EU describes Turkish row with Cyprus as ‘grave situation, backs Nicosia

“I believe we must be very firm when it coTurkey’s arrest of lawyers slammed as ‘intimidation’
es to defending the rights of all member states, including Cyprus”, said European Council chief Charles Michel
Wednesday 16/09/2020
A file picture shows the Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz being escorted by a Turkish Navy frigate in the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus. (REUTERS)
A file picture shows the Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz being escorted by a Turkish Navy frigate in the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus. (REUTERS)

NICOSIA/ STRASBOURG - European Council chief Charles Michel pledged Wednesday that the bloc will defend the rights of member state Cyprus in its standoff with Turkey over maritime and energy rights.

Michel’s visit to the island comes a day after Turkey said its Yavuz drillship would continue its search for oil and gas off Cyprus until October 12, despite international calls to withdraw.

The top EU official is in Cyprus ahead of an emergency meeting of EU leaders next week that will address Turkish actions in the Eastern Mediterranean with sanctions a distinct possibility.

“The European Union stands in solidarity with Cyprus as it faces a grave situation. That is why we have decided to call a summit on relations with Turkey,” Michel told reporters after meeting Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

“I believe we must be very firm when it comes to defending the rights of all member states, including Cyprus.”

Turkey, Greece and Cyprus have been locked in a dispute over offshore energy rights and maritime borders in the region, with Ankara infuriating the EU allies by sending research ships with naval escorts to work in contested waters.

Although Cyprus has been an EU member since 2004, its jurisdiction is not recognised by Turkey, which dismisses the island’s internationally recognised government as an exclusively Greek Cypriot administration.

There have been fears of conflict erupting and Cyprus is pressing the rest of the EU to impose fresh sanctions on Ankara over the drilling.

Michel said Brussels did not want to send the message that this was a dispute involving only Greece and Cyprus with Turkey as it affected the “rights of the EU.”

Cyprus’s president said Michel’s visit comes at an “extremely worrisome” time as “Turkey continues to violate our maritime zones” with “illegal” drilling.

He said the bloc should show its readiness to take action to protect its members’ rights.

“Respect for the sovereignty of all member states should remain a rule that no one can ignore or show contempt for,” Anastasiades said.

“As long as there are illegal actions against member states, the EU’s response should be immediate.”

European Union Council President Charles Michel, right, is greeted by Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades at the entrance of the Presidential Palace in the capital Nicosia, Cyprus, on September 16. (AP)
European Union Council President Charles Michel, right, is greeted by Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades at the entrance of the Presidential Palace in the capital Nicosia, Cyprus, on September 16. (AP)

Turkey said the Yavuz will be accompanied by three other Turkish ships, according to a maritime notice that added “all vessels are strongly advised not to enter” the area.

Nicosia said such maritime notices within its jurisdiction were illegal.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup in Nicosia seeking to unite the whole island with Greece.

A breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of the island is recognised only by Ankara.

Turkey insists that the minority community’s interests must be protected and has called for the exploitation of offshore oil and gas reserves to be put off until an agreement on reunifying the island has been reached in UN-backed talks.

Also on Wednesday, the European Commission’s president said the EU’s distance with Turkey “is growing.”

Ursula von der Leyen, who took over as EU chief last year promising to make the bloc more “geopolitical,” said the EU needed to take “clear and swift” foreign policy decisions instead of getting bogged down in internal horse-trading.

She used her annual State of the EU speech to warn Turkey not to bully Greece and Cyprus over energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“Turkey is and will always be an important neighbour, but while we are close together on the map, the distance between us appears to be growing,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament.

“Yes, Turkey is in a troubled neighbourhood. And yes, it is hosting millions of refugees, for which we support them with considerable funding. But none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours”.