Greek-Turkish dispute tests the credibility of the European Union

Turkish drilling ship Fatih in the western Black Sea (photo AP).

In another episode of the Greek-Turkish regional dispute, Turkey demanded that Greece would not involve the European Union. The Turkish minister of defence and foreign affairs recently repeated this call. Whether the call is realistic remains to be seen.

Regional and maritime disputes between Greece and Turkey date back to the founding periods of the two states. The disputes circle around three issues: the width of the Greek territorial waters in the Aegean Sea, the Exclusive Economic Zones in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the occupation of Cyprus. While there were several high rising tensions in the past years concerning migrant streams, the dispute gained a new dimension in August when Turkey sent a gas exploration ship to waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece. 

The demand that the EU is not to get involved in the Greek-Turkish dispute frankly ignores the fact that not only is Greece a full member of the EU, it also ignores the fact that the recent provocations by Turkey, both the gas exploration expedition and the threat to let in an “asylum-seekers flood” into Europe, concern the Union as a whole. 

In the recent decades the Union saw several significant steps to further unification. While the bloc is far from being a ‘United States of Europe’, the room for member states to operate independently of each other is decreasing at a rapid rate. When it comes to the borders and migrant policy, Greece simply cannot ignore its fellow EU members.  

In the case of Greece, the country is simply also too dependent on the EU’s support, making it even harder for them to act independently. This has especially been the case when it comes to financial and economic matters, but it is not unthinkable that in the near future it might also call on military support from its fellow members. This was illustrated by the Greek Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as he said that “the credibility of the European Union,” was at stake, before discussing potential sanctions to the Turkish provocations. 

The Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar called on Greece to seek solutions in the eastern Mediterranean through dialogue with Turkey instead of trying to “drag” the EU into the issue. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu asked his Greek counterpart to “stop asking for help from others and injuring the Greek people’s dignity”. These calls go against better judgement: as a reaction to the gas exploration expedition, the EU imposed several sanctions on Turkey. 

While the sanctions were considered relatively mild, it shows that the EU is willing to act unanimously against provocations from outside. While the decision to impose weapon export sanctions on Turkey were held back during the December 10th summit, this kind of measures might be installed at a later stage. Recent defence sanctions imposed on Turkey by the United States increase the pressure on the EU to consider such measures to strengthen its international status.