POLITICO Brussels Playbook – 6/4/2021


DRIVING THE DAY: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is joining European Council chief Charles Michel on the last leg of his trip around the EU’s neighborhood, with a joint mission seeking to achieve better relations with Turkey. Watching them most closely will be Greece and Cyprus, as always — but there’s more at stake than just Turkey’s closest EU neighbors’ concerns, said George Pagoulatos, head of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (Eliamep) think tank in Athens, who teaches as a professor in Athens and in Bruges.

Playbook interview: Asked over the weekend about the top potential misstep von der Leyen and Michel should avoid making when they go see Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Pagoulatos said: “They must not lose credibility and they must not allow Erdoğan to divide the EU.” In practice, that means the EU presidents “should not make commitments that are not fully dependent on how the Erdoğan government behaves.” He added: “They should also seek not to alienate Turkish citizens who struggle for human rights and expect a positive agenda and [view] the visit by the EU leaders as an opportunity for positive change.”

There are reasons for concern: Shortly after a video-call with von der Leyen and Michel last month, Erdoğan announced he was pulling Turkey out of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, citing every reactionary’s favorite excuse that the convention might harm the “traditional family.” Plus, “before the ink from the last EUCO [European Council summit] statement had even dried up, the Turkish energy minister announced that Turkey would ‘soon’ resume its seismic drilling program in the Eastern Mediterranean,” said Pagoulatos. “It was one day after April Fool’s Day, but it made a fool out of the entire European Union.”

Best hope for what they could achieve through this visit? Show Europe is no pushover,” Pagoulatos said. “It may be made up of a lot of interests — interests that sometimes do not align, it may be a slow ship to turn, but make no mistake about it, it cannot be pushed around, bullied, manipulated and ultimately undermined.” He added: “A moratorium [of the drilling] in the Eastern Mediterranean would also help.”


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