Jun 17 2019

EU may freeze Customs Union talks with Ankara over East Med drilling - Bloomberg

The European Union is preparing to threaten Turkey with freezing negotiations over the modernization of the customs union with the bloc over its drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, Bloomberg reported on Monday.

Ankara remains in a bitter dispute with Athens and Nicosia over its claims on the island's EEZ and the drilling of hydrocarbons in territories that overlap with Greek Cypriot's claims. 

Last month, Turkish drillship Fatih anchored in an area west of Cyprus that Athens and Nicosia say encroaches on Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Turkey says the area is on its continental shelf.

EU governments have reiterated that accession negotiations have come to a standstill, Bloomberg reported, citing a draft communique due to be approved by the EU’s European affairs ministers on Tuesday.

Further escalation is possible, as the EU “stands ready to respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus,” if drilling activity continues, it said.

The statement, while subject to ongoing deliberations between diplomats, follows Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ announcement on Sunday that he may demand EU sanctions against NATO ally Turkey’s drilling activities in the region. 

The discovery in recent years of significant energy reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has heightened long-standing tensions between Turkey, which is the only country that recognises the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia, which is close to Athens and an EU member.

The EU has urged Turkey to reconsider plans to start exploratory drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus, already condemned as illegal by the bloc.

The dispute over the divided island of Cyprus adds to a series of disagreements between the EU and Turkey, Bloomberg said, noting however that  EU governments are wary of completely damaging relations with Ankara, which has kept “millions of Syrian refugees within Turkish soil and at an arms length from Europe.’’