Without Navy, EU Scrambles to Stop Turkish Drilling Off Cyprus

June 20, 2019

With Turkey planning to drill for oil and gas in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ,) European Union foreign ministers – the bloc has no unified military – are trying to figure out how to stop it but aren’t prepared yet to put a halt to Turkey’s hopes of joining the bloc.

Cyprus is a member of the EU and the legitimate government – the northern third has been occupied by Turks since an unlawful 1974 invasion – has licensed foreign companies to look for oil and gas in its EEZ.

One of them, US energy giant ExxonMobil, has reported a major gas find and the prospects to huge energy revenues has set off a new intensity between the rival sides although Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has offered to share monies with Turkish-Cypriots.

That’s not enough for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci who want to take part in the licensing procedure, further fraying any chances of restarting unity talks.

The last round collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Erdogan and Akinci said they would never remove a 35,000-strong army on the occupied lands and wanted the right to militarily intervene again.

Erdogan also refuses to recognize Cyprus and bars its ships and planes but EU leaders, fearful that he will unleash more hordes of refugees and migrants on Greek islands who went to Turkey after fleeing war and strife in the Middle East and elsewhere, have been treading lightly with him.

The EU also could halt what’s left of 6 billion euros ($6.72 billion) promised Turkey as part of a suspended swap deal that has seen only a relative handful of refugees and migrants deemed ineligible for asylum in Greece returned.

The pact also would provide visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in the EU, which could also be held up although it’s been in limbo for some two years already, but otherwise the bloc’s leaders are left only to issue press releases ranging from concern to deep concern to grave concern as their weapon.

For now they want a unified list of “appropriate measures,” and resorted to their strongest press release while meeting in Luxembourg, saying they have  “grave concern over the ongoing illegal drilling” and condemned Turkey for not listening to the EU’s pleas to follow international law.

Cyprus’ Foreign Ministry said the EU’s top diplomats called on the bloc’s executive arm to submit possible sanctions, including cuts to pre-accession financial aid that Turkey as a membership candidate currently receives. The ministry said it’s the first time the EU is mulling such actions against Turkey.

The ministers “stress the immediate and serious consequences Turkey’s illegal actions are having on the entire fabric of Turkish-EU relations,” the statement said.

Anastasiades hailed the EU foreign ministers’ statement that he hoped would be acted upon by the EU’s heads of state at a meeting later this week. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also said EU leaders should “unambiguously condemn the illegal actions of Turkey” during the summit, but Erdogan has ignored all such language.

Cyprus says any drilling by a Turkish drillship 40 miles (64 kilometers) off its western coastline is a flagrant violation of international law and its sovereign rights. Turkey, which doesn’t recognize Cyprus, says it’s acting to protect its rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the area’s energy reserves and insists the area where it’s now drilling falls inside its own continental shelf.

Turkish officials warned they will send a second ship to begin drilling off the east coast off the ethnically split Mediterranean island nation. Companies that Cyprus has licensed to drill for gas off its southern coast include ExxonMobil, Italy’s Eni and France’s Total, with French President Emmanuel Macron also denouncing Turkey.


(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)


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