EU lawmakers condemn Turkey's 'safe zone' in Syria, eye sanctions

EU lawmakers have condemned Turkey's planned "safe zone" in northern Syria, while also calling on Ankara to withdraw from the country "immediately." The lawmakers are also eyeing possible sanctions against Turkey

Duvar English

European Union lawmakers on Oct. 23 condemned Turkey's offensive to carve out a "safe zone" in northeast Syria and prepared the way for new EU financial sanctions against Ankara.

EU governments have protested to Ankara over its incursion but are split over how to respond to it. EU lawmakers have no direct say on the bloc's foreign policy decisions but have the power to curb important EU funding to Turkey.

As part of its Operation Peace Spring that it carries out with Syrian rebels, Ankara seeks a "safe zone" along 440 kilometers of its border with northeast Syria.

It agreed on Oct. 22 with Russia on steps to remove People's Protection Units (YPG) militants 30 kilometers from the border and jointly patrol 10 kilometers of the area, a pact that a senior European diplomat called a "major blow to NATO" coming after a U.S. pullout that upset the region's military alliance.

"We demand that Turkey immediately withdraw from Syria," German center-right lawmaker Michael Gahler said, speaking on behalf of the largest political grouping in the EU assembly.

A draft resolution that EU legislators are set to adopt on Oct. 24 and has the backing of all political groups in the assembly urges "appropriate and targeted economic measures against Turkey."

The text, which is still subject to minor changes, calls for the freezing of preferential treatment for Turkish agriculture exports to the EU.

As a last-resort sanction, it also urges the suspension of the EU customs union with Ankara, a measure that would hit the 200-billion-euro annual trade between the 28 EU nations and Turkey.

Although European lawmakers have no direct say on trade-related sanctions, they wield clout in their ability to, for instance, reduce the nearly 250-million-euro yearly financing given to Ankara as part of its protracted process to become an EU member, an option backed by the center-right group.

The parliament could also block any new EU funding to help Turkey handle some 3.6 million Syrian refugees on its territory, many of whom Ankara would like to resettle in the "safe zone."

The text, seen by Reuters, "firmly rejects" Turkey's "safe zone" ambitions and also urges sanctions against Turkish officials responsible for alleged human rights abuses in the offensive against Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

It also calls for a U.N. Security Council resolution to set up a north Syria security zone under a United Nations mandate.

The EU parliament's moves come with talks to renew existing financial aid already under way in Brussels, with diplomats discussing new funds up to 1 billion euros for coming years, officials said.

EU governments have been divided over how to react to the Turkish military offensive, with the senior European diplomat describing the situation as "complete chaos."

Earlier this month they failed to agree on an EU-wide arms embargo against Turkey, though some governments committed to halting arms exports to Ankara because of its military operations in Syria.

Some EU states argue for freezing funds, others want EU money to continue flowing to Turkey to keep most refugees there and avoid a repeat of a 2015 crisis in which hundreds of thousands of war refugees poured into Europe from Turkey.

The EU took steps earlier in October to blacklist Turkish officials and companies involved in natural-gas drilling in waters off Cyprus, an EU member state. The EU, Cyprus and Greece consider the Turkish drilling to be illegal.