On July 15th, the European Union’s foreign ministers decided to impose sanctions on Turkey over its drilling activities within the territorial waters of member state Cyprus.
The EU maintains that those activities are illegal.
The sanctions include freezing most high-level contacts with Turkey and cutting the flow of funds to the country. No sanctions that target specific Turkish companies involved in the offshore drilling in the eastern Mediterranean were introduced.
The decision includes a freeze of pre-accession assistance to the tune of 146 million euros, the suspension of negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement and a halting of high-level dialogues in the fields of economy, energy, transport and agriculture – as well as the suspension of lending activities of the European Investment Bank.
“Recalling the Council conclusions of 18 June 2019 and previous European Council conclusions, notably those of 20 June 2019, the Council deplores that, despite the European Union’s repeated calls to cease its illegal activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey continued its drilling operations west of Cyprus and launched a second drilling operation northeast of Cyprus within Cypriot territorial waters. The Council reiterates the serious immediate negative impact that such illegal actions have across the range of EU-Turkey relations. The Council calls again on Turkey to refrain from such actions, act in a spirit of good neighbourliness and respect the sovereignty and sovereign rights of Cyprus in accordance with international law.”
The foreign ministers reiterated that the EU is working on targeted sanctions in light of Turkey’s continuing controversial drilling practices. In doing so, they sought to strike a delicate balance between sending a clear message to Ankara and agreeing on measures that won’t harm the interests of EU nations or cut all ties with Turkey.
The decision to impose sanctions was lauded by new Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.
“I was positively impressed by the unanimous decision by all my colleagues on the issue of Turkey’s provocations regarding Cyprus’ sovereign rights,” Dendias said. He added that the EU’s position is a reminder to Turkey of the consequences that may result if its behavior goes against international law.
EU foreign ministers also warned that they will prepare measures targeting individuals and companies involved in Turkey’s illegal drilling activities in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
On its part, Turkey condemned the decision saying that it shows “how prejudiced and biased the European Union is on the Cyprus issue as Turkish Cypriots, who have equal rights to the natural resources of the island, are not mentioned and ignored.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry further added that this decision is the latest example of how Greeks and Greek Cypriots abuse EU membership in line with their maximalist positions and how other EU countries become an instrument for carrying out this abuse.
Those “decisions will not impact our determination in any way to carry on with hydrocarbon activities in the eastern Mediterranean,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said, calling it “meaningful” that the EU’s move came on the third anniversary of a failed coup attempt.
Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the TRNC (the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) also has rights to the resources in the area.
Since this spring, Ankara has sent two drilling vessels- Fatih and most recently Yavuz- to the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting the right of Turkey and the TRNC to the resources of the region.
The Turkish-flagged drillship Fatih launched offshore drilling operations this May in an area 75 kilometers (42 nautical miles) off the western coast of the island of Cyprus.
Athens and Greek Cypriots have opposed the move, threatening to arrest the ships’ crews and enlisting EU leaders to join their criticism.
In 1974, following a coup aiming at Cyprus’ annexation by Greece, Ankara intervened in the situation. In 1983, the TRNC was founded with assistance from the Turksih military and political leadership. Turkey is the only state that recognizes the TRNC as an independent state. The rest of the world sees the TRNC as a part of the Republic of Cyprus.
The decades since have seen several attempts to resolve the Cyprus dispute, all ending in failure. The latest one, held with the participation of the guarantor countries – Turkey, Greece, and the U.K.- ended in 2017 in Switzerland.
Turkey, which recently dispatched a second drilling ship off Cyprus, said a July 13 proposal by the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state for cooperation and an equal sharing of the energy resources should be seen as an “important opportunity” for a solution.
“Instead of encouraging the sides to come together and seize this opportunity, the EU’s decisions to act against Turkey are ineffective, detached from reality and not constructive,” the Foreign Ministry said. “As in the past, our country will decisively protect its and Turkish Cypriots’ rights and increase its activities in this regard.”
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