Spain, Austria and Belgium joined Germany and France on Oct. 14 in backing an arms embargo on Turkey over its Syrian offensive but top exporter Italy had yet to declare its position, leaving an-EU wide ban in doubt.
Paris and Berlin suspended weapons sales to Turkey, a NATO ally, over the weekend, while Finland and the Netherlands said earlier they were also stopping arms exports, in what EU diplomats said could be a first step in a series of EU sanctions aimed at persuading Ankara to halt the fighting.
“We do not wish to support this war and do not want to make arms available,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters at a meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg.
The EU, which Turkey still aspires to join, had already condemned the Turkish air and artillery strikes on Kurdish militia in northeast Syria but has been infuriated by President Tayyip Erdoğan’s threats to send refugees to Europe.
With few ways to persuade Turkey to step back, EU governments are expected to make a fresh joint statement condemning Turkey’s offensive, which aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG, a former U.S. ally seen by Ankara as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
“This offensive is going to cause serious humanitarian devastation,” said France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, urging a “firm position on arms exports to Turkey”.
In 2018, 45 million euros worth arms and ammunition exported to Turkey
The EU exported 45 million euros ($50 million) in arms and ammunition to Turkey last year, including missiles, according to the EU’s statistics office Eurostat, with Italy the main vendor, followed by Spain, Britain and Germany.
Sales of aircraft to Turkey, although not all military, were 1.4 billion euros last year, according to Eurostat, led by France. The EU is the top foreign investor in Turkey.
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said he favoured ending arms sales to Turkey. “We don’t have magic powers, we’ll put all pressure possible to stop this, which we believe is not the way of solving things,” he told reporters.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio met Le Drian in Luxembourg on Monday to discuss Rome’s position. Le Drian appeared careful not to directly call for an EU arms embargo, diplomats said. Italy wanted a “unified EU position” on arms sales, envoys said, which is likely to prove divisive.
Hungary, while not a major arms exporter to Turkey, is wary of doing anything to anger Erdoğan, who last week warned that he would “open the gates” and send 3.6 million refugees to Europe if they did not back him.
Budapest, which has refused to take people fleeing Syria’s eight-year civil war, is against sanctions and blocked an EU statement last week criticising Turkey, two diplomats said.
One option for the EU to send a message to Ankara is to impose sanctions not directly related to the Syrian offensive.
Cyprus and Greece are urging economic sanctions against Turkey over Turkish gas drilling in waters off southern Cyprus, which could be decided later this week, diplomats said.
The EU asset freezes and travel bans are likely to target the Turkish military and captains of the drilling ships, two EU diplomats said.