EU halts plan to blacklist Turkey’s oil leaders | News from Angela Merkel

The European Union has frozen plans to blacklist more senior executives at Turkey’s state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO), four diplomats said, the clearest sign that an Ankara diplomatic offensive this year bears its mark. fruits.

In December, European Union leaders proposed an asset freeze and a travel ban for Turkey’s “unauthorized drilling activities” for natural gas in the disputed waters of the eastern Mediterranean, without however specifying individuals.

The EU also agreed to weigh tougher economic sanctions at a summit on March 25-26, after a difficult year in which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly expressed his hope that the protests in France would overthrow the President Emmanuel Macron.

But a more constructive tone from Erdogan this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s support for a more conciliatory approach, and the first direct talks between former enemies of Turkey and Greece in five years have all helped change the country. atmosphere.

The new administration of US President Joe Biden has also urged Brussels not to impose sanctions at a time when Turkey, a NATO ally and EU candidate country, seems more willing to compromise, diplomats said. European and American.

“Work has stopped on additional blacklists of Turkish individuals, and we are no longer talking about economic sanctions,” said a European diplomat.

A second EU diplomat said work “never really took off” and a third said “the diplomatic channel is a priority.”

The EU’s foreign service declined to comment.

Soothe troubled waters

Diplomats claim that a videoconference between Erdogan and the head of the European Commission on January 9, followed by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s face-to-face talks with the EU’s foreign policy chief and separately with the NATO Secretary General, marked the change in Turkish. diplomacy.

The EU had blacklisted two TPAO leaders in February 2020, including TPAO vice-president Mehmet Ferruh Akalin. After EU leaders’ decision in December, the bloc was set to sanction more board members, including TPAO chairman Melih Han Bilgin, a fourth EU diplomat said.

Ankara denied any wrongdoing and viewed the proposed sanctions as partial and unfair.

Greece and Cyprus, strongly backed by France, wanted to punish Turkey for what they see as provocative oil and gas exploration by Turkish ships in disputed waters. Ankara says the activities are taking place in its own territorial waters.

People protest against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan outside the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium [File: Johanna Geron/Reuters]

The EU also accuses Erdogan of eroding democracy and destroying independent courts and media.

But Merkel, who is set to step down later this year after 16 years as head of Germany, has favored an approach prioritizing EU investments in Turkey, and Macron and Greece have rallied, diplomats said. .

A report on relations with Turkey commissioned by EU leaders – which was originally supposed to list disagreements over energy, human rights and migration – will now have a neutral tone, they said. declared.

A Turkish prosecutor’s request to ban the pro-Kurdish HDP party is unlikely to revive any sanctions rhetoric, although it could be discussed by the EU, a diplomat added.

Erdogan’s foreign policy adviser Ibrahim Kalin held a meeting in Ankara last week with French and German political advisers. Erdogan is also expected to hold a video conference on Friday with EU Council and Commission leaders.

Cavusoglu noted this month that the change in tone was sincere and that Ankara wanted the EU to return the favor, saying, “We are focusing on … how we can work together.”

Ankara wants progress on Turks’ right to visa-free travel in the EU, an upgrade of its trade agreement and recognition of its hydrocarbon claims off its maritime shelf.

The EU is also expected to provide new funds from 2022 for the four million refugees Turkey is hosting.

However, the warmer atmosphere does not mean that nothing has been resolved, EU diplomats said, adding that Turkey must meet the targets required to make progress in its application for EU membership, blocked for a long time.

The EU’s top foreign affairs official for Turkey, Angelina Eichhorst, said the bloc must manage Ankara’s expectations.

“Some may think that with a few actions we can go high again,” she said last month. “We have to calibrate this, because there are processes that take time.”

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