Dispute Over Policy Towards Turkey

EU remains divided over Turkey's aggressive foreign policy ("Neo-Ottomanism"/"Blue Homeland").

BERLIN/PARIS/ANKARA (Own report) - A fierce controversy within the EU on how to deal with Turkey overshadows the current EU foreign ministers meeting in Berlin - a controversy caused by the ongoing maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean by Turkish naval forces, on the one hand, and by Greek naval forces on the other. The combat drills were provoked by Turkey's search for oil and gas in waters also claimed by Greece. Ankara's foreign policy, which has become increasingly aggressive over the past few years - now even including a maritime component, known as the "Blue Homeland ("Mavi Vatan") concept - has been fueling this power struggle. The German government seeks to continue its close cooperation with Turkey, also to ward off refugees, and is therefore looking for a settlement between Athens and Ankara. France, however, pursuing different interests in the Mediterranean, is siding with Greece. The implementation of Germany's objective of harmonizing EU policy toward Turkey, is nowhere in sight.

National Interests

The EU's current dispute over how to deal with Turkey is based on two elements. On the one hand, the traditional framework for relations between Brussels and Ankara no longer exists, i.e. "the process for Turkey to join the EU," as Günter Seufert, an expert on Turkey at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) recently explained.[1] This process was primarily aimed at urging Ankara to largely adopt the EU's rules and norms. "All EU members could accept that," Seufert noted. "This process failed," however, "both because of Turkey's policy and the EU's behavior." Since the unifying bond no longer exists, "individual EU members' particular interests regarding Turkey are coming to the forefront." "Within their national framework, individual EU members are taking divergent positions" in regards to many issues, such as "refugees, energy policy, Turkey's role in Syria and Libya." Far from the EU's much-vaunted unity, particularly Germany and France, its leading powers, engage in controversies over the policy to be taken regarding Turkey.


This is all the more significant, because Turkey's foreign policy has undergone a comprehensive change over the past two decades - due to the country's rapid economic growth, since the turn of the millennium. Turkey's economic output rose from US $200 billion in 2001 to US $950 billion in 2013. This was accompanied by the increasing foreign expansion of Turkish companies. Neighboring countries such as Syria, Northern Iraq, but also more distant countries in the Islamic world became preferred markets. The strategic depth" (german-foreign-policy.com reported [2]), as developed by the former Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, is the conceptual framework". Today it is often referred to as "neo-Ottomanism," primarily because Turkish expansion is involving especially those countries that had formerly been within the Ottoman Empire. To legitimate its foreign policy, the Turkish government under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is often referring to historical events and personalities from the Ottoman era. A current example can be seen in how the Turkish media justifies Ankara's support for the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) by depicting the Ottoman troops' reconquest of Tripoli in 1551 from the Spaniards, who had conquered it in 1510.[3] Parallel, the state-sponsored Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) is urging the restoration of Ottoman ruins in Tripoli.[4]

"Blue Homeland"

Recently the concept of the "Blue Homeland" ("Mavi Vatan") has also gained influence. It had originated within the commanding circles of the Turkish Navy, whose role during the cold war had been strictly defined by NATO, but whose strategists, by the first decade of the new millennium, at the latest, had begun sketching out ways to reinforce an independent naval policy - alongside the reinforcement of an independent Turkish economic expansion. This tended toward conflict with Greece because of Turkey's geographic features. Large portions of Turkey's western coastline face Greek islands, for which Athens claims the 200-mile territorial zone for each (german-foreign-policy.com reported [5]), thereby massively restricting Turkey's own 200-mile zone. "Mavi Vatan" - meaning the Turkish Sea - is associated with an attack on Greece's maximalist 200-mile zone standpoint. About a year ago, a photo of Turkish President Erdoğan aroused intense anger in Greece. The photo showed the president posing in front of a map depicting - in accordance with the Turkish maximalist standpoint - the eastern Greek Aegean islands in the midst of Turkish territorial waters.[6] The "Blue Homeland" concept is not only characterized by hostility toward Greece's standpoint, but also that of the West, which sees Turkey as an Asian power open to alliances with Russia and China.[7]

Joint Maneuvers

The Leading EU powers are having different reactions to the growing aggressivity of Turkey's policy in the eastern Mediterranean. France, for its part, has stepped up its military presence and expanded its military cooperation with Greece and Cyprus. This is not only due to traditional French interests in the Middle East, but also to concrete natural resources projects. The French energy company Total, along with its partner Eni of Italy, were licensed to carry out exploratory drilling for probable natural gas deposits in seven of 13 areas, or blocks, south of Cyprus.[8] At the beginning of the month a new defense cooperation agreement between France and Cyprus was concluded, which provides for joint military training programs and exercises, but also including cooperation in armaments and defense technology.[9] In February, Paris had reached an agreement with Athens to also finalize a military accord. Joint maneuvers as well as close cooperation in arms and technology are to be inscribed. In the meantime, France and Greece have carried out several joint naval exercises; one of which ends today, Friday. Cyprus and Italy are also participating. The exercises are quite openly focused at Turkish exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

Bridge to the Middle East

However, Berlin continues to rely on cooperation with Ankara. This is in part due to geostrategic interests. Turkey still functions as an important "bridge to the Middle East, the Caucasus, and, indirectly, also to Central Asia," assessed the SWP's expert Seufert; intensive political activities, particularly in the Middle East, are "without, or even against, Ankara ... difficult to imagine."[10] In addition, Turkey, as always, controls the Bosporus and thereby, the strategically extremely important access to the Black Sea. The German government also considers close cooperation with Turkey indispensable for the regulation of migration. It is no accident that the EU's refugee agreement with Ankara, was primarily due to German efforts. In addition, Berlin finds it absolutely essential to try to prevent Turkey's growing rapprochement to Russia and, if possible, also to China, which requires cooperation to be maintained. In fact, should it come to a breach of relations with Ankara, it would mean a serious setback for the West, particularly NATO, a setback of global proportions.


On July 1, in view of the German EU Council Presidency, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced to the Bundestag that she would like to reduce the divergences in the European power's policies toward Turkey and seek a unified approach to that country. "We need a coherent strategy toward Turkey."[11] This was one of the main topics at yesterday's EU foreign ministers meeting in Berlin. The German government insists on maintaining its standpoint. Paris is supporting Athens with its maneuvers. Prior to the meeting, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called not only on Turkey but also Greece to immediately cease their navel exercises in the eastern Mediterranean.[12] An agreement was not reached. This means that the Union will remain divided in its policy toward Turkey, as well as on the question of escalation in the eastern Mediterranean, should they not reach a consensus on Friday.


[1] Panagiotis Kouparanis: Erdogans "Politik der militärischen Nadelstiche". dw.com 24.07.2020.

[2] See also The New Partners in Ankara (II).

[3] Erhan Afyoncu: Ottomans freed Libya from Crusader occupation. dailysabah.com 02.01.2020.

[4] Turkey sends a delegation to Tripoli "to restore Ottoman monuments in the old city". addresslibya.co 08.10.2019.

[5] See also Eskalation im Mittelmeer (II).

[6] Verena Schad: Provokation? Erdogan beansprucht griechisches Gebiet. de.euronews.com 03.09.2019.

[7] Ryan Gingeras: Blue Homeland: The Heated Politics Behind Turkey's New Maritime Strategy. warontherocks.com 02.06.2020.

[8] Cyprus, France to boost defense ties under cooperation deal. ekathimerini.com 06.08.2020.

[9] Ed Adamczyk: France-Cyprus defense cooperation pact takes effect. upi.com 07.08.2020.

[10] Günter Seufert: Die alte Freundschaft ist vorbei. zeit.de 15.08.2018. See also Brücke und Bollwerk.

[11] Ruth Berschens: Wiederaufbauplan für Europa: Merkel dämpft Erwartungen an EU-Gipfel. handelsblatt.com 01.07.2020.

[12] Maas verlangt Ende der Militärmanöver im östlichen Mittelmeer. deutschlandfunk.de 27.08.2020.