THE GOVERNMENT raised a big fuss about the comments made by Britain’s minister for Europe Sir Alan Duncan, about planned Turkish drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ. UK-Cypriot MP Bambos Charalambous had called on parliament to condemn Turkey’s actions in the Cypriot EEZ to which Sir Alan responded by saying that areas “under dispute” should not be drilled.
While the minister was effectively endorsing the Cyprus government’s view that Turkey should not be carrying out exploratory drilling 60 km west of Paphos, he uses the wrong reason to support his position. Our government does not accept that this part of the sea is a disputed area, because under Cypriot law the outer limit of the country’s EEZ stretches to a distance of 200 nautical miles from its territorial waters. There are legal technicalities to resolve in relation to the specific area in which Turkey sent its drillship, which are related to the absence of a delimitation agreement with a neighbouring country and the Cyprus government’s failure to formally submit coordinates for the north part of its EEZ west of the island. This was done only after the arrival of the Fatih drillship.
As energy analyst Charles Ellinas told this paper on Wednesday, “it is not just a matter of defining it [EEZ], there is a need for negotiations.” These are all legal arguments that neither Sir Alan bothered going into when expressing his government’s position, nor President Anastasiades when firing his broadside at the British minister on Tuesday night. He said Sir Alan “has been and remains unacceptable,” expressing the hope that “the appropriate step will be taken by the [UK] prime minister,” as his position did not reflect the correct policy that should be followed by Britain.
On Wednesday morning, the British High Commissioner was called to the foreign ministry, where presumably representations were made to him, while Anastasiades continued his public attack at a social gathering on Wednesday night. Sir Alan’s comments were undiplomatic, but not very different from the statement issued earlier in the month by the US State Department which referred to Turkey’s “offshore drilling operations in an area claimed by the Republic of Cyprus as its Exclusive Economic Zone.”
The Anastasiades government had every right to take up Sir Alan’s comments with the British government, but was there any need to turn the matter into a public spectacle? This gave the impression that Anastasiades was more interested in pandering to public opinion than treating the matter in a rational, diplomatic way. Nothing is solved by grandstanding and knee-jerk reactions that are out of proportion. It is not as if the British Foreign Office is an internationally recognised adjudicator of EEZ disputes between countries or has the power to impose its views on them.