Austria, Germany say EU considering sanctions over Turkey's East Med drilling

The European Union is considering threatening Turkey with harsher sanctions over what the 28-nation bloc has labelled as “illegal drilling” for oil and gas off Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean, German and Austrian ministers said.

The European Union is set to decide on Monday whether it will symbolically punish Ankara over its drilling in the region.

Turkey's deployment of two ships -  the Fatih and the Yavuz - to search for oil and gas in the region has sparked a dispute with Greek Cyprus and prompted a threat of EU sanctions for Ankara's "unacceptable escalation" of the row. 

Nicosia and Athens disagree with Ankara’s claims of drilling rights in the region. Turkey, the only nation to recognise Northern Cyprus, maintains that attempts by Cyprus to conduct gas exploration are a violation of the rights of the Turkish part of the divided island.

The foreign ministers of the bloc are set to convene in Brussels on Monday to endorse a decision to curb diplomatic contacts and funding for Ankara, as a response for what it sees as interference with Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“The provocations of Turkey are unacceptable to all of us,” Reuters quoted German Minister of State for Europe Michel Roth as saying. “We have now found a balanced language that keeps all our options open, including of course sanctions.”

Ankara could lose some 150 million euros of 400 million euros in pre-accession funding the bloc had earmarked for 2020 for everything from political reforms to agriculture projects to help Turkey prepare for eventual EU membership, Reuters said, citing an EU diplomat.

Turkey was set to receive 4.45 billion euros between 2014 and 2020 from the EU, however, the bloc suspended some funding last year in addition to freezing decades-long membership talks and negotiations on upgrading its customs union with the country.

The EU ministers are expected to invite the bloc’s executive and foreign policy arm to “continue work on options for targeted measures in the light of Turkey’s continued drilling activities”, Reuters said.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı on Saturday reissued a proposal to establish a joint committee to end the row over the offshore gas drilling activities while Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Turkey would continue drilling unless the Greek Cypriot government accepted a cooperation plan on drilling.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades is set to inform Greek Cyprus’ political party leaders of Akıncı’s proposal on July 16.