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Cyprus demands Turkey sanctions at EU summit, stalls on Belarus

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen adjusts her protective mask before delivering a statement ahead of the second face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium, October 1, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool
2020-10-01

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SULAIMANI — Cyprus defied mounting pressure on Thursday (October 1) to approve European Union sanctions on Belarus ahead of a summit, urging fellow EU governments to also sanction Turkey over its oil and gas drilling in the Mediterranean.

Meeting in Brussels for a two-day summit, leaders are set to confront Cyprus, one the EU’s smallest members, which is accused of holding up approval of economic sanctions on Belarus. The sanctions plan follows an election in August that the West and the opposition say was rigged, according to Reuters.

While Britain and Canada have gone ahead with punitive measures on Minsk to show support for pro-democracy protests, the impasse in the 27-country EU, where decisions are taken by unanimity, has cost the bloc credibility, diplomats said.

The summit gets underway at 1400 GMT.

“We expect that it (the summit) will be the tipping point for the decision on sanctions against Belarus authorities,” Gitanas Nauseda, the president of Lithuania, where Belarus’ main opposition leader has fled to exile, said ahead of the meeting.

Draft conclusions prepared for the summit said EU leaders condemned unacceptable violence against peaceful protesters in Belarus and did not recognise the election results. It added that “restrictive measures” should be imposed without delay.

But a senior Cypriot diplomat told Reuters the summit was headed for an impasse if the EU did not send a message to Turkey that Ankara’s oil and gas exploration along the coast of the Mediterranean island is unacceptable.

“To release the Belarus file we have to have an agreement on our proposals as well,” the diplomat said, adding that Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades met Charles Michel, who will chair the two-day summit, on Wednesday to lay out Nicosia’s position.

“I imagine there will be a long discussion in the European Council (summit). I’m not excluding that something might come out of it but, as of now, I wouldn’t put money on having a happy outcome.”

The draft summit conclusions had no agreed line on Turkey, as Germany does not want to disrupt separate talks between Ankara and Athens, also over oil and gas drilling, by imposing EU sanctions.

 

WANING INFLUENCE

The economically powerful EU sees itself as a beacon of democracy and human rights, eager to influence international events through its soft power that transformed former communist neighbours into thriving market economies.

But its unanimity rule in foreign policy and its strained relationship with Turkey have raised questions about the EU’s ability to exert influence internationally.

Weakened in foreign policy by Britain’s departure from the EU -- a subject that will feature on the second day of the summit -- the EU is being pulled in different directions by France’s tough stance on Turkey and Germany’s push for dialogue.

Hungary is also wary of angering Ankara, which is sheltering millions of Syrians under a 2016 migration deal with the EU.

EU diplomats say a solution could involve a promise to Cyprus for tough sanctions on Turkey in the future.

“The idea is to threaten Turkey with retaliatory measures if it continues with drilling and other provocations in Cypriot and Greek waters,” a second senior EU diplomat said.

“This is meant to offer guarantees to Cyprus and convince Nicosia to lift its veto on Belarus sanctions.”

(NRT Digital Media/Reuters)