There has been a lot to digest ahead of the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting tomorrow and the European Council meeting on Thursday when Turkey-EU relations will be back on the agenda.
Cyprus has been pushing hard for some real measures from the EU for a long time over Turkey’s illegal drilling in the island’s EEZ, but Brussels has been beating around the bush.
High Representative Josep Borrell has just done the rounds in Athens, Ankara and Nicosia and judging by his statements on Monday, Cyprus should not expect too much from Brussels.
Clearly getting the message that the EU is set on keeping Turkey engaged, President Nicos Anastasiades on Tuesday called on the bloc to think about what problems could arise if it continues tolerate what he called Turkish audacity.
He said Turkey was a “troublemaker” that was seeking to bring the whole of the eastern Mediterranean under its control. He is not wrong. Turkey is proceeding with its Libya deal, which foresees more drilling that further impacts the rights of Cyprus and Greece.
With Ankara’s stance softening not one bit, and even with France backing Greece and Cyprus ahead of the Council meeting, the prospects of any tough measures from the EU against Turkey are slim.
After Borrell’s visit to Cyprus his spokesman said Brussels’ aim was to discuss “how to continue our engagement with Turkey in order to achieve the change of the behaviour and actions and statements in this regard”.
Judging by the comments from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu after meeting Borrell on Monday, Ankara is not willing to give an inch other than to perhaps talk to Brussels if it acts as an “honest broker”. Outside of that, its position on “unilateral drilling” by the Greek Cypriots and its continued “protection of the rights of the Turkish Cypriots” remains the same.
The Turkish minister also warned that any decisions taken against Ankara during the forthcoming EU meetings would not resolve the existing problems but deepen them and “we will have to respond”.
Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots have long demanded either a moratorium on Cyprus’ drilling or joint management of hydrocarbons prior to a Cyprus solution, both of which the Cyprus government rejects.
Earlier in the week, outgoing Energy Minister Yiorkos Lakkotrypis again ruled it out saying that if Cyprus declared a moratorium in its EEZ, due to any challenges from Turkey or the Turkish Cypriots, it would be the end of the island’s energy prospects for good.
Lakkotrypis cited contractual obligations with the companies licensed to operate in the island. He said another five to eight drillings were planned for 2021 as those set for 2020 were delayed due to the pandemic.
Despite his comments, there are no guarantees the energy giants will just pick up where they left off. Industry experts say those operating in the region would have to reassess their plans based on commercial viability going forward in the wake of the fall-off in demand for gas due to the economic effects of the pandemic. There is also growing pressure on these companies to move towards greener energy as part of the Great Reset put forward by the global financial institutions.
In the end there may be no hydrocarbons prospects at all for Cyprus and its efforts to cultivate relations in energy security with Israel and the US could also turn to dust given the strings attached.
Israel has already asked Cyprus to be its buffer in the EU when it comes to its planned annexation of the West Bank, a request sensibly declined by the foreign ministry.
Now Washington, in another new development this week, has brought into play the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019, which involves providing military training to the armies of both Cyprus and Greece from 2021.
At first glance this might be seen as a way to get the US onside against Turkey, but the main thrust of the act is actually to distance Cyprus from Russia in order to knock back its influence in the region.
Washington’s relationship with Turkey, as the US ambassador made clear last week was “complicated” and it was important to continue to engage with Ankara in a way “that keeps Turkey anchored to the West”. Russia also has a complicated relationship with Turkey and though it has done little to help the Cyprob, it sends us a lot of money and tourists.
It is apparent, therefore, that whichever end of the equation Cyprus chooses to align itself with, it is set to lose something and will remain on its own for the most part when it comes to dealing with Ankara. Added to that, the grandiose notion of being a regional player could also come to nothing if economics dictate any more suspensions in its drilling plans.