With Germany assuming the European Union presidency on Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed concern over developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and Greek-Turkish relations in response to questions from MPs in the Bundestag.
While Turkey’s claims in the region are reportedly viewed as unjustified, Ankara’s leverage, especially with regard to the management of migrant flows into Europe, is seen preventing a stronger stance from Berlin.
The German chancellor stressed that Europe needs a coherent strategy toward Turkey, which should take into account the close relations and interdependencies between the two sides, but without ignoring the important points of friction.
“We have to criticize many human rights issues, and now we have the aggravating element that Turkey is conducting drillings off Greece and Cyprus, about which there is a lot of controversy,” she said.
Merkel also referred to the recent harassment of a French frigate by the Turkish Navy off Libya. “We must do everything possible to prevent such incidents between NATO member-states,” she said, describing the incident as “very serious.”
Regarding migration, the German chancellor noted that rescue efforts must be better coordinated. “We share the concern about what is happening on the border between Turkey and Greece or in the Mediterranean,” she stressed, and, referring to Turkey, bemoaned the tactic of essentially pushing policy “on the backs of refugees.”
Meanwhile, with Turkey’s Supreme Court set to weigh in on Thursday on whether the former 6th century church of Hagia Sophia should be converted from a museum into a mosque, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined growing opposition to the move, appealing to Ankara Wednesday not to go ahead with the plan.
“We urge the government of Turkey to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey, and to ensure it remains accessible to all,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“The United States views a change in the status of the Hagia Sophia as diminishing the legacy of this remarkable building and its unsurpassed ability – so rare in the modern world – to serve humanity as a much-needed bridge between those of differing faith traditions and culture,” he added.