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German Submarine Sale to Turkey Rankles Greece

Typhoon-class submarine. Credit: Bellona Foundation/Attribution

Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias decried Germany’s decision to sell submarines to Turkey, both publicly and in a meeting with Nils Schmid, the Social Democrat (SPD) parliamentary group’s spokesperson for foreign affairs in the German Bundestag.

Dendias declared that the move will change the balance of power in the Aegean toward Turkey, which has for the pas several years committed numerous incursions of both Greek and Cypriot airspace and territorial waters.

Dendias met with Schmid Wednesday in Athens.

“Profound disappointment” over submarine sale

“I cannot but express our profound disappointment over SPD’s role on the motions of an arms embargo to Turkey. Both Prime Minister Mitsotakis and I have numerous times spoken to almost everyone in Germany about the necessity to keep the balance in the Aegean,” Dendias stated after the meeting.

Over the last several months, Greece has repeatedly asked the leaders of EU nations to impose an arms embargo on Turkey considering its repeated violations of the international law of the sea.

However, Germany, Spain and Italy blocked Greece’s request at the level of the EU Council, while the SPD voted against a bill calling for a ban on the export of submarines to Turkey.

Before he went in to the meeting with Schmid, Dendias spoke at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noting that years ago, Schmid’s party had helped Greece join the EU — but that the current concerns over the balance of power in the Mediterranean were of the utmost concern at present.

“I cannot but express our profound disappointment on the role of the SPD on the draft motions for the arms embargo on Turkey,” Dendias intoned.

Submarine sale will change current balance of power

“This is something that for us is a source of considerable concern.”

Dendias pointed out that the delivery of submarines to a country that continues to destabilize the entire region will change the current balance of power at the expense of nations that create stability and respect international law.

Local media reported Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos asked his German counterpart Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Wednesday to suspend its purchase agreement for six submarines, only to have his request be flatly rejected by the German defense department.

Kramp-Karrenbauer reportedly told Panagiotopoulos “The program to build and sell in Turkey the six type-214 submarines cannot be stopped – or even delayed – because the construction company Thyssen is bound by contracts signed since 2002.”

The German Defense Minister asked that she be informed of the Greek positions regarding issues raised by the Turks regarding the situation in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The official statement about the phone call issued by the Greek defense ministry said simply that Panagiotopoulos had briefed his German counterpart in detail on Greece’s views regarding security and stability matters in the region.

Over the years, Greece has usually come up empty-handed when it has asked the EU for sanctions on Turkey. Now, EU leaders are readying for yet another summit, to be held on June 24-25, whiach will address what comes next in its relationship with Greece’s neighbor.

EU summit on June 24-25

According to reports, the EU is set to express its satisfaction over the de-escalaization of tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

A draft conclusion shared before the meeting states “The European Council reiterates the EU’s readiness to engage with Turkey in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner to enhance cooperation in a number of areas of common interest, subject to the conditions set out in March and in previous European Council conclusions.”

The EU has long desired a carrot and stick approach, where every action that is perceived as Turkey backing off its pattern of maritime incursions is rewarded with “gifts” such as the modernization of the EU customs union agreement with the country.

However, if it is decided that Turkey’s most recent behavior does not merit such approving actions, economic sanctions, as specified in the documents coming out of the EU’s March summit, will be put into effect.

Last month, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was in opposition to Greece’s demand to impose an arms embargo on Turkey amid the ongoing tensions.

Speaking to the German press agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Maas stated “I do not find the demand of an arms embargo against Turkey strategically correct. It is not easy to do this against a NATO partner. We saw that NATO ally Turkey easily bought missiles from Russia because it could not buy from the US.”

Maas then stated that he hoped the disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean would be resolved through diplomacy alone.

Recently, Greece and Turkey engaged in the first direct talks they had held in almost five years to exchange views on  ongoing disputes regarding national sovereignty in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Over the last twenty years, Greece and Turkey have engaged in multiple attempts at coming to terms on issues regarding the Eastern Mediterranean. The first talks were held in March of 2002. This past Spring’s talks were the 61st of this type held between officials from the two countries.

Turkey and Greece did take part in more talks last year, which were encouraged and initiated by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg after a series of incidents in the Mediterranean, including the collision of Turkish and Greek Navy boats as Turkey continued to operate oil and gas exploration vessels atop Greece’s continental shelf.

One concrete result of those parleys was the establishment of a hotline between Athens and Ankara, meant to ward off unintentional conflicts that crop up between the two nations.

During a meeting in Brussels on Dec. 10, EU leaders decided to draw up a list of Turkish targets to sanction over Eastern Mediterranean tensions. While France, Greece and Cyprus have pushed hardest for a tough line on Turkey, other EU states led by economic powerhouse Germany have been far keener on a more diplomatic approach.

Turkey also engaged in talks regarding the fate of Cyprus at UN offices in Geneva in April, but those came to an impasse as Turkey insisted on a two-state solution on the troubled island.

The European Parliament voted to propose the suspension of Turkey’s accession talks for entry into the European Union in May as relations continued to become strained.

The EP also called on Turkey to implement an immediate change of course regarding the rule of law and human rights as a prerequisite for the country’s accession to the EU.

Turkey is one of the countries having been through the longest negotiation process to enter the EU.

It became an official candidate for membership in 1999 at the Helsinki summit of the European Council. Official accession talks started in 2005 but have been stalled since 2016.

EU report amounts to “toughest” criticism of Turkey ever

According to Nacho Sánchez Amor, who drafted the report on the country, Turkey must change course and “put expressions of good will into concrete actions.

“The report is probably the toughest ever in its criticism. It reflects all that has unfortunately happened in the country in the last two years, in particular in the fields of human rights and rule of law, which remain the main area of concern for the European Parliament,” he said.

The latest report adopted by the Committee of Foreign Affairs states that the Turkish government has deliberately distanced itself from European values and has led its relations with the EU to a “historic low point.”

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