Turkey should lose EU candidacy if it does not back off in East Med, says Cyprus

Turkey should lose its status as a candidate for European Union accession if it does not step back from its aggressive approach in the eastern Mediterranean, the president of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades said in an interview with Politico

Anastasiades said that Turkey’s increasingly assertive efforts to drill for oil and gas exploration off the coast of Cyprus are illegal because they infringe on the island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

"Either they are compliant with the terms and conditions of any other candidate country, otherwise they could not be either a candidate or accepted," Anastasiades told Politico.

Anastasiades said that although Cyprus is “in favour of having Turkey as a member state of the European Union, we prefer to have a European neighbour rather than to have an aggressive state like Turkey is behaving."

He added that a decision to formally stop the accession talks is "one of the steps we can take in order to send a strong message to Turkey, although I'd prefer to have a peaceful solution."

Turkey's accession negotiations started in 2005 but have stalled in recent years with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cracking down on judicial independence, media freedom, and civil rights, Politico said. EU ministers effectively froze the negotiations in June 2018, although Ankara can still access EU pre-accession funds.

Tensions have been rising recently between Turkey, Cyprus and Greece over a scramble for resources off the coast of Cyprus. The island has been split since 1974 between a Greek-Cypriot administration in the south, recognised internationally, and a breakaway Turkish-Cypriot government in the north recognised only by Turkey. 

Turkey has made clear its intentions to drill in areas in the west of the divided island, in spite of protests from the Greek Cypriot side and its allies. Some of the areas explored by Turkish vessels lie in the Cypriot state’s claimed EEZ. 

Turkey’s Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez said last week that Turkey may begin oil exploration in the eastern Mediterranean within three or four months as part of a maritime border deal signed with Libya. Ankara says Northern Cyprus has a right to a share in the hydrocarbon reserves and that it is drilling in areas within its continental shelf. 

Anastasiades told Politico that, if the Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı - who has often been at odds with Erdoğan - is re-elected in elections scheduled for October, reunification talks between the two sides of the island can "definitely" resume. 

He told Politico he has offered Turkish Cypriots a share of gas revenues, on the condition that Ankara recognises Nicosia’s hydrocarbon exploration rights.

"I'm ready to open an escrow account in favour of the Turkish Cypriot community, according to the population ratio," he said. 

"And if Turkey stops the aggressiveness, and recognises the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus, I'm ready to accept, even without finding a solution to the Cyprus question, to give the right to the Turkish Cypriots to benefit by withdrawing ... any proceeds which might be the result of the exploitation of the natural resource.”