France’s aggressive military actions in the eastern Mediterranean have not been supported by Germany, which seeks mediation between Turkey and Greece.
The disputes over maritime rights and access to potential natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean could be highlighting divisions within the European Union, which has recently lost a valuable member, the UK, to Brexit.
Turkey and Greece are at loggerheads over both maritime and exploration rights in the region, and both countries have increased their military presence, escalating tensions.
While Greece is making a lot of noise over Turkey’s actions, it has not found vocal support from many powerful European allies outside of France, which has deployed its Navy and warplanes to the region as well as to the southern part of Cyprus, a divided island, in a show of strength.
Other European states, with clear historic, geographic, economic and political connections to the Mediterranean Sea, do not support this, and instead back Germany’s mediation efforts between Athens and Ankara.
Among them, is Spain, a former Mediterranean power, known for both its powerful Armada and for possessing numerous islands as colonies across the region, and Italy, another powerful naval force, whose city states like Venice and Geneva are known for their famous sailors and captains. Germany, France and Italy, which were called the EU three or EU big three, were originally the three large founding members of the union.
Quite apart from this, Germany and France were also on opposing sides of the two World Wars and have a history of conflict before the emergence of the EU.
Macron wants to play the tough guy
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has played the part of the political face of the EU during public appearances with other country heads, is no De Gaulle. He is eager to fit the bill, however.
Charles de Gaulle, the former decorated general and powerful president, led France’s resistance against Germany’s occupied forces under Hitler during World War II, ascending to the top political post after the war, reestablishing the country.
“What France did this summer was important: it’s a red line policy,” Macron said on Friday, describing France’s deployment of its navy and fighter jets against Turkey.
“It was proportionate. We didn’t send an armada,” he continued, trying to downplay France’s aggressive posturing.
However, Paris’s so-called red line policy has not impressed Turkey, whose foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, firmly warned Macron to watch his language last week.
“Those, who think to have drawn red lines against the righteous cause of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, will only face Turkey’s firm stance. If there is a red line in the region, this can only be Turkey’s and Turkish Cypriots’ rights stemming from international law,” said a Turkish foreign ministry statement on Sunday.
Turkey has been the protector state of the Turkish population in Cyprus, which is located in the middle of the eastern Mediterranean and close to the country’s southern coast, since the 1950s.
In 1974, the disputed island was divided into two political entities: one led by Greek Cypriots in the south and another led by Turkish Cypriots in the north, which, in turn, became the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) in 1983, recognised only by Turkey.
Germany urges calm and “constructive” approach
Despite Macron’s divisive rhetoric, Germany has approached the tensions in the eastern Mediterranean more carefully and constructively, and has tried to calm tensions.
“Fire is being played with and any small spark could lead to catastrophe,” warned German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas last week.
While Macron tried to portray his Mediterranean policy as the standard-bearer of the union, a recent meeting of the European foreign ministers in Berlin suggested otherwise.
“Germany and other partners are beginning to agree with us that Turkey’s agenda is problematic today. When six months ago people were saying France is the only one blaming Turkey for things, everyone now sees that there is a problem,” Macron claimed on Friday.
A meeting between EU foreign ministers, however, which took place on the same day as Macron’s statement, endorsed Germany’s position. It encouraged dialogue and meditation and effectively dismissed any discussion of sanctions against Ankara.
While Macron pushes a confrontational policy against Turkey, Maas advised a productive approach and a dampening down of the dispute.
“(I)t is clear that such [conciliatory] talks can only take place and be successful in a constructive environment, and for that, all destructive activities must be ended,” Maas said.
Turkey signalled that it also supports calls for dialogue, embracing Germany’s approach.
“We would like to remind that the disputes in the eastern Mediterranean will be resolved on the basis of equity, not through incitements of non-regional actors, but only by means of dialogue and cooperation among littoral states,” said the Turkish foreign ministry statement, which aimed to address Macron’s red line policy, yesterday.