Libya conflict looms over EU as France seeks frank discussion on ties with Turkey

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France on Wednesday demanded a discussion “without taboos” within the EU on its relationship with Turkey, which officially remains a candidate to join the bloc despite a stalled membership process.

Already strained ties between NATO allies France and Turkey have worsened in recent days as the two sides exchanged accusations over the Libya conflict.


Turkey has been seeking to join the European Union for over half a century, although its bid has faltered in recent years particularly over the crackdown that followed a 2016 failed coup.

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“France considers it essential that the European Union very quickly opens a comprehensive discussion, without taboos and naivety, on the prospects for its future relationship with Ankara,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the French Senate on Wednesday.

“The European Union must firmly defend its own interests because it has the means,” he said.

His comments came two days after French President Emmanuel Macron launched a furious attack on Turkey’s conduct in Libya, accusing it of playing a “dangerous game” that can no longer be tolerated.

Libya has been mired in violence among competing forces, militias and extremists since the toppling and killing of dictator Moamer Gaddafi in 2011.

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The conflict now pits the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli against eastern commander Khalifa Haftar with each side backed by rival foreign powers.

Turkey has accused Paris of itself “playing a dangerous game in Libya” by supporting military leader Haftar in his campaign to take Tripoli.

France had already denounced an “extremely aggressive” intervention by Turkish ships against a French navy vessel participating in a NATO mission in the Mediterranean, a claim Ankara dismissed as “groundless.”

Le Drian described that incident as “absolutely scandalous” and a “grave action” by Ankara.

Ankara supports the GNA in the conflict against Haftar.

France is suspected by analysts of backing Haftar alongside Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, but insists it is neutral in the conflict.

Turkey has sent Syrian fighters, military advisors and drones in support of the GNA, in a deployment which has changed the course of the conflict, with Haftar’s forces enduring a string of defeats.

“Clarifications are needed on the role that Turkey plans to play in Libya,” Le Drian said.

He said Libya is undergoing a “Syrianization” since the military intervention of Turkey “is done with the support of Syrian auxiliaries.”

Macron described Turkey’s behavior in the naval incident as “one of the best” illustrations of his controversial belief that NATO was in the throes of brain death.

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