By Stefanos Evripidou
PRESIDENT Nicos Anastasiades was forced to pull out of a key EU summit yesterday after suffering continuous nose bleeds, a result of high blood pressure, requiring him to spend the night in a Brussels hospital.
The Cypriot delegation, headed by 68-year-old Anastasiades, went to the Belgian capital with the specific aim of convincing EU partners to strongly condemn Turkey’s violations of Cypriot sovereignty in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Turkey’s seismic research vessel Barbaros continued its work uninterrupted yesterday in Cyprus’ EEZ, accompanied by two support ships and Turkish warships, one of which is monitoring ENI’s exploratory drilling in its offshore concession block 9.
Ankara says if the Barbaros finds evidence of gas, it will send a drilling rig to the area. The navigational telex (NAVTEX) issued by Turkey earlier this month reserved large swathes of Cyprus’ EEZ for seismic studies from October 20 to December 30.
The Turkish leadership argues hydrocarbon resources belong to both communities in Cyprus and appears to suggest joint management of the gas before joint management of the island can be agreed.
The president had two forums- the European People’s Party (EPP) summit and the European Council- to sound the alarm at Ankara’s increasingly aggressive energy ambitions, as well as defend his own decision to pull out of UN-sponsored peace talks as a result.
The focus of the EU leaders’ summit was expected to be climate change policy and the economy, but Anastasiades saw it as an opportunity to rally support for Cyprus, which has pledged to use diplomatic, legal and political measures against a bullish Turkey that is viewed by many in the west as a difficult yet necessary ally in the fight against jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
As EU leaders gathered in Brussels to attend the Council meeting, Anastasiades was taken to hospital in the morning complaining of constant nose bleeds. Doctors diagnosed him with high blood pressure.
After being treated, he was discharged and advised to remain in bed for the next 48 hours to avoid a recurrence of the symptoms.
Anastasiades called European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and EPP leader Joseph Daul, informing them that he will not be able to attend the EPP Summit or the European Council. He said he would, however, give his views in writing, to be distributed at both meetings.
According to government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides, the president relayed Cyprus’ views on Turkey’s actions, as outlined in the recent National Council meeting, to both Van Rompuy and Daul.
The spokesman said the changes brought about by the Treaty of Lisbon only allow a head of state or government to attend a European Council meeting.
Anastasiades is both for Cyprus. In such cases, an EU leader has the power to authorise another member of the European Council to represent him at the EU summit. Anastasiades passed the torch to Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, in the hope he would help drum up support for a tougher stance against Ankara’s actions.
Samaras visited Anastasiades at his Brussels hotel where the two coordinated their positions ahead of the EPP summit and two-day European Council, which started yesterday.
By late afternoon, the president was admitted for a second time to a Brussels hospital, this one specialising in Ear, Nose and Throat ailments, to undergo a nasal cauterisation.
Christodoulides said the president’s health was in “good condition”, adding that it was his personal choice to remain in hospital overnight for “purely precautionary reasons”.
He stressed that reports Anastasiades’ health had deteriorated were unfounded.
Meanwhile, Anastasiades had to cancel a scheduled meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron on the sidelines of the EU summit.
According to public broadcaster CyBC, Cameron asked to be informed on the president’s health from the Greek PM while Van Rompuy said he would visit Anastasiades in hospital today.
It remains to be seen whether Anastasiades’ positions, forwarded by Samaras, will suffice to convince the European Council to rattle Ankara’s cage over its walkabout in Cypriot offshore blocks.
In an interview with Bloomberg last week in Milan, Anastasiades threatened to veto any EU push to expand or prolong sanctions against Russia over its encroachment in Ukraine unless the EU took a stronger stand against Turkey’s provocations in Cyprus.
The CyBC’s Brussels correspondent said last night that so far, the Council’s draft conclusions, to be finalised today, express the EU’s deep concern over the increase of tension in the eastern Med and call on Turkey to respect Cyprus’ sovereign rights. The draft statement says the Council considers it more important than ever to reach a comprehensive solution to the benefit of all Cypriots.
Speaking to the press from Brussels, Christodoulides said: “We expect from our EU partners to send a very strong message to Turkey, so that it terminates its illegal actions in the region, which unfortunately continue.”
According to Cyprus Mail sources, the government’s main supporter at the EU summit is Germany.
An article by German paper Die Welt’s Istanbul correspondent Boris Kalnoky, published online yesterday, suggests Turkey has invested in an ambitious and expansive programme to beef up its navy in recent years with the aim of securing a share of the natural resources in the eastern Med. The paper writes that Cyprus will seek to block Turkey’s EU negotiations in response to the gunboat diplomacy used by Ankara to push its claims on hydrocarbon deposits in the region.
Meanwhile, CyBC reported that Italy, whose ENI energy company has licences for three Cypriot blocks, is also very concerned about Turkey stirring tensions in the eastern Med.
The UK, however, appears to take the view that strong statements against Turkey would only serve to stoke the fire and push the sides further away from resuming peace negotiations.
On Wednesday, the UK Foreign Office said the UK refused to support an EU demarche at the UN against Turkey’s incursion into Cyprus’ EEZ because it risked raising tensions and frustrating peace talks.
The UK’s view was reportedly supported by Sweden and Finland.
The Cypriot government argues that resuming peace talks is a priority, but as long as the Barbaros is sailing off the southern coast of Cyprus, and the NAVTEX continues to be in effect, making direct talks seem increasingly unlikely before December 30.
Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu yesterday wished Anastasiades a speedy recovery, adding that he expected him to return to the negotiating table after his illness.
Speaking after a meeting with Turkish Cypriot parties, Eroglu accused the Greek Cypriots of seeking too much territory in the now frozen peace negotiations.