French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday urged Europe to show a united front against the "unacceptable" conduct of Turkey as he prepared to host a summit of Mediterranean states aiming to coordinate a tougher strategy towards Ankara that could include sanctions.
In a new broadside against Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Macron said the NATO ally was no longer a partner in the eastern Mediterranean, and that its people "deserved something" different to the way the government currently behaved.
France has strongly backed Greece and Cyprus in a growing standoff with Turkey over hydrocarbon resources and naval influence in the eastern Mediterranean, which has sparked fears of more severe conflict.
The crisis has added to a growing list of tensions between Turkey and Europe, notably over Ankara's military intervention in Libya, its policy in Syria and a crackdown on opponents of Erdogan at home.
"We Europeans need to be clear and firm with the government of president Erdogan, which today is behaving in an unacceptable manner," Macron told reporters in Corsica, where the summit will be held.
He said that at the moment Turkey was "no longer a partner in the region" of the eastern Mediterranean due to its behaviour, though he hoped to "restart a fruitful dialogue with Turkey."
Macron added that Turkey had "intensified provocations in a way that is not worthy of a great state. The Turkish people are a great people and deserve something else."
But in a strongly worded reply, the Turkish foreign ministry described Macron's comments as "arrogant" and a sign "of his own weakness and despair."
- 'Consensus on relationship' -
The EuroMed 7 is an informal group of EU Mediterranean states, sometimes dubbed "Club Med," that held its first summit in 2016. Turkey is not a member.
The summit of leaders from France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Cyprus will open at around 1500 GMT at Porticcio, a coastal resort in Corsica just outside its capital Ajaccio.
A French presidential official said Macron would seek to "make progress in the consensus on the relationship of the EU with Turkey" ahead of a 24-25 September EU summit.
Turkey has sought to join the EU for over half a century, though analysts say the growing rift between Erdogan and the bloc's leaders has made the prospect increasingly unlikely.
Ankara's hunt for gas and oil reserves in waters claimed by Greece, the latest conflict between Turkey and a fellow NATO member, has further strained relations.
Turkey last month deployed an exploration vessel backed by military frigates in waters between Greece and Cyprus, prompting Athens to respond with naval exercises as a warning.
Another cause of tension between France, as well as its EU allies, and Turkey has been Libya, where Ankara has engaged militarily in support of the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.
- 'Significant sanctions' -
Some member states will be pressing for sanctions against Turkey at the EU summit, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saying at the weekend such measures were on the table.
"If Turkey refuses to listen to reason before then, I don't see any choice for my European colleagues except significant sanctions," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is to hold talks with Macron before Thursday's meeting, wrote in French daily Le Monde.
Greek media said the possible sale by France of Rafale fighter jets could be on the table, in a sign of the increasingly strong alliance between Paris and Athens.
In an interview with AFP last week, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades denounced Turkey's "aggressiveness" which he said masked "an intention to control the whole area."
The EuroMed 7 came into being against the backdrop of the economic crisis in Greece which had caused tensions between southern EU members and their more frugal northern counterparts.
They "share the same desire to stimulate a new dynamic of cooperation" in the region, "in particular on issues of sustainable development and sovereignty", Macron's office said.