After several hours of summit discussions, EU leaders broke a diplomatic deadlock on Friday by imposing sanctions on Belarus, assuring Cyprus that the bloc would also punish Turkey if it continues oil and gas drilling within the disputed areas of the Mediterranean.
The deal on sanctions against around 40 officials that were accused of rigging August’s presidential election in Belarus means that the EU can now make good on a promise to support pro-democracy protestors in Minsk, thus gaining some credibility after weeks of postponing doing so.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after discussions among the 27 EU member states that “The European Union is taking action against those who stand in the way of democracy”, adding that she thinks that this “is an important signal”.
Whilst the United Kingdom and Canada have already imposed sanctions on Minsk to support the pro-democracy demonstrations, the delay by the EU has led to several diplomats to claim that the credibility of the bloc’s foreign policy has been dented.
Cyprus, one of the smallest countries in the EU, had blocked the action against Belarus for a month, stating that sanctions also need to be imposed against Turkey for oil and gas exploration within the coast of the Mediterranean island.
Germany pushed back against a tough stand on Turkey fearing that it would disrupt efforts to cool down the tensions arising with EU member Greece.
Under President Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey, which is both a candidate to join the EU and a member of NATO, has shifted towards authoritarianism, yet it remains a strategically located partner that the EU cannot ignore, with its links to the Middle East.
On Thursday, NATO announced that the Greece and Turkey had set up a “military de-confliction mechanism” in order to avoid accidental clashes at sea, with this being a sign that the diplomatic battle between the two countries is slowly easing.
The compromise reached during the summit that satisfied Cyprus was an agreement to review Turkey’s behaviour in December, and to thus impose sanction then if it is found that its ‘provocations’ have not stopped.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz took to Twitter after the meeting to say that “The EU issues a clear threat of sanctions against Turkey should it continue to violate international law”.
European Council President Charles Michel described these sanctions as a “double strategy” towards Turkey, offering closer relations on trade and other fronts, but also threatening the country with sanctions if it fails to de-escalate tensions in the Mediterranean.