NICOSIA – After walking softly, the European Union stepped up sanctions over Turkish drilling for energy off Cyprus, hitting two senior members of the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) with asset freezes and travel bans.
But the EU stopped short of going after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who authorized the drilling, the sanctions coming just before he opened the door for refugees and migrants who had gone to Turkey from other countries to get to the bloc after the deaths of 33 Turkish soldiers in Syria.
Turkey condemned the sanctions on TPAO Vice-President Mehmet Ferruh Akalin and Deputy Director of Exploration Ali Coscun Namoglu that included EU citizens and companies being banned from providing funds to the officials, said media reports.
Turkey said the sanctions were “an example of (the bloc’s) biased and unlawful attitude under the pretext of union solidarity,” and that it “has no value for us and it is null and void.”
“This unfair policy against Turkey’s and Turkish Cypriots’ legitimate rights contradicts both the international law and the EU acquis,” the response added.
The EU said that, “These persons are responsible for or involved in planning, directing and implementing offshore hydrocarbon exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean which have not been authorized by the Republic of Cyprus.”
“Whatever decision it takes, it is a futile effort for the EU to dictate the Greek-Greek Cypriot duo’s maximalist maritime boundary claims on Turkey. The EU cannot act as an international court. It cannot portray undelimited and disputed maritime jurisdiction areas as final maritime boundaries,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said.
“It is most unfortunate to see that the EU still keeps ignoring the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots and has become the hostage of Greek-Greek Cypriot duo’s maximalist claims and policies. The EU should have rather supported dialogue and cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean,” it said.
“The sanction decision will not affect Turkey’s determination to protect its own rights and that of Turkish Cypriots’ in the Eastern Mediterranean. On the contrary, it will further strengthen our resolve,” it said.
Turkey has been drilling for oil and gas in parts of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which Turkey doesn’t recognize, forging ahead despite being asked by the island’s legitimate government, the United States, and the EU to stop.
Cyprus has licensed foreign companies, including the US’ ExxonMobil, France’s Total and Italy’s Eni to hunt offshore with tensions rising there could be a conflict with Turkish warships in the region and potentially lucrative finds becoming a catalyst.
The issue has also brought to a halt for now of any hopes of restarting collapsed reunification talks that ended in July, 2015 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said they would never remove a 35,000-strong standing army on the northern third occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion, and demanding the right of further military intervention.
Gas was discovered off Cyprus in 2011 in waters the government claims but which Turkey disputes, saying it’s operating legally in waters on its own continental shelf or areas where Turkish-Cypriots have rights.
The hunt for energy put up another roadblock to Turkey’s hopes of joining the EU some 15 years after accession talks began. Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus, a member of the bloc, and bars its ships and planes.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)