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EU sanctions Turkey over Mediterranean drilling dispute

An aerial photo shows Turkish-flagged drill ship Fatih' continue offshore drilling operations in company with Turkish battleship and a helicopter in the west of the Island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea on July 11, 2019 [Turkish National Defence Ministry / Handout - Anadolu Agency]
An aerial photo shows Turkish-flagged drill ship Fatih' continue offshore drilling operations in company with Turkish battleship and a helicopter in the west of the Island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea on 11 July 2019 [Turkish National Defence Ministry/Anadolu Agency]

The European Union (EU) has unanimously decided to impose sanctions on Turkey over its drilling operations in the Eastern Mediterranean.

As part of the sanctions, the EU will reduce the £670 million ($833 million) pre-accession funding Turkey was due to receive next year as part of its bid to join the union. It will also see negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement – an initiative that would have boosted traffic to Turkey’s airports – suspended, as well as other high-level discussions postponed.

The sanctions were reportedly decided upon at a meeting of EU foreign ministers yesterday evening, but were only revealed today after Turkey requested that the EU delay the announcement. Had the announcement been made yesterday, it would have coincided with the anniversary of the country’s 2016 attempted coup, which Turkey argued would be “insensitive” to its people.

The EU replied that it would be difficult to keep the information from the public, but agreed to wait several hours until after the commemorations in Turkey had ended.

READ: US to end arms embargo on Southern Cyprus, as Turkey continues drilling for oil

The EU has been mulling the imposition of sanctions on Turkey for the past month after it sent drilling vessels to search for natural gas reserves off the coast of Cyprus, in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey claimed the vessels were sent in retaliation for a deal struck by Greece, Southern Cyprus and Israel in early June, under which the three countries agreed to build a pipeline harnessing reserves of natural gas off the southern shores of the island. Greece – as well as other member states such as France – have been particularly insistent on sanctioning Turkey for its actions.

This EastMed pipeline, which it is expected to produce a profit of $9 billion over eighteen years of the reserve’s exploitation, will supply gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has strongly condemned the EU’s decision, vowing to continue drilling for energy reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey insists it is drilling in international waters, while Southern Cyprus maintains that it is doing so in the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The ministry claimed the decision “shows how prejudiced and biased the European Union is on the Cyprus issue as Turkish Cypriots, who have equal rights to the natural resources of the island, are not mentioned and [are] ignored.”

“[The] EU’s preference for taking decisions against Turkey, rather than making use of this opportunity and encouraging the two sides to come together on the island with regard to the hydrocarbon resources, is ineffective, unrealistic and unconstructive behaviour,” the ministry continued, adding that Turkey “will continue to protect both its own rights and the rights of Turkish Cypriots with determination, and will further boost its activities to this end”.

READ: Turkey will drill for gas until Greek Cypriots accept plan – minister

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