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EU summit: European leaders remain divided over Turkey and Belarus sanctions

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020   -   Copyright  Aris Oikonomou/AFP or licensors
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EU leaders look set for a long night, as talks on foreign affairs stretch into the small hours. Around midnight EU leaders headed into a 'break'. A change of agenda earlier on saw the Turkey tensions dealt with throughout the afternoon, this went into dinner and as of midnight various sources spoke of draft conclusions from EU leaders but nothing final on Turkey.

Here is what has been said so far.

Turkey

At the top of the agenda for the European Council is relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Greece and Cyprus are in a standoff with Turkey over exploratory drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The presence of naval ships in the area has escalated tensions in recent weeks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated the complicated relationship the EU has with Ankara. She said Turkey is a partner in NATO and the migration crisis explaining that is why the EU needs a "constructive relationship with Ankara" and said the conflict needed to be resolved with diplomacy.

While French President Emmanuel Macron backed up the point saying that they supported Greec and Cyprus but wanted to find ways to engage in dialogue.

For Greece's Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Turkey has to show responsibility and a permanent direction towards dialogue. But if they don’t comply, the EU should take concrete measures sooner or later.

EU Council President Charles Michel said that they wanted predictability in the region, adding, 'Different options are on the table it will be the occasion today to say clearly what we want in the future for the relationship between the EU and this part of the world."

Although diplomats said ahead of the summit said that "all options are on the table", which includes sanctions, the issue has been blocking sanctions against Belarus.

Belarus

All EU countries have rejected the result of the August 9 elections that saw Alexander Lukashenko declared the winner. The EU has called for a new election, and agree targeted sanctions should be placed on officials and possibly Lukashenko himself.

In September, foreign ministers failed to break the stalemate. Until now, Cyprus has been blocking sanctions on Belarus unless sanctions are approved against Turkey.

On Thursday, Cyprus' Anastasiades called on EU leaders to take an "effective stance to bring about an end to gunboat diplomacy".

The deadlock has exposed the long-standing issue of the bloc being able to act in unison, especially on foreign policy.

Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseada lamented the lack of action saying that one and a half months on from the election there was no list of sanctions. He restated that Baltic countries had already introduced sanctions on Belarus, as well as the UK and Canada.

"This is just inappropriate to have this situation without any reaction," he concluded.

Rule of law

On the sidelines, a dispute over internal affairs has spilt into the spotlight.

The row over tying respect of rule of law to the trillion-euro coronavirus recovery package has been gaining pace this week. The European Parliament, backed by some member states, is calling for strict conditions to be linked to access to EU cash when it comes to rule of law. Several member states, including Hungary, say the current agreement from July on the EU recovery money is sufficient.

Hungary's Viktor Orban told Hungarian media ahead of the summit, that "if debates about the rule of law delay the establishment of the emergency fund, it's possible to make bilateral deals outside the EU framework".