As the tension over maritime borders in the East Mediterranean was escalating between Turkey and Greece, France stepped up with a big stick in support of its fellow EU member and threatened Turkey. President Emanuel Macron said that the government in Ankara “is no longer a partner.”
The standoff between Greece (and Cyprus) with Turkey is over hydrocarbon resources and naval influence in the area, where maritime boundaries apparently overlap. According to international law, such border disputes should be resolved through dialogue and mutual agreement. Turkey has accepted German, NATO and Russian mediation, but Greece has refused. The US proposed mediation, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Washington of inciting these countries against each other.
Macron has been described by the Turks as “arrogant” and has been trying to mobilise the EU member states against Turkey under the pretext of helping Greece. Two weeks before an EU summit on 24-25 September, Macron invited the so-called EuroMed 7 group for talks. This is an informal group of seven EU Mediterranean states which came together for the first time in 2016 to stand against Turkey.
A French presidential official said that the aim of the talks on the French island of Corsica was to “make progress in the consensus on the relationship of the EU with Turkey.” Macron said that Europe needed through this summit to take “a more united and clear voice” on Turkey, whose actions are “inadmissible practices” and “not worthy of a great state.”
Warning Turkey prior to his meeting, Macron stressed: “We, Europeans, must be clear and firm with, not Turkey as a nation and a people, but with the government of President Erdogan which today has had unacceptable actions.” Prior to the meeting in Corsica, it was clear that Macron’s language against Turkey was highly offensive.
However, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that he was “optimistic” regarding a peaceful solution with Turkey. “Nothing prevented me from believing that Greece and Turkey could be friends,” he wrote to the Times in London.
Given that most EU member states are adopting the same hostile rhetoric against Turkey, we must question why Macron is mobilising hostility against Turkey in the East Mediterranean where neither he nor France have any connection.
Journalist Hamza Tekin is an outspoken critic of French interference in the East Mediterranean. “France has historical hostility towards Turkey and Macron is trying to renew this,” he explained. Other commentators, he pointed out, call Macron’s moves a “new crusade”.
The reason for the renewal of this hostility, added Tekin, is Erdogan’s “success” in ending France’s “colonial project” in Libya represented in its support for rebel leader Khalifa Haftar; ending its “colonial project” in north Syria, where France “planned to establish [the terrorist PKK]” in a mini state loyal to Paris; and ending the French dream of establishing a similarly loyal mini “terrorist [PKK]” state in the north of Iraq.
In a series of tweets in the same context, Omer Celik, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, wrote: “Macron continues colonialism, while our President [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] continues to defend the interests of the oppressed peoples, protect the peace, and frustrate the colonialists’ games.”
According to Tekin, France is also trying to take revenge against Turkey because many African countries “are currently preferring Turkey at the expense of their historical loyalty to France” which once colonised them and continues to exploit their natural resources.
Despite Macron’s best efforts, though, he has failed, so far, to mobilise EU support against Turkey. This was confirmed by the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who stressed after a meeting of EU foreign ministers last week that Paris could not persuade other EU nations to join its hardline policy against Turkey.
Macron, said Tekin, is trying to make gains for France using the EU, even though many of its members maintain good relations with Turkey. “The EU did not give France what it wanted against Turkey because its member states recognise how damaging the Turkish response would be, with Ankara holding many strong diplomatic, economic and other cards with which it could respond against EU countries.” He added that if Macron’s mission was easy, he could have been successful two or three months ago.
Meanwhile, there is clear discontent in Greece regarding Macron’s policy in the East Mediterranean. This is obvious from the Prime Minister’s remarks that his country could be a “friend” with Turkey. The communist Greek MP Liana Kanelli has said that France is only showing support for Greece because of its own interests in the region. “Nobody is coming to Greece because they love us,” she said during a TV talk show. “They are not dying for Greek interests.”
Recognising his failure to mobilise support, Macron was obliged to take a step back in order to maintain some kind of dignity. Turkey is, after all, a NATO member, has agreed on conditional dialogue through German mediation and is ready for unconditional dialogue or conditional dialogue without the involvement of France.
“We are not naive but we want to re-engage with Turkey in good faith,” Macron said after his summit in Corsica. Politico said that the French leader had shifted his rhetoric as he offered something of an olive branch. His “deep wish is to re-engage in a fruitful dialogue with Turkey” and to reach what he termed “a Pax Mediterranea” built on sharing energy resources and cultural and academic exchanges.
Shifting from hostile to reconciliatory rhetoric is good, but is it enough? This was a lesson for the apprentice French president who longs for the colonialism of his country’s past and ignores international law, relationships and organisation. Above all, he has ignored the fact that Turkey is not the republic of the past regarding democracy, independence, economic issues, trade, military matters and influence. Under Erdogan, modern Turkey’s standing among its own citizens and across the Muslim world is high, and France, Macron in particular, would do well not to ignore that.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.