Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 September 2020

EU to sanction Turkey over eastern Mediterranean drilling

The trading bloc has been attempting to mediate Turkey's ongoing dispute with Greece and Cyprus

The conflict started after Turkey sent the Oruc Reis to carry out seismic research in waters off eastern Greek islands. AFP
The conflict started after Turkey sent the Oruc Reis to carry out seismic research in waters off eastern Greek islands. AFP

The EU has said it will seek “rapid” sanctions against individuals linked to Turkish drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

At the conclusion of a two-day meeting of European foreign ministers on Friday, the bloc’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said that the EU council had shown a consensus to extend sanctions against a number of individuals suggested by Cyprus.

“There is a growing frustration in the face of Turkey's behaviour,” Mr Borrell said. “The council expressed a political consensus to ask the relevant council working groups to speed up their work in order to add individuals suggested by Cyprus.”

The foreign policy high representative explained that sanctions against the individuals, who would be added to an existing list, had been recommended “with a view to rapid adoption”.

The meeting of EU council foreign ministers in Berlin has followed weeks of attempts to mediate the ongoing dispute between Turkey on one side and the EU member states of Greece and Cyprus on the other.

Mr Borrell said Brussels would look to resume dialogue with Ankara but stressed that further measures could be adopted if a resolution was not forthcoming.

"We agree, in the absence of further progress with Turkey, we could develop a list of further restrictive measures that could be discussed at the next European Council on the 24th September,” he said.

These measures could be brought against vessels, or stop Turkish access to European ports. Economic sanctions have also not been taken off the table. Greece, which has borne the brunt of recent Turkish aggression, has called for sectoral sanctions to hit the already ailing Turkish economy.

Decades old disputes, between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey in the region, intensified by the discovery of rich hydrocarbon deposits in the eastern Mediterranean, have escalated in recent weeks.

The standoff over maritime borders restarted after Turkey sent its survey vessel, the Oruc Reis, to carry out seismic research in waters off eastern Greek islands.

Map shows competing maritime borders according to agreements made by Athens and Cairo, Tripoli and Ankara
Map shows competing maritime borders according to agreements made by Athens and Cairo, Tripoli and Ankara

Greece and the EU have said that Turkey's exploration operations in the area are illegal. Turkey has said it should have access to waters on the islands because they lie on its continental shelf.

The Oruc Reis was accompanied by half a dozen Turkish warships. The majority of the Greek naval fleet has been put on alert since the research vessel’s arrival.

The two sides have come to the brink of a full-on naval clash at least once but climbed down after the intervention of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany has spearheaded negotiation efforts with Turkey. Speaking in Berlin also on Friday, Ms Merkel stressed the need for dialogue with Ankara and emphasised the role Nato had to play in reconciling its three members.

It remains to be seen what effect sanctions will have on Turkey. In November, the EU unveiled a system for imposing sanctions on Turkish companies or officials involved in drilling off Cyprus.

They include travel bans and asset freezes for people involved in the unauthorised exploration.

In February Brussels introduced its first sanctions against Turkish state petroleum company officials Mehmet Ferruh Akalin and Ali Coscun Namoglu.

Updated: August 28, 2020 08:09 PM

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