Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s provocations — including saying Emmanuel Macron needs “mental treatment” — have angered the EU and could lead to punitive action, the European Commission warned on Monday.
Erdoğan’s insults against the French president — tied to Macron’s response to the beheading of a teacher in a Paris suburb earlier this month — drew swift condemnation from EU leaders on Sunday. But Turkey has also continued to exacerbate tensions over gas exploration in a disputed area of the Eastern Mediterranean, raising the prospect of a serious diplomatic breach, or even EU sanctions, officials said.
In a statement on Sunday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry accused France of creating the recent tensions and complained of the “continued one-sided and egocentric approaches of France” and of “the West’s usual double standards” in its defense of cartoons offensive to Muslims under the umbrella of free expression.
At a summit earlier this month, EU heads of state and government issued conclusions expressing the possibility of launching “a positive political EU-Turkey agenda” but also warned that “in case of renewed unilateral actions or provocations in breach of international law, the EU will use all the instruments and the options at its disposal,” an unmistakable reference to sanctions.
On Saturday, Turkey effectively thumbed its nose at that warning, by announcing plans to extend a controversial gas exploration mission in the Mediterranean at least until November 4.
Asked about the strains with Turkey, a Commission spokesman, Peter Spano, said: “We have expectations of Turkey if we are to continue in a positive domain with our relationship. However if we keep on getting these provocations, if we keep getting tension with the European Union or members of the European Union, we must think a little more seriously about what we are going to do.”
Leaders said they would return to the Turkey issue and make a decision at their summit in December, but some officials, especially from Greece and Cyprus, have made clear their view that pointed action is needed.
Council President Charles Michel, responding to Erdoğan’s comments on Sunday night, tweeted: “Rather than a positive agenda, Turkey chooses provocations, unilateral actions in the Mediterranean and now insults. It’s intolerable.”
David McAllister, a German member of the European Parliament who is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the EU would act if Ankara did not stop its incendiary actions and comments. “Unfortunately, the Turkish government is not taking concrete steps to de-escalate the current situation,” McAllister said. “Any kind of provocations are unacceptable and must be stopped immediately. As the European Union, we stand united by our member states. The European Parliament has asked the Council to stand ready to draw up a list of further restrictive measures if no substantial progress is made in cooperation with Turkey.”
Maïa de La Baume and Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting.