EU sanctions on Turkey over Cyprus unwise

EU sanctions on Turkey over Cyprus unwise

The five-article conclusions adopted by the Council of the European Union late on July 15 on Turkey’s drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean are unfortunate and problematic for many reasons.

In the context of the conclusions, the council has decided to suspend negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement and has decided not to hold bilateral high-level dialogues, including the annual Association Council meeting. It has also endorsed the EU Commission’s proposal to reduce the pre-accession assistance to Turkey for 2020 and has invited the European Investment Bank to review its lending activities in Turkey, notably with regard to sovereign-backed lending.

Furthermore, it has also called on the High Representative on Foreign and Security Policy and the Commission to continue work on options for targeted measures in light of Turkey’s continued drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

Both Turkish and EU diplomats describe these sanctions as symbolic as they won’t have a biting impact on Turkey. The aviation transport agreement has already been suspended, the EIB’s lending in Turkey does not represent a significant amount and it’s not first time that pre-accession assistance to Turkey will be reduced, they explain.

This columnist, as a journalist who has been observing the flow of Turkey-EU ties for more than two decades, is not of the same opinion on grounds that these sanctions may have a political and psychological impact on already strained ties.

For many in Turkey, this latest move by Brussels is another example of the double-standards the EU has long been imposing when it’s about Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots, especially in the Cyprus-related context.

“We have rights in the eastern Mediterranean, we will defend them until the end. The EU says it will impose sanctions. We reject these sanctions. The EU will have no value on the lands of Turkey if it does not abandon applying double-standards,” said the main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, during his address at the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) parliamentary group on July 16.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s very strong remarks on the EU display a general understanding in the Turkish public opinion. More Turks believe that the EU plays a double game on Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots and feel a sense of strong injustice.

Take 2004 for example. The EU had bailed out on the Turkish Cypriots who voted for the reunification of the divided island under the Annan Plan while rewarding the Greek Cypriots by opening the doors of the EU to those who voted for the continuation of the division of the island.

A huge responsibility of the ongoing crisis in the island and the eastern Mediterranean belongs to the previous EU leaders who took sides with Greek Cyprus and Greece over “solidarity.”

At that time, the EU had promised to apply a direct trade regulation to the Turkish Cypriots but failed to do so because of Greek Cyprus’ veto. As usual, it had remained silent again over “solidarity.”

In late 2006, just a year after official negotiations have begun, EU nations felt no obstacle in blocking the opening of eight chapters as part of the Turkish accession process on the grounds that Ankara refused to apply to Cyprus the additional protocol in regards to the Customs Union. Instead of giving space to diplomacy and efforts to resolve the problem through dialogue, that hasty and unwise move of the EU at that time had a huge impact on the following stages of the accession process.

These sanctions on Turkey over drilling activities are no different from these experiences in 2004 and 2006, but more dangerous.

Ironically, the EU thinks it has jurisdiction on whose activity in the eastern Mediterranean is legal and whose activity is illegal as it accepts Greek Cyprus’ self-proclaimed economic exclusive zone as legal while rejecting Turkey’s continental shelf. As this column pointed out once, the EU’s efforts to let solidarity overrides international law are unrealistic but provocative.

EU officials know very well that Turkey will not pull back its vessels from the region because Brussels imposes sanctions. On the contrary, Turkey has decided to send another vessel to the area after the sanctions.

 Not only that; after the EU’s sanctions, Greek Cyprus rejected a recent proposal by the Turkish Cypriots for the establishment of a committee for the hydrocarbon-related activities off the island. The EU statement has just ignored the Turkish Cypriots’ proposal over the “solidarity” lines with the Greek Cypriots.

Imposing sanctions on Turkey on an issue that the EU has no jurisdiction on at all is yet another mistake by the EU. Or, maybe, it’s not a mistake but a decision, as Paulo Coelho has rightly put it:  “A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.”

Serkan Demirtaş,