No justification for Turkish actions against neighbours says EU head

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - There is no justification for Turkish aggression towards its neighbours, the head of the EU commission has said in her State of the Union address.

In a wide-ranging speech outlining her vision for her term in office, Ursula von der Leyen hit out Turkey’s recent action in the eastern Mediterranean but also welcomed Ankara’s recent moves towards de-escalation in the region.

“Turkey is and will always be an important neighbour, but while we are close together on the map, the distance between us appears to be growing,” Ms Von der Leyen said.

“Turkey is in a troubled neighbourhood. And yes, it is hosting millions of refugees for which we support them with considerable funding.

“But none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate their neighbours. Our member states, Cyprus and Greece, can always count on Europe's full solidarity on protecting their legitimate serenity rights,” the EU head added.

Greek warships take part in military exercises in Eastern Mediterranean sea, as tensions rise with Turkey over the waters. Greek Defense Ministry/AP

The Greek air force joined the exercises. Greek Defense Ministry/AP

The Tonnerre is escorted by Greek and French military vessels. Greek National Defence/AP)

The French Tonnerre helicopter carrier, rear left, is escorted by Greek and French military vessels during a maritime exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Greek and Turkish warships are also closely shadowing each other. (Greek National Defence/AP)

The Turkish seismic research vessel 'Oruc Reis' heading west of Antalya in the Mediterranean Sea. Turkish Defence Ministry/AFP

Tension are high between Greece and Turkey, over the 'Oruc-Reis' and its mission in the eastern Mediterranean. IHA via AP

Turkey’s claims to the waters, which it says are on its continental shelf, have repeatedly been dismissed as illegal by Greece and its allies. Turkish Defence Ministry/AFP

Turkish ships accompany the 'Oruc Reis,' a seismic research vessel. Turkish Defence Ministry/AFP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for dialogue while still pushing ahead with a Mediterranean gas development plan that has outraged Greece. AFP

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned of the potential for a mishap with Greek and Turkish navies both in the area.. EPA

France will strengthen its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean. Reuters

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In recent weeks, Greece and Cyrus on one hand and Turkey on the other have come close to direct confrontation in the eastern Mediterranean.

Decades-old disputes over maritime borders have been exacerbated by the discovery of hydrocarbons in the area and the arrival of a Turkish research vessel, escorted by Turkish warships, in Greek waters.

The withdrawal of the seismic research ship, the Oruc Reis, has cooled tensions between Turkey and the EU members and given new impetus to negotiations between the two sides.

“De-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean is in our mutual interest, the return of exploratory vessels to Turkish posts in the past few days is a positive step in this direction. This is necessary to create the much needed space for dialogue,” Ms Von der Leyen added.

The head of the EU executive called for a more robust European foreign policy, saying the 27-member bloc should be ready to introduce sanctions against human rights abusers.

European Commission's Head of Task Force for Relations with the UK Michel Barnier and EU Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius chat in the hemicycle ahead of EC President Ursula Von Der Leyen's first State of the Union speech during a plenary session of European Parliament in Brussels Reuters
European Commission's Head of Task Force for Relations with the UK Michel Barnier and EU Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius chat in the hemicycle ahead of EC President Ursula Von Der Leyen's first State of the Union speech during a plenary session of European Parliament in Brussels Reuters

She said Europe should move to qualified majority voting on these questions, at least, to make it more nimble. Currently sanction action requires unanimous agreement between members.

Ms Von der Leyen also said the EU needed to work hard to rebuild ties with both the United Kingdom and the United States.

“We need new beginnings with old friends on both sides of the Atlantic and on both sides of the Channel. They're ready to work together on reforming the international system we built,” she said

Britain and the EU have found themselves once again in deadlock over Brexit. Brussels has condemned London’s plans to legislate against parts of the 2019 withdrawal agreement between the two countries.

“This withdrawal agreement took three years to negotiate. And we worked relentlessly on it line by line, word by word. And together, we succeeded,” Ms von Der Leyen said in her speech.

“It cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded,” she added. “This is a matter of law and trust and good faith.”

Ms Von der Leyen reflected on the impact the coronavirus pandemic on Europe but said the virus should also give Europe the impetus to deal with other global issues such as climate change.

“There is no more urgent need for acceleration than when it comes to the future of our fragile planet," the former German cabinet minister told the European Parliament.

"While much of the world's activity froze during lockdowns and shutdowns, the planet continued to get dangerously hotter."

Updated: September 16, 2020 02:21 PM

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