No More Talk, Cyprus Wants EU Sanctions Over Turkish Drilling

file- In this Tuesday, July 9, 2019 photo, a helicopter flies near Turkey's drilling ship, 'Fatih' dispatched towards the eastern Mediterranean, near Cyprus. (Turkish Defence Ministry via AP, Pool)

NICOSIA – Unsatisfied with softer sanctions being discussed by the European Union over Turkish drilling for energy offshore in Cypriot sovereign waters, the government of President Nicos Anastasiades wants the bloc’s leaders to get tougher.

After several EU press releases – along with those from the United States supporting Cyprus and condemning Turkey – were ignored by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Anastasiades’ government is pushing for sanctions with teeth.

According to a draft statement by the European Council, with which most EU member-states are in agreement, the measures against Turkey would include suspending talks for a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement and a halting of high-level dialogues for the time being. It also calls for a reduction of pre-accession assistance to Turkey for 2020 and for the European Investment Bank to review its lending activities in Turkey.

But that’s been seen as trying to have it both ways, to push Erdogan toward stopping the drilling in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) where the legitimate government has licensed foreign companies to drill, with American energy giant ExxonMobil already reporting a major gas find.

FILE – In this Tuesday, July 9, 2019 file photo, a Turkish Navy warship patrols near Turkey’s drilling ship ‘ Fatih ‘ that is making its way towards the eastern Mediterranean near Cyprus. Turkish officials say the drillships Fatih and Yavuz will drill for gas, which has prompted protests from Cyprus. (Turkish Defence Ministry via AP, Pool)

The EU is reluctant to be too hard on Erdogan, needing Turkey – which has been trying fruitlessly to join the bloc for 14 years – for security cooperation and to keep him from flooding Greek islands with more refugees and migrants.

The EU and Turkey signed a swap deal in 2016 but only a relative handful of refugees and migrants deemed ineligible for asylum – in Greece where they’ve been stuck after the bloc closed its borders to them – have been sent back to Turkey.

They were there fleeing war and strife in the Middle East, using the country as a jumping-off point to get to Greece as a transit to more prosperous EU countries before the door was shut on them.

Cyprus’s government said the discussed sanctions are too vague and too general, said Kathimerini, because they don’t a clear reference to restrictive measures that the European Council said it would propose in June, including blacklisting people or companies involved with the Turkish drilling.

The only reference in the draft to the possibility of specific sanctions is in the final paragraph, which states that Council calls on the European Commission to continue working on possible restrictive measures against Turkey if it continues drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, soft-pedaling again what to do.

The softer tone was adopted after some EU countries said they didn’t want to tangle with the tough Erdogan, preferring to issue press releases instead. If Cyprus manages to block the statement then the issue will be deferred to EU foreign ministers who meet in Brussels on July 15, likely to be kicked down the road again as Erdogan keeps getting his way.

While Cyprus wants a tougher line on Turkey, it as failed to have arrested the crew of a Turkish ship drilling in the EEZ, parts of which Turkey doesn’t recognize, after issuing an international warrant. Erdogan essentially dared Cyprus to try to take them into custody so far.