EU should not sanction Turkey over East Med

EU should not sanction Turkey over East Med

The Greek Cypriot government has long had plans to turn the ongoing dispute with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean over hydrocarbon reserves into an international crisis in a bid to further isolate its main regional rival and to garner international recognition for its unilateral actions in the region.

Along with many other initiatives, the Greek Cypriot administration is deliberately taking advantage of its full membership status at the European Union to pit Brussels against Ankara. 

The first venue to this end was the Sixth Summit of the Southern European Union Countries (Med7) held in Malta on June 14 with the participation of France, Italy, Spain, Malta, Portugal, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration.

A joint declaration released after the summit urged Turkey to halt its “illegal” drilling activities in the region while asking the EU “to remain seized on the matter and, in case Turkey does not cease its illegal activities, to consider appropriate measures in full solidarity with Cyprus.”

Turkey’s reaction to the declaration was swift and clear: “This declaration provides yet another regrettable example of how the Greek Cypriot administration and Greece abuse their EU membership and how some of the members of the EU have become instruments of these acts.”

It also underlined that the EU and EU members cannot be regarded as impartial and reliable actors within the settlement of the Cyprus issue.

A few days later, Greece joined this campaign with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras calling for EU sanctions against Turkey. Even the Greek press reacted against Tsipras for using Turkey as a trump card ahead of early elections in July.

On Monday at an EU meeting in Luxembourg, Greek Cyprus threatened to block an EU document on the future prospects of some Western Balkan countries willing to join the EU if Brussels would not toughen its stance towards Turkish drilling in the eastern Mediterranean.

It’s pretty sure that Greece and Greek Cyprus will use every opportunity to get what they want from the EU summit at the expense of further straining Ankara-Brussels relations. It was in this context that Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu held a phone conversation with Federica Mogherini, the high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

It’s a fact that Turkey’s poor relationships with Egypt and Israel and other regional countries do weaken its position in regards to its claims in the eastern Mediterranean. It’s also obvious that Greece Cyprus and Greece tend to use this situation in a bid to maximize its economic exclusive zone and therefore create fait accompli.

The EU, over solidarity lines, sides with Greek Cyprus in this dispute and it is understandable to an extent. But solidarity does not override international law and EU has no jurisdiction to determine maritime boundaries of any member country. Any sanctions or action to this end by the EU would further deepen the instability in the eastern Mediterranean and that would not be helpful to any party.

Serkan Demirtaş, EU, Turkey, Cyprus