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Turkey, EU trade barbs despite signs of rapprochement

Despite recent signs of rapprochement between Turkey and the European Union (EU), ties between the two sides took a turn for the worse after Brussels threatened Ankara with sanctions and accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government of ruining the country’s chances to join the bloc.

Under pressure from EU member Greece, Brussels threatened Ankara last Friday with further sanctions if it continued oil and gas drilling in the disputed areas of the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

In a conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday, President Erdogan voiced dissatisfaction with the outcome of the EU summit last week.

Erdogan “stated that the EU had succumbed to pressure and blackmail from Greek Cypriots and Greece despite Turkey’s good faith,” the Turkish presidential office said in a statement.

Erdogan said the EU had stalled Turkey’s accession to the bloc for years, including during the summit last week.

Turkey began negotiations to join the bloc in 2005, but the bid has long been stalled amid disagreements over several issues, including Cyprus.

The island has been divided into a Turkish Cypriot-controlled north and a Greek Cypriot-controlled south since a brief war in 1974, which saw Turkey intervene militarily in response to a military coup on the island that was backed by Athens.

Greek Cypriots run the island’s internationally-recognized government, while Turkish Cypriots have a breakaway state in the north — only recognized by Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said on Tuesday that Ankara was disappointed by the decision at the EU summit, saying it was “far from objective” and not carefully drawn out.

Greece and Turkey have been locked in a territorial dispute over hydrocarbon resources in the Mediterranean Sea. In August, Turkey dispatched a seismic research vessel and warships escorting it to prospect for energy resources in an area in the sea that is disputed with Greece, infuriating Athens. But in mid-September, Turkey ended the mission of those vessels and ordered them back to shore for maintenance work. Ankara said the move was also meant to give diplomacy with Greece a chance.

But another Turkish vessel is searching for energy resources off Cyprus.

And tensions rose again on Tuesday when Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar announced the reopening of a beach in northern Cyprus.

“We know this will disturb a lot of places but some people have to know that it was the Turkish Cypriots who were patient until today,” Erdogan said while announcing the reopening of the beach.

Turkey, which does not have diplomatic ties with the Greek Cyprus, has vowed to prevent what it sees as a unilateral move by Greek Cypriots to claim offshore resources. It says some areas of Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone fall under what Ankara calls the territory of the Turkish Cyprus.

Turkey calls European Commission report ‘biased’

Turkey was also angered by a European Commission annual report that accused Erdogan’s government of undermining Turkey’s economy, eroding its democracy, and destroying independent courts.

The report said that Turkey’s human rights record had pushed Ankara further away from membership in the EU than ever.

It also accused the Erdogan government of exposing Turkey to “rapid changes in investors’ sentiment.”

“The EU’s serious concerns on continued negative developments in the rule of law, fundamental rights and the judiciary have not been credibly addressed by Turkey,” said the report.

“Turkey’s (EU) accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill,” it said.

Ankara dismissed the report as “biased, [and] far from constructive,” saying that the country “is acting within the framework of universal norms, in line with fundamental rights, democracy, and the principle of rule of law.”

“Just as it (Turkey) is not straying from the EU, it remains committed to the EU membership process despite attempts by some circles to push it away,” the ministry said.

“Our sincere wish is for the EU to look at candidate nation Turkey not through the narrow and selfish interests of some circles, but rather through our continent’s larger and common interests, common vision,” it added.

Erdogan calls Macron’s Islamophobic remarks ‘impertinent’

In another sign of the fraying of ties, Erdogan also criticized his French counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron, for exercising “impertinence” with his recent Islamophobic remarks.

Macron said on Friday that his government was working to propose a bill to France’s parliament next year to address what he called “Islamist isolationism and separatism.” Under the plan, France will fight what Macron described as the favoring of religious laws over France’s republican, secular “values.” Macron also described Islam as “a religion that is today in crisis all over the world.”

Erdogan described the plan as an “open provocation.”

“Macron’s statement that ‘Islam is in a crisis’ is an open provocation beyond disrespect,” Erdogan said. “Who are you to talk about the structuring of Islam?”

Erdogan advised Macron “to pay more attention while talking about issues that he is ignorant about.”

“We expect him to act as a responsible statesman rather than act like a colonial governor,” said the Turkish leader.

Ankara and Paris are already at odds over the eastern Mediterranean dispute, Libya, and the latest conflict in the Caucuses region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

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