As Macron urges EU restrictions on Turkish influence, Abela says: ‘Malta is neutral’

French whip up EU condemnation of Turkish expansionism into Mediterranean, Malta reminds EU partners of migratory pressures from Libya

Robert Abela (right) listens on as French president Emanuel Macron addresses the conference
Robert Abela (right) listens on as French president Emanuel Macron addresses the conference

Malta Prime Minister Robert Abela reminded EU counterparts from the Mediterranean basin that seeing to Libya’s civil conflict and economic recovery was important, after joining six EU leaders urging Turkey to end “unilateral and illegal activities” in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Heads of states and government of France, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Italy, Spain and Portugal gathered in Corsica amid fears of open conflict as Turkey seeks to expand its energy resources and influence in the region. 

Malta has recently been in closer contact with Turkey since the regional power allied itself formally to the United Nations recognised Libyan GNA, lending it essential military muscle that turned the tide against Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which is backed by France, Egypt, the UAE, as well as Russian mercenaries. 

Malta believes its support of the GNA is also essential to curb continued flows of illegal migration by militias and traffickers in Libya. 

“Malta is a neutral country,” Abela told the conference of Mediterranean states which was hosted by French president Emmaneul Macron in Corsica. France has been a chief opponent of Turkish interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, whose military supplies to Libya are targeted by an EU naval operation, Irini. Malta has withdrawn its participation from Irini. 

“We are looking at what is happening in the Eastern Mediterranean but we are a neutral country, and our position is clear: the sovereignty of countries must be respected as required by international law. Dialogue is the key strategy in this situation,” he said referring to Greek and Turkish tensions since Libya extended its exclusive economic zone to Turkey.  

In their final statement, leaders reaffirmed their “full support and solidarity with Cyprus and Greece” who they say are facing Turkey’s “confrontational actions.” 

“We regret that Turkey has not responded to the repeated calls by the European Union to end its unilateral and illegal activities,” they said. 

Leaders warned that “in absence of progress in engaging Turkey into a dialogue and unless it ends its unilateral activities, the EU is ready to develop a list of further restrictive measures” at a summit later this month. 

Escalating tensions in Turkey’s relations with EU member states dominated the Med-7 Summit, which Macron used to send a strong message of support for Greece. 

On the sidelines of the Med-7 Summit, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis was expected to meet Macron on the purchase of Rafale aircrafts and other French defence equipment. 

Macron is urging the European Union to have a common position on Turkey. “We must be tough with the Turkish government and not with the Turkish people who deserve more than the Erdoğan government. All unilateral actions of Turkey, such as the Turkish-Libyan memorandum, without respecting the rights of Greece, are unacceptable. It unfairly multiplies the challenges. We are talking about respect for international law. We want to avoid further escalation, the goal is an agreement but under certain conditions and Turkey must clarify its intentions. We Europeans must look at the red lines to restart a fruitful dialogue with Turkey, because there is no other choice. Europe must therefore have a more coherent voice and a more united stance.” 

Abela used the conference to remind EU partners of Malta’s immigration problems, pointing towards the Libyan conflict as a chief problem. “The pressures of the Central Mediterranean migratory route are increasing and we cannot face this crisis one boat at a time. The EU cannot leave frontliners like Malta and Italy alone over a lack of agreement between states.” 

Abela asked EU members to give migration the importance it deserves if migrants should not be left stranded at sea because of lack of agreement on their fates – a reference to the Maersk Etienne impasse, where some 27 migrants have been left aboard a tanker for the past 30 days. 

Abela also rued the lack of cooperation on the fight against criminal gangs that were fuelling illegal immigration.