European Union leaders will ask for the preparation of additional sanctions against Turkey over the country’s drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, according to a draft of European Council summit conclusions seen by POLITICO.
Tensions between the EU and Ankara have been rising over Turkey’s prospecting operation for natural gas in disputed waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
In a move intended to increase pressure on Ankara to stop the drilling, the document “invites the Council to prepare additional listings” on the existing mechanism to sanction Turkish officials over the activity. Last month the Council extended for one year the sanctions that currently target two individuals.
“Turkish unilateral and provocative activities in the Eastern Mediterranean are still taking place, including in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone [which extends 200 nautical miles from the coast],” the draft text that leaders are expected to agree at a meeting in Brussels on Thursday reads.
The document also paves the way for broader deterrence measures. It calls on the Council “if need be, [to] work on the extension of the Decision’s scope.” According to a senior EU diplomat, a possible option is to make EU ports and services inaccessible to Turkish vessels involved in the explorations in the contested waters. The text also notes the withdrawal of the Turkish vessel Oruç Reis from its seismic exploration activities in the disputed zone, adding that the European Council “trusts that this will be sustained so as to allow for the early resumption of direct exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey.”
The draft, which was discussed by EU ambassadors on Wednesday could still be changed, according to an EU diplomat. But by launching the process for new sanctions, the intention is to give other options a chance to work, said a third EU diplomat: “It’s also a way to gain some time, to give diplomacy some more space.”
To that end, the document stresses that “the offer for a positive EU-Turkey agenda remains on the table, should Turkey wish to promote a genuine partnership with the [European] Union and its Member States,” referring to the relaunch for example of talks on the modernization of the EU-Turkey customs union. “The EU is also willing to continue providing financial assistance to supporting hosting Syrian refugees in Turkey,” according to the text.
At their summit in October, EU leaders discussed how to react to Turkey’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean. They gave Turkey until this month’s leaders meeting to ease tensions and warned of the risk of new sanctions. But in the meantime, Turkey has until recently resumed its seismic explorations in the contested waters (after stopping them a few days before the October summit).
Ankara has also reignited tensions in Cyprus last month, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called for a “two-state” solution for the island, which has been divided since Turkey’s 1974 invasion, instead of the federalist solution supported by the EU and the U.N.
Greece, Cyprus and France pushed for a stronger EU stance at that summit, while others including Spain and Italy stressed that they didn’t want to escalate tensions with a NATO member and EU accession country that is also a key trade partner. Ankara also plays a key role in managing onward migration from Syria to the EU and now plays an important role in Libya from where many migrants depart.