French President Emmanuel Macron will gather leaders from Mediterranean states for a summit Thursday set to be dominated by growing tensions between Turkey and EU states in the east of the sea.
The EuroMed 7 is an informal group of EU Mediterranean states, sometimes dubbed "Club Med", that held its first summit in 2016, though Turkey is not a member.
France has strongly backed Greece and Cyprus in a growing standoff with Turkey over hydrocarbon resources and naval influence in the eastern Mediterranean that has sparked fears of more severe conflict.
The summit of leaders from France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Cyprus will open around 1500 GMT at Porticcio, a coastal resort on the French island of Corsica.
Speaking with journalists in Ajaccio late Wednesday, Macron said the Mediterranean should be "a region of circulation of cultures and knowledge, and not, as is too often the case, a region of geopolitical, energy or religious conflicts."
A French presidential official said Macron would seek to "make progress in the consensus on the relationship of the EU with Turkey above all ahead of the 24-25 September EU summit."
Reaffirming Macron's policy towards Turkey, the official said that France wants a "clarification" in relations with Ankara which should be an "important" partner.
- 'Same desire' -
Turkey has sought to join the EU for over half a century, though analysts say the growing rift President Recep Tayyip 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.
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 was 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.
But Erdogan, referring to areas claimed by Greece and Cyprus as their exclusive economic zones, has threatened he is ready to "tear up immoral maps and documents".
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 Tripoli-based government.
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.