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July 10, 2019

Turkish drilling off Cyprus - a test case for the EU

A second Turkish gas drilling ship anchored off Cyprus' northeast coast, with plans to start drilling within a week according to the Turkish energy minister. The EU, the US, Russia and Egypt responded by issuing new warnings to Turkey not to infringe on Cyprus' sovereignty, and not to escalate the conflict over gas exploration in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone, where Cyprus has exclusive rights over natural resources. 

Since the first ship started its activities two months ago, Turkey rebuffed critics by arguing either that this area is on its own continental shelf, or that Turkish Cypriots have equal rights with Greek Cypriots over any finds in these zones. Nicosia rejects these claims, saying they are not only inconsistent with international law, but that Turkey even refuses to accept any international dispute settlement mechanisms where its assertions could be tested.

One of the first acts of the new Mitsotakis government was to issue a solidarity statement with Cyprus, defending its sovereign rights and warning that Turkey's actions are incompatible with those of a country that wants to join the EU. Greece renewed its backing for the European Council’s decision to adopt appropriate measures against Ankara. 

Greece and the EU are used to a conflictual relationship with Turkey. But the gas reserves are highly valuable economic resources at a time when the Turkish economy is taking a massive dive. A politically weakened Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be ready to act even tougher to bolster his prospects for political survival. How far would he go, and how would the EU react? In its statement, the EU promised appropriate measures including sanctions. This is not a conflict likely to ease off any time soon. It is far more likely to turn into a test case for the EU's capacity to act as one of its members' sovereign rights are infringed. It is will also be a test of what the EU can actually do if EU accession no longer works as a carrot to get Turkey back on track.

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July 10, 2019

Labour’s new Brexit policy is not really a shift

There is a lot of hypothesising going on in the UK right now. The Commons yesterday made it a touch more difficult for the government to prorogue, or suspend, parliament in the run-up of a no-deal Brexit. We think prorogation is very unlikely in any case, if only because it would drag the Queen into a political dispute. There are more plausible no-deal scenarios without prorogation, and there are also plausible deal scenarios.

Labour’s official shift in its Brexit position is of the same quality. The party now officially endorses a second referendum in case the Tories propose a deal, or indeed propose a no-deal Brexit. Labour said it would support Remain in that scenario. But this is largely irrelevant because there is no majority for a second referendum in this parliament in any case.

The party's position on what it would do if it came to power remains unchanged - negotiate a deal and put it to a referendum. There was an internal debate on whether Labour should officially support Remain even in that case, but that has yet to be decided. 

Irrelevant as both of these story lines are, they were topped in terms of irrelevance by last night's Tory leadership TV debate. Of course Johnson is going to be prime minister. There was never any doubt.

Our two most plausible Brexit scenarios are: a renegotiated - or dressed-up - deal under Johnson, supported by the Tory Party and a group of Labour rebels; or a pre-Brexit general election that pitches a more-or-less opaque Remain agenda from Labour against a Brexit-delivery agenda from the Tories. 

The no-deal Brexit is a possible outcome of the latter scenario. A no-election, no-deal outcome seems unlikely. 

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