COREPER, the body of the permanent representatives of EU member-states, failed to agree on Wednesday on the measures the Union would take against Turkey for its illegal drilling in the Cypriot EEZ. There was no unanimity, a diplomatic source in Brussels said, so there would be another meeting on Thursday to try to reach consensus among all states.
Achieving consensus was always going to be difficult, with some of the bigger member states concerned about the measures creating problems to their relations with Ankara. This was evident at last month’s meeting of the foreign ministers, at which Nicos Christodoulides reportedly threatened to veto the EU enlargement process to secure agreement on examining the possibility of imposing measures on Turkey. Even if he had not resorted to such a threat, the overriding impression was that there had been disagreements before finalising the text of the decision forwarded to the European Council.
Similar disagreements appeared to have surfaced at Tuesday’s Coreper meeting which discussed the full list of measures put together by the Commission and the European External Action Service, which included the freezing of pre-accession assistance and the suspension of high-level meetings between the EU and Turkey. An outline of possible sanctions against companies co-operating with Turkey’s drilling operations were also included, but these would be considered at a later stage and would require the unanimous backing of the European Council.
The fact that some measures have been proposed is a victory for the government. Even though these are innocuous and will not stop Turkey’s drilling in the Cypriot EEZ, they constitute a definite political stand by the EU against Turkey, nothing more. One party on Wednesday described the measures as “unsatisfactory and disappointing” saying that they would “not incur a cost for Turkey in a way that would force it to change policy and comply with international law.”
How naïve it is to think there was a chance in a million the EU would impose such tough sanctions that Turkey would withdraw its drillships from the Cypriot EEZ. Apart from trade links, Turkey is host to 3.5 million refugees who would otherwise invade EU countries. There is no way the EU would take measure that would threaten to end its agreement with Turkey over the refugees, so we should be content if Coreper approves some anodyne measures.
The Cyprus government and especially Christodoulides had raised expectations, feeding media with information about seeking sanctions, like those imposed on Russia for the annexation of Crimea, but that is not going to happen.