Ιf Turkey doesn’t dial down its aggression in the Eastern Mediterranean, it should lose its status as a candidate for EU accession, President Nicos Anastasiades has told Politico.
Turkey’s oil and gas exploration off the coast of Cyprus, described by the EU as illegal because it infringes upon the island’s exclusive economic zone, is a step too far, he added.
The President said that “either they are compliant with the terms and conditions of any other candidate country, otherwise they could not be either a candidate or accepted.” He added that although “we are in favour of having Turkey as a member state of the European Union, we prefer to have a European neighbour rather than to have an aggressive state like Turkey is behaving.”
Adding more names to the sanctions list “is one of the alternatives” available, said the Cypriot president.
However he added: “I believe that as the EU we are left with no other option than to address the whole spectrum of EU- Turkey relations.”
And a decision to formally stop the accession talks is “one of the steps we can take in order to send a strong message to Turkey, although I’d prefer to have a peaceful solution,” he noted.
In October, Turkish Cypriots will go to the polls and, if Mustafa Akıncı is re-elected leader, reunification talks between the two sides of the island can “definitely” resume, Anastasiades said.
He added that, as a way to fairly divide revenue from the massive natural gas deposits thought to lie off the coast of Cyprus, and de-escalate tensions with Turkey, he has offered Turkish Cypriots a share of gas revenues if Ankara recognizes Nicosia’s energy exploration rights.
“I’m ready to open an escrow account in favour of the Turkish Cypriot community, according to the population ratio,” he said. “And if Turkey stops the aggressiveness, and recognises the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus, I’m ready to accept, even without finding a solution to the Cyprus question, to give the right to the Turkish Cypriots to benefit by withdrawing … any proceeds which might be the result of the exploitation of the natural resources.”
Turkey is now also playing a key role in Libya, where it is supporting the U.N.-led government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, but don’t be fooled, Anastasiades warned.
“On the one hand, they are saying that they are trying to stop the negative situation in Libya, but at the same time they are giving so many headaches to the surrounding countries [by] violating their sovereign rights and international law.”
He said this included “putting in doubt the sovereign rights of Greece” by planning to expand oil and gas exploration to other areas of the Mediterranean Sea.
“Despite our repeated requests for effective solidarity and notwithstanding the measures we have taken at national level, Cyprus remains the top receiving EU member state regarding first-time asylum applications in proportion to its population,” Anastasiades said.
With the European Commission about to put forward a new proposal on migration, it “remains to see what the northern partners and friends … mean by solidarity.”
Yet he described as “excellent” the decisions taken by the EU to tackle the coronavirus crisis, including a €750 billion recovery fund. “Most of the countries are in agreement” with the EU proposals, he added.
Among the EU measures is a new credit line set up by the ESM for the health care sector. Asked if Cyprus would make us of it he noted: “If we are in need, yes.”
It may not need to as Cyprus has escaped the worst of the coronavirus with 960 positive cases he noted which permits once again to promote Cyprus as an attractive and safe tourist destination.
There will be controls on tourism, he said, but the government “will cover all costs for anyone testing positive for the coronavirus while on vacation, such as lodging, food, drink and medication, including their families.” Plus, a “100-bed hospital will cater exclusively foreign travellers who test positive while 500 places … in hotels will be reserved for patients and family members.”
Outside the EU, Anastasiades said “the whole European family is worried” about the situation in the U.S. in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after being pinned down by a police officer’s knee to the neck for nearly nine minutes. “Unfortunately in the States after so many centuries we are still facing racism,” he said.
When it comes to China, he rejected accusations that the EU has been too soft after Beijing’s move to strengthen its grip on Hong Kong.
“The European Commission and the European institutions have wisely behaved by facing the challenges with an understanding … that instead of creating enemies it is much better to see how we can find ways how to cooperate. Dialogue is the best tool to find solutions,” he said.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third. Turkey has ignored numerous UN resolutions calling for the withdrawal of the Turkish troops and respect of the integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus. Repeated rounds of UN-led peace talks have so far failed to yield results. The last round of negotiations, in the summer of 2017, at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana ended inconclusively.
Turkey issued a navigational telex (navtex), announcing its intention to start drilling off Cyprus and since 4 May 2019, the Turkish drill ship “Fatih” is anchored 36 nautical miles west of Akamas peninsula. The area falls within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf of the Republic of Cyprus. Ankara extended the navtex until November 1, 2019.
A second Turkish drill ship, “Yavuz”, was anchored off the island’s north-eastern coast on July 8 and operates within the territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus.
In response, EU Foreign Ministers endorsed on 15 July 2019 measures concerning Turkey’s illegal drilling in the EEZ of Cyprus, deciding, among others, to suspend negotiations with Ankara on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement and postpone the Association Council and other EU-Turkey meetings. Moreover, the Council reduced the pre-accession assistance to Turkey for 2020 and invited the European Investment Bank to review its lending activities in the country.
In accordance with the 20 June 2019, European Council conclusions, Foreign Ministers also invited the High Representative and the Commission to continue working on options for targeted measures in light of Turkey’s continued drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.