EU reveals framework to sanction Turkey over Cyprus drilling

The European Union has disclosed a framework for imposing sanctions on Turkey over its gas drilling in Mediterranean waters off Cyprus but has not mentioned which companies or officials will be targetted, Reuters reported on Monday.

EU foreign ministers reportedly agreed on Monday to hit Turkey with economic sanctions, which involve travel bans and asset freezes, because of the country’s drilling off the coast of Cyprus.

According to a report by the Associated Press (AP) on Monday, the mechanism adopted by the ministers makes it possible “to sanction individuals or entities responsible for, or involved in, unauthorized drilling activities of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

Member countries of the EU can now come forward with names of those they think should be listed, the AP also reported.

Reuters cited two diplomats arguing that the move gives Turkey a chance to put an end to what the EU claims are “illegal” drilling activities before any sanctions are imposed.

The diplomats reportedly explained that the asset freezes and travel bans are likely to target the Turkish military and captains of the drilling ships, in the event that the planned measures are enforced.

Monday’s decision, which points at a broader deterioration in EU ties with Ankara is intended to punish the Turkish government for violating Cyprus’ maritime economic zone by drilling off the divided island.

Ankara, on the other hand, insists that it is operating in waters on its own continental shelf or areas where Turkish Cypriots have rights.

In 1974, Cyprus was divided in the aftermath of a Turkish invasion that followed a coup by supporters of a union with Greece.

Being the only country that recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence, Turkey doesn’t officially acknowledge Cyprus as a state and claims almost half of the ethnically split island nation’s exclusive economic zone as its own.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Monday underlined in a statement that Ankara would continue protecting its energy interests and those of Turkish Cypriots.

It is “futile” to expect Turkey to step back from drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, the ministry continued.

“It seems that the EU can no longer take a constructive and useful stand on [the search for energy reserves in] the eastern Mediterranean,” the statement noted.

Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou also expressed in a statement on Monday their hope that the sanctions will allow Turkey to “realize that it’s neither possible nor acceptable to arbitrarily violate international law.”

The latest move by the EU came after a separate decision made last month to stop new arms sales by member states to Turkey due to Ankara’s military offensive into northeastern Syria, which was launched on October 9 against the Kurdish forces in the region.

Following years of stalemate on Ankara’s bid to join the world’s biggest trading bloc, ties between EU and the NATO-ally Turkey have worsened.

Many EU states hold forth that Turkey no longer meets the democratic criteria to be a candidate, let alone an EU member.

This is mainly due to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on dissidents that has intensified after a 2016 failed coup attempt as well as his sweeping new presidential powers that the EU says lack checks and balances.

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