thursday Sept.10, 2020. Leaders of EU countries on the Mediterranean will later hold an emergency meeting amid fears of open conflict with Turkey stemming from mounting tensions over oil and gas resources. (Ludovic Marin / POOL via AP)
By The Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron urged fellow European leaders Thursday to stand up to the Turkish government and what he called “unacceptable” provocations as Turkey seeks to expand its energy resources and influence in the eastern Mediterranean.

Leaders of European Union countries that border the Mediterranean Sea were holding an emergency summit in Corsica amid fears of an open conflict with Turkey stemming from mounting tensions over offshore oil and gas drilling. Turkish leaders have lashed out at France and the EU for siding with Greece and Cyprus in the dispute.

“Turkey is no longer a partner in this region,” Macron told reporters ahead of the island summit. “We Europeans need to be clear and firm" with the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about its “inadmissible behavior," he said.

Macron didn't elaborate on what specific actions he wants European countries to take, but said they should lay out “red lines” with Turkey and try to restart dialogue.

“We Mediterraneans need to live in peace," the French leader said.

"Our goal is to avoid all escalation, but avoiding escalation should not mean passiveness or acceptance," he added. “It is up to Turkey to clarify its intentions.”

Greece and Turkey have deployed naval and air forces to assert competing claims over energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkish survey vessels and drill ships continue to prospect for gas in waters where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights.

France is carrying out military patrols in the region in a show of support for Greece and Cyprus, and the EU is mulling new sanctions against Turkey.

Separate from the diplomatic discussions, Turkish and Greek military officials met Wednesday at NATO headquarters, as part of ongoing meetings aimed at reducing the risk of armed conflict. Greece and Turkey both are NATO members.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry characterized Macron’s statement as “arrogant” and in line with the “old colonial reflexes.” It accused the French president of stoking tensions and putting the “greater interests” of Europe at risk.

“It is not for Macron to determine the maritime jurisdiction of any country in the Mediterranean or any other geography,” the Turkish ministry said in a statement.

The spokesman for Turkey's ruling party criticized Macron's “threatening language.”

“We have trouble with colonial minds like yours, Mr. Macron,” Justice and Development Party spokesman Omer Celik said on Twitter.

Speaking Thursday to EU lawmakers, Greek European Affairs Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis appealed for support from European partners, saying the tensions over energy rights “constitute by themselves a grave threat to our common security architecture.”

He said that Turkey is looking beyond Greece and is “a major destabilizing factor in the wider area,” citing Turkish government actions in Libya, Syria and beyond.

He said that Greece would not provoke conflict but wouldn’t just sit back waiting for European help to arrive: “At the end of the day, we will defend ourselves, even alone.”

At the Corsica summit, France wants the European leaders to push for resuming German mediation in the eastern Mediterranean dispute. Russia also offered this week to mediate.

The leaders also plan to discuss EU and NATO operations in the Mediterranean and their relation to Turkey.

But the other countries at the Corsica summit have different priorities. Italy, Spain and Malta are notably more concerned about migrant boats arriving from North Africa to their shores. Portugal. meanwhile, has little stake in the tensions around the eastern Mediterranean.

France and Greece hope the seven countries can come up with a united southern European front ahead of a full EU summit later this month focused on the bloc’s strategy toward Turkey.

EU Council President Charles Michel will travel to Greece, Cyprus and Malta next week for talks with leaders.