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.