Turkey faces potential EU sanctions over Cyprus drilling 

The European Union (EU) plans to restrain contacts and funding for Turkey in response to its “illegal” drilling for gas and oil off Cyprus, Reuters reported on Thursday based on a draft statement prepared by EU states’ ambassadors.

The EU envoys held a two-day meeting on Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels, discussing further sanctions to slap on Turkey, with a view to a public statement by the EU foreign ministers next Monday.

“Despite our best intentions to keep good neighborly relations with Turkey, its continued escalation and challenge to the sovereignty of our member state Cyprus will inevitably lead the EU to respond in full solidarity,” the European Council president Donald Tusk said on Wednesday.

“In light of Turkey’s continued and new illegal drilling activities, the [EU] decides to suspend negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement and agrees not to hold further meetings of the high-level dialogues for the time being,” the EU statement reads.

The Council also endorsed the proposal of the European Commission (EC) to reduce the pre-accession assistance to Turkey for 2020 and invited the European Investment Bank (EIB) to review its lending activities in the country, notably regarding sovereign-backed lending.

According to the statement, the EU would be ready to introduce more restrictive measures against Turkey in case it continues drilling off Cyprus.

The EU was due to provide 4.45 billion euros ($5 billion) for the period of 2014-20 for political reforms, agriculture and other projects to help Turkey prepare for its membership to the bloc.

Brussels took away 175 million euros last year in protest at the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

However, further sanctions would be limited since Brussels needs Ankara in security and migration-related matters, Reuters reported an EU diplomat involved in the latest discussions as saying.

“It would only be targeting people linked to these specific illegal activities. We’re trying to calibrate that carefully because we need Turkish cooperation on migration, NATO, countering terrorism. Some member states rely on Turkey for energy transit so we must tread carefully. Don’t expect any wide economic sanctions,” said the unnamed EU diplomat.

On Wednesday, the Turkish foreign ministry rejected Greek and the EU claims that Turkey’s drilling for gas and oil exploration off Cyprus is illegal.

According to the EU diplomats, the draft decision is open to changes as the member states have differences of opinion on measures to be taken against Turkey.

The Greek Cypriot regime, together with Greece, urge the bloc for further sanctions, while some others are wary of cutting all high-level communication channels with Turkey.

The EU has frozen long-stalled membership talks and customs union negotiations with Turkey with the accusation of widespread human rights violations under the Erdogan rule.

The dispute arose after Turkey’s first drilling ship, the Fatih, anchored in early May and started drilling in June in waters claimed both by Cyprus and by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC). Later this week, a second ship, the Yavuz, dropped anchor off Cyprus.

The KKTC is a breakaway state in the north of the island which is recognized only by Turkey.

Showdown looms as Turkey rejects EU’s accusations on Cyprus drilling

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