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Greece criticises Turkey-Spain agreements on military cooperation

Pedro Sánchez has expressed his support for Turkey's accession to the EU, despite the crisis between Ankara and some member states, such as Greece and France
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On Wednesday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez travelled to Ankara to meet his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Sánchez decided to attend the summit accompanied by several key members of the government: Yolanda Díaz, Minister of Labour and Social Economy; Teresa Ribera, Minister for Ecological Transition; Margarita Robles, Minister of Defence; José Manuel Albares, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Fernando Grande-Marlaska, Minister of the Interior; and Reyes Maroto, Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism.  

Sánchez travelled to Ankara on the occasion of the 7th High Level Meeting (HLM) between Spain and Turkey. This meeting is also the first bilateral summit between Sánchez and Erdogan, as the previous one took place in April 2018, with Mariano Rajoy still in the Moncloa.  

During the meeting, both leaders addressed several issues of common interest, such as the economy or energy transition, although the most noteworthy have been military and defence matters. "We are carrying out numerous projects with Spain, especially in the defence industry. Given the potential of our countries, we wish to further deepen our cooperation in this field," declared Erdogan. 

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The two governments have agreed to cooperate on the construction of an aircraft carrier and new submarines for the Turkish army. The two sides have also expressed their willingness to "undertake joint projects on unmanned ground and naval air systems", a joint statement said. "There are many things we can do together in defence," said the Turkish president.  

Erdogan also thanked Spain for the military partnership. "While many NATO countries took Patriot missiles from here, Spain did not. We thank our Spanish friends. I want Spain's attitude to be an example for other allied countries," he said, referring to the controversy following the purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system. This Russian-Turkish military deal was criticised by both Brussels and Washington, which cut Turkey out of the F35 fighter-bomber purchase programme. 

The military cooperation agreements between Erdogan and Sanchez have created controversy in Greece, Turkey's main rival and a member of the European Union. Giannis Oikonomou, spokesman for the Greek government, did not suppress Athens' anger at the Turkish-Spanish friendship. "We will keep an eye on the development of the agreements. It is clear that the member states of the European Union are subject to the decisions of the European Council regarding relations with Turkey and its provocations and violations of international law," the spokesman commented. Athens and Ankara have a long-standing dispute over the Aegean Sea and its natural resources. The conflict in Cyprus also accentuates this enmity. "The Spanish prime minister should have taken into account the general position of the European Council," Okionomou added.  

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Spain is one of Turkey's main partners in the EU, which is why this is not the first time Athens has reprimanded Madrid for its ties with Ankara. Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias sent a letter in October 2020 to then foreign minister Arancha González Laya reminding her of the common position of European states towards the Turkish government. "Member states are determined to prevent the export of military technology and equipment that could be used for internal repression or international aggression, or to contribute to regional destabilisation," Dendias said.  

Sánchez supports Turkey's accession to the EU  

The Spanish president said he wanted Ankara to join the EU. "Turkey is not just a neighbour of Spain, it is an ally, a partner," he said. "As Erdogan said, we want to continue with the positive agency established by the European Council," Sánchez added.  

These comments come at a delicate moment in EU-Turkey relations. Greece is not the only country at odds with Erdogan; tensions between Paris and Ankara have also increased in recent months. On the other hand, it is also necessary to note Erdogan's rapprochement with Russia, while distancing himself from NATO, as Brussels and Washington have sometimes indicated. 

REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR -Fotografia de archivo, Tayyip Erdogan llega a una reunión con el presidente del Consejo de la UE, Charles Michel, en Bruselas, Bélgica, el 9 de marzo de 2020
REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR - File photo, Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a meeting with EU Council President Charles Michel in Brussels, Belgium, March 9, 2020.

Turkey's domestic policy has also been criticised for its authoritarian drift. According to a 2020 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Turkey had the second highest number of imprisoned journalists, second only to China.  

Ahead of Sánchez's trip to Turkey, Amnesty International urged the Spanish president to address the issue of human rights in the Eurasian country. The organisation pointed to Turkey's exit from the Istanbul Convention and the status of Kurdish politicians, some of whom are in prison. "The human rights action plan recently adopted by Turkey is insufficient, and falls short of addressing the main shortcomings of the human rights situation and the rule of law," said Esteban Beltrán, AI's director in Spain.