At his first European Council meeting this week, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will face a difficult balancing act of backing further funding for Turkey to curb the flow of refugees through Greece while also supporting sanctions against Ankara for its illegal drilling off Cyprus and its incursion in northern Syria.
The official agenda of the summit, which is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, is topped by Brexit and the European Union budget. However, the bloc’s increasingly difficult relationship with Turkey is expected to figure prominently in the wake of its military intervention in Syria and its ongoing transgressions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Both Athens and Berlin are keen to ensure that an agreement for migrant returns signed between Ankara and Brussels in March 2016 is not jeopardized and are in favor of additional funding for Turkey to secure its cooperation in curbing human smuggling over the Aegean, particularly amid fears that Turkey’s Syria intervention will result in a new wave of refugees.
In his meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Athens last week, Mitsotakis stressed the need for the EU-Turkey deal to be kept alive.
While Germany backs this stance, along with the need to keep Turkey anchored to Europe, France appears skeptical. The Netherlands has not revealed its position and, as usual, Austria and the so-called Visegrad countries have a more hardline stance.
Cyprus, which has Turkey’s transgressions in its sovereign waters as its primary concern, is expected to press for sanctions. According to sources, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades is determined not to accept funding for Turkey’s handling of the refugee crisis unless the EU provides details of planned sanctions against Ankara (for instance by announcing measures against the companies participating in Turkey’s drilling operations).
This could put Athens in a difficult position, as although Greece is Cyprus’ natural ally and has repeatedly condemned Turkey’s activities off the island, its priority is to nip a new refugee crisis in the bud. Ideally, Athens would like funding to Ankara to be made dependent on Turkey stopping its illegal drilling off Cyprus.