Cyprus failure further widens Turkey-EU gap

Cyprus failure further widens Turkey-EU gap

Addressing the World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul on July 10, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said a “big opportunity” was missed with the recent failure of the Cyprus talks in Switzerland. He blamed the “negative attitude” of the Greek Cypriot side and also warned that “some energy companies” interested in the gas fields around Cyprus had become “part of some irresponsible measures taken by the Greek Cypriots.” He said that because of this these companies “could lose a friend like Turkey.”

There are two firms that have been given a license to produce from the Greek Cypriot government: American company Noble and Israeli company Delek. French energy company Total also won an offshore exploration licence earlier this year. 

In the audience at the congress was U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who used to be the CEO of energy giant Exxon. He was invited to Istanbul to receive an award from the World Petroleum Congress for his former contributions to the oil sector.

“What we expect from anyone who takes sides in the developments in Cyprus is that they should refrain from steps that might pave the way for new tensions in the region,” Erdoğan said, stressing that hydrocarbon resources around the island should belong to both Turkish and Greek sides of the island.

This stress on “new tensions” puts a spotlight on a drilling scheme scheduled to start this month by the Greek Cypriot government, which both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots oppose.

There are also plans to transport Cypriot and Israeli gas together to European markets. The Israeli government was supportive of a Cyprus settlement because it believes a pipeline from Israeli waters to Cyprus and then to Turkey - carrying both Israeli and Cypriot gas to Europe – would be the most feasible way to market its gas.

Erdoğan focused on the energy aspect of the Cyprus issue in his speech, but there is a political aspect that is directly related to Turkey’s relations with the European Union. 

Relations between Ankara and Brussels are already suffering severe problems. Last week, in an unbinding vote the European Parliament advised the European Council to suspend membership negotiations with Ankara due to the degradation in the quality of democracy in Turkey. 

Implementations under the state of emergency declared by the Turkish government after the military coup attempt of July 15, 2016 - especially the jailing of politicians and journalists on terrorism charges - are the focus of criticisms from European politicians. The Turkish government, meanwhile, accuses the EU of not honoring its promises about liberalizing the visa regime for Turks in Europe. It says opening up new negotiation chapters as part of the migration agreement became more important after the Syria civil war.

It is important for the EU to be able to speak about the state of the justice system and rights and freedoms in Turkey on a binding basis. The two issues are addressed in the 23rd and 24th chapters of the accession negotiations, but both of them are currently under blockage by the Greek Cypriot government.

If the Cyprus talks in Switzerland had not collapsed, it could have helped smooth energy-security issues in the East Mediterranean. It could also have helped close the wide gap between Turkey and the EU, which would have benefited all sides. Unfortunately, the failure of the Cyprus talks is likely to only further widen the gap between Turkey and the EU.