EU’s retaliation against Turkish drilling near Cyprus is the wrong approach - analysis

The European Union should apply some wisdom rather than direct confrontation with the Turkish government in dealing with the heightened tensions over hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, columnist Leonid Bershidsky said in Bloomberg on Thursday.

Ankara sent its second drilling vessel off Cyprus this month, despite Cyprus and Greece’s objections to Turkey’s drilling rights in the region. 

The bloc, as a response, this week announced punitive measures against Turkey which include a freeze to 146 million euros of pre-accession assistance for Turkey for next year, the suspension of negotiations for an aviation agreement, and a review of lending to Turkey from the European Investment Bank, worth 386 million euros last year, as well as no longer holding any high-level meetings with Turkish officials within joint bodies set up under Turkey’s association agreement and customs union with the EU.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Tuesday that Turkey would respond by sending another surveying vessel near the island in addition to two drilling and one surveying ships already anchored off Cyprus.

The columnist said freezing out Ankara and waiting for the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to alter his attitude towards Turkey’s allies in the West was not useful.

Bershidsky said that a deal between the EU and Turkey over Syrian refugees could serve as a model for future interactions. He also said that in the case of Cyprus, the problem predated Erdoğan as previous peace talks for the unification of the island had failed. 

“The Turkish side has a point when it says cooperating on gas exploration and production could help bring the sides of the long-running conflict closer together; they’d be business partners in a lucrative venture. It also makes sense that Cyprus’s Turkish community should share in the energy wealth discovered near the island in 2011,” the columnist said. 

While it is understandable for the EU to side with its two member states, the bloc’s long-term interests require the settling of the Cyprus dispute and defusing tensions on gas fields crucial for Europe’s energy security, Bershidsky said.

“The EU should use its collective negotiating prowess to push both sides toward a deal,” he said. Instead, if the bloc chooses punishing Turkey, Erdoğan will just push ahead and establish a foothold in the gas fields, according to the columnist.