TPAO executives to escape EU sanctions over drilling

TPAO executives to escape EU sanctions over drilling

TPAO executives to escape EU sanctions over drilling

The European Union has frozen plans to blacklist more senior executives at Turkey's state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO), four diplomats said, in the clearest sign that a diplomatic offensive by Ankara this year is bearing fruit.

EU leaders in December had proposed asset freezes and travel bans over Turkey's "unauthorized drilling activities" for
natural gas in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean, although they did not specify individuals.

But a more constructive tone from Erdoğan this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's support for a more conciliatory approach and the first direct talks between old foes Turkey and Greece in five years have all helped to change the mood.

The new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has also urged Brussels not to impose sanctions at a time when Turkey, a NATO ally and EU candidate country, appears more willing to compromise, European and U.S. diplomats said.

"Work has stopped on additional blacklistings of Turkish individuals, and we are not talking of economic sanctions
anymore," one EU diplomat said.

A second EU diplomat said the work "never really took off" and a third said "the diplomatic track is being prioritized".
The EU's foreign service declined to comment.

Diplomats say a video conference between Erdoğan and the head of the European Commission on Jan. 9, followed by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu's face-to-face talks with the EU foreign policy chief and separately with NATO's secretary-general marked the change in Turkish diplomacy.

The EU had blacklisted two TPAO executives in February 2020, including its vice president Mehmet Ferruh Akalın. After the EU leaders' December decision, the bloc was set to sanction more board members, including TPAO's chairman, Melih Han Bilgin, a fourth EU diplomat said.

Ankara has denied any wrongdoing and considered the proposed sanctions to be biased and unfair.

A demand by a Turkish prosecutor to ban the pro-Kurdish HDP party is unlikely to revive any talk of sanctions, although it may be discussed by the EU, one diplomat added.

Erdoğan's foreign policy adviser Ibrahim Kalın held a meeting in Ankara last week with French and German political
advisers. Erdoğan is also expected to hold a video conference with the leaders of the EU Council and Commission on Friday.

Çavuşoğlu said this month that the change of tone was sincere and that Ankara wanted the EU to reciprocate: "We are
focusing on... how we can work together."

Ankara wants progress on Turks' right to visa-free travel to the EU, an upgrade of its trade agreement and recognition of its claims to hydrocarbons off its maritime shelf.

The EU is also expected to provide fresh funds from 2022 for 4 million refugees that Turkey hosts.

However, the warmer mood does not mean anything has been resolved, the EU diplomats said, adding that Turkey must meet required targets to make progress in its long-stalled EU membership bid.