Leiena said that the EU must take clear foreign policy decisions and do so without hesitation, rather than sinking into internal strife.
The EC President used his annual address on the situation in the EU to warn Turkey not to terrorize Greece and Cyprus over energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
“Turkey is and will always be an important neighbor, but although we are close together on the map, the distance between us is growing,” Leiena said in a speech to the European Parliament (EP).
“Yes, Turkey is in a troubled region. And yes, it has hosted millions of refugees, for which we are supporting them with significant funding. But none of that justifies attempts to intimidate our neighbors,” Leiena said.
There are disputes between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey over natural gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean and offshore borders. Ankara has angered both EU Member States by sending exploration vessels accompanied by warships to waters to which Greece and Cyprus also claim.
There are concerns about the outbreak of the conflict and Cyprus is putting pressure on the EU to impose new sanctions on Turkey.
During his visit to Cyprus on Wednesday, European Council President Charles Michel said that the EU would defend Cyprus very strongly in this dispute.
Leaders from all 27 EU countries will meet in Brussels next week to discuss the bloc’s relations with Turkey, which is officially still an EU candidate country, but accession talks are frozen.
In the European Union, decisions concerning foreign policy and the application of sanctions are taken unanimously, which often means a long process, as individual countries can use the threat of veto to defend their interests.
For example, diplomats report that the imposition of EU sanctions on Belarus is currently blocked by Cyprus, which wants sanctions on Turkey for natural gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
Leiena called for a change of procedure and, at least for decisions on sanctions, for decisions to be taken by a majority. However, this means that all 27 EU Member States should relinquish their right of veto, which is unlikely to ever happen.
Leiena also said that the EC will propose the establishment of a mechanism in the European Union to impose sanctions for human rights violations around the world. This would be the EU version of the Magnitsky Law, which was passed in the US to sanction human rights abuses outside the US.
In her address to the EP, Leiena also addressed the situation in Belarus, stressing that the people of Belarus should be free to decide their own future.
“They are not figurines on another chessboard,” Leiena said.
She also warned leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, who said it was time to improve relations with Moscow.
“For those who support closer ties with Russia, I will say that the poisoning of Alexei Navalny with a chemical reagent is not one such case,” Leiena said.
“We have seen this pattern in Georgia and Ukraine, Syria and Salisbury, and with interference in elections around the world,” the EC president said.
“This model will not change and no pipeline will change it,” she added, apparently referring to the German-Russian joint project “Nord Stream 2”.