EU threatens Turkey over ‘illegal’ drilling off Cyprus

Jean-Claude Juncker declares full solidarity with Cyprus over Turkish encroachment

A view of the drilling ship 'Yavuz' scheduled to be dispatched to the Mediterranean, at the port of Dilovasi, outside Istanbul, Thursday, June 20, 2019. Turkish officials say the drillship Yavuz will be dispatched to an area off Cyprus to drill for gas. The Cyprus government says Turkey’s actions contravene international law and violate Cypriot sovereign rights. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
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The European Union has slammed Turkey’s “illegal” drilling off the coast of Cyprus and threatened “targeted measures” if it does not stop.

On Thursday, Ankara launched a second drilling ship to conduct natural gas operations northeast of Cyprus in a disputed area.

Both Turkey and the recognised government in Cyprus, who do not have diplomatic relations, have overlapping claims in the reputedly gas-rich area.

The European Council recalled and reiterated previous statements “strongly condemning Turkey’s illegal actions in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.”

“The EU will continue to closely monitor developments and stands ready to respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus.”

The statement also threatened “targeted measures”: EU code for possible travel bans and asset freezes of Turkish companies and individuals involved in the drilling.

One senior EU official cited by Reuters said that, aside from sanctions, one option was to end talks with Turkey over extending a customs union, which already allows tariff-free trade with the EU for industrial goods but not services or agriculture.

Another option could be formally suspending Turkey’s status as an official candidate to become a member of the European Union, although talks have been frozen for over a year.

“The European Council underlines the serious immediate negative impact that such illegal actions have across the range of EU-Turkey relations,” said the statement.

Ankara argues that certain areas in Cyprus’s offshore maritime zone fall under the jurisdiction of Turkey or of Turkish Cypriots, who have their own breakaway state in the north of the island.

“Turkey will continue its operations in its own continental shelf and in areas where the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has licensed Turkiye Petrolleri without stopping,” said Turkey’s energy minister Fatih Donmez.

“We are warning actors from outside the region that are forming cooperations with Cyprus: Do not chase illusions that will yield no results,” he added. He was speaking ahead of the launch of the vessel that will reach a depth of 3,300 metre in a borehole near Cyprus’ Karpas Peninsula