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October 14, 2019

What is Turkey's medium-term game?

Spring of Peace, the name of the Turkish military incursion into Syria, is as much of an empty promise as is the warning from France and Germany that there will be painful consequences for Turkey as a result of it. Recep Tayyip Erdogan knows that, despite all the words, the EU is hardly ready to deploy any action. Turkey could even argue that the reason it had to secure land in Syria today is because the EU's deal with Turkey back in 2016 to keep Syrian refugees out of Europe ended up straining Turkey. The situation raises disturbing questions about Turkey's long-term regional game and about Europe's moral leadership. Now that Russia and Assad are getting involved fighting with the Kurds, the race to find a common stance on Syria becomes even more complicated.

What we see is that Turkey is launching simultaneously its geopolitical agenda in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Erdogan is violating borders as laid out by the Lausanne treaty in both areas. His confident defiance of any warning from other countries is deeply worrying. At home, he is promoting an image of strength and independence from Western allies, which seems to be welcomed by the broader public opinion according to Kathimerini. Everyone who still believed that the US' presence could prevent war or a hot incident was proven wrong. Erdogan can now press ahead and pursue his agenda.

After Donald Trump gave the green light and withdrew his troops from the north-eastern border of Syria, Turkey did the PR for its operation with Nato allies, promising to establish a safe and terrorist-free zone allowing to resettle refugees who otherwise might have dared their way towards Europe. Just to be sure that the Europeans got the message Erdogan later doubled down on this promising that, if the EU continues to call it an invasion, he will release those 3.6m refugees towards Europe.

The border violation in the eastern Mediterranean is off the shores of Cyrus. Turkey last week sent a third ship to drill for gas in waters where Cyprus has licensed a French and Italian energy company to conduct a hydrocarbons search. Over the weekend two French frigates on their way to Syria stopped there for the a joint manoeuvre with Cyprus. But to say that these were to allow Cyprus to assume its responsibilities in its sovereign waters as the French defence minister did is an exaggeration. Turkey is as unlikely to withdraw its drilling ships as it is to abandon its operation in Syria. So, what is the EU going to do? This week EU foreign ministers will meet to discuss the situation. Let's see whether anything more than just words emerges.

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October 14, 2019

Germany sabotages EIB climate change policies

One of the big foreseeable stories of the next decade will be Germany's increasingly obviously failure to meet the Paris climate targets, and the many important political consequences. 

One of those became apparent over the weekend. Euractiv reports from Brussels that Germany is organising opposition to the European Investment Bank's plan to phase out support for all fossil fuels, including natural gas. A decision by the EIB's board is due on October 15. But Germany and the European Commission have applied for a change in the policy, as it runs counter to German interests. 

In theory, the EIB's board could overrule Germany, but we don't think this is likely to happen. 

The decision to interfere with the EIB's lending policies is supported by both the CDU-run economics ministry and the SPD-run finance ministry. If the EU sent out a signal that it no longer supports gas, the whole German climate package would be reduced to absurdity. The German coal commission recently agreed a difficult compromise to phase out coal, but managed to do so only because it agreed to gas as an alternative energy source. All this is following from Angela Merkel's unilateral decision earlier in the decade to accelerate the phasing out of nuclear power. At the time it was already clear that Germany would run into difficulty meeting its own CO2 emissions target. 

As the next decade progresses, the gap between reality and target will remain massive in Germany - but not in France. The Euractiv article does not say whether France supports Germany's request to water down the EIB's new policies. The article did note that a group of over 60 NGOs had written an open letter calling on the EIB to stop promoting fossil fuels. The NGOs are supported by the Club of Rome and climate research institutes, including in Germany. Definitely to be continued.

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