EU leaders back Republic of Cyprus after Turkish drillship raises tensions

European leaders have united behind the Republic of Cyprus after Turkish energy exploration near the island raised tensions this week.

European Council President Donald Tusk called on Turkey to “respect the sovereign rights of EU member states” at an informal meeting of EU leaders in Sibiu, Romania, on Thursday, after a Turkish drilling vessel entered waters in the Greek Cypriot administration’s Exclusive Economic Zone this week.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker added his own show of support, saying “(on this issue), I am Cypriot”.

Turkey disputes the boundaries of the EEZ, and strongly objects to exploitation of the island’s energy resources by the Greek Cypriots, saying this infringes on the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway republic that controls the north of the island.

On Tuesday, Greek Cypriot authorities announced they were applying to place international arrest warrants on the crew of the Turkish drillship Fatih after it entered Cypriot waters.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades later likened the Turkish vessel’s activities to a “second invasion”. Turkey launched its first, in 1974, in response to a Greek nationalist-backed coup, and has kept a military presence on the island since.

The breakaway Turkish Cypriot administration in Northern Cyprus is only recognised by Turkey, which does not recognise the Greek Cypriot administration.

At the Sibiu meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would take up Anastasiades’s cause and work towards Greek Cypriot interests when in contact with Turkey.

The Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, said this week’s escalation was a European, and not purely a Cypriot issue, and would warrant measures at the next European summit “if Turkey continues this violation of international law”.

On Thursday, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt expressed “concern” about “Turkey’s announcement to begin drilling in Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone”.

“This situation must be deescalated and all parties show restraint,” Greek newspaper Ekathimerini quoted Hunt as saying. “Hydrocarbons development should benefit all Cypriots and support a settlement.”

The Republic of Cyprus, a member state of the European Union, is also in partnership with European energy companies in operations to tap the huge potential of energy reserves found in the EEZ around the island.

A French-Italian consortium, Total and Eni, is expanding its presence in the Cyprus EEZ, Ekathimerini reported on Friday.