The European Union should make Turkey understand that in the 21st, century gunboat diplomacy has no place, Kornelios Korneliou, Permanent Representative of Cyprus to the EU told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview. In October, Turkey sent naval vessels specialising in seismic exploration, into Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone, without permission.
Ambassador Kornelios Korneliou is a career diplomat. He has chaired Coreper II during the Cyprus presidency of the EU in 2012, has been ambassador to France and UNESCO and has served in the United Nations, OSCE, Austria and Germany.
He spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.
Can you describe the current state of affairs, following the exploration by Turkish ships of the Exclusive Economic Zone, and their impact on the reunification talks?
Since the 1990s, Cyprus has initiated bilateral talks with all the countries of our region. These led to bilateral agreements with Israel, Lebanon and Egypt, and on the basis of those agreements we started our drilling activities to find gas [in the Cyprus exclusive economic zone]. In 2011, we found the first gas reserves, on the border [of the Exclusive Economic Zone] between Cyprus and Israel. We continued these drilling activities in 2014. For the first time, we saw a different tone in the reaction of Turkey and we should not forget that these activities take place in the southern part of the Cyprus exclusive economic zone, at the border between Cyprus-Israel, Cyprus-Lebanon and Cyprus-Egypt.
There is no relevance in the Turkish actions in a political or a legal context. That’s why the President of Cyprus, Nikos Anastasiades, suspended participation in the talks to solve the Cyprus problem.
The political will is there, but Turkey’s illegal reactions, and I’m underlining illegal, because that is the position of the international community, including the EU, tied Anastasiades’ hands.
You cannot take Turkey to court?
First of all, Turkey is not party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). So Turkey has its own view regarding the International law of the Sea. We are ready to take any action that would lead to deescalation.
But as I was saying, the political will is there, and despite the fact that President Anastasiades suspended his participation at the talks, he made a gesture, and accepted to discuss all pending issues in relation to the energy prospects at the end of the negotiations with the Turkish Cypriot community.
What was the support offered to Cyprus by the EU? There was an EU summit which President Anastasiades couldn’t attend, because he was ill. But EU leaders adopted conclusions on the issue. Was that satisfactory for Cyprus?
The message of the EU was loud and clear, (and) also from the European Parliament, the General Affairs Council conclusions on Turkey. But this is not enough. Because what we are talking about here is not only about the security of Cyprus. We are talking about values that unite us and make us stronger as the European Union. And if the European Union remains a mere spectator in a situation that was created in its own house by a guest of the European Union, this can be a very dangerous precedent.
How do Cypriots feel about this?
The Cypriots feel very embarrassed and very angry about this situation. (Since) they belong to a European Union which represents these values, if they don’t see (or) feel the same degree of solidarity from the EU on an issue of vital importance, of national interest to them, you can understand their disappointment.
You mentioned Ukraine. Obviously the current Ukraine crisis and EU sanctions against Russia create economic problems for Cyprus. Have they been evaluated? Do you know how much you are losing?
It’s difficult to establish the real loss. But I mentioned Ukraine deliberately. We have a different starting point in our relationship with Russia. We are in a different neighbourhood. We never had problems with the former Soviet Union or with Russia, and for that reason I mentioned this example. Still, this strong relationship was not a problem in participating in the consensus of the European Union, as far as the violation of international law is concerned. And we will stick to this position. This will not change.
But at the same time, it should be acknowledged by our partners that this was not an easy process for the Cypriots. Because I’m talking about economic interests and issues that have an impact on the people of Cyprus.
Regarding Turkey, what would you like the EU to do in addition? To completely stop the accession talks?
The European Union should make Turkey understand that in the 21st century, gunboat diplomacy has no place. And that issues, differences can be solved at the negotiating table. And that we can solve those issues in a dialogue. The European Union should make Turkey understand that here we need deescalation. Because only in normal conditions can we go back to the negotiating table and find solutions, and solve the Cyprus problem.
Is there a coincidence between the incursions of Turkish ships in your country’s exclusive economic zone and the timetable for reunification talks with the Turkish Cypriot community? Is Turkey trying to derail them?
There is a non-welcome scenario that Turkey is no longer interested in having a solution to the Cyprus problem, and for that reason she is behaving the way she does these days in our exclusive economic zone. On the other hand, it’s difficult to read the signals we are getting from Turkey.
The new Turkish government of Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu is underlining its new EU strategy, and on the other hand they are behaving the way they do in the waters of the European Union. Because the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus is the exclusive economic zone of a member of the EU. And the approach of Davuto?lu’s government, especially judging from the fact that he visited Brussels and never pronounced the name of Cyprus, I would call this a very short-sighted approach. Because any progress in this area, in the relationship between the EU and Turkey, is based and will be based on progress in solving different issues with Cyprus, which are not Cypriot problems, but EU problems. They are EU obligations, included in the Negotiating Framework with Turkey.
Is deescalation with Russia possible? What are your feelings following the so-called strategic discussion which took place at the ministerial level, led by foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini?
At this stage, maybe you cannot see this happening. But definitely, if we have certain developments on the ground, this could lead very quickly to deescalation. But the precondition is to have first developments on the ground. You know the position of the EU on the need to implement the Minsk agreement. So we need certain signals coming from Russia in that regard.
If the Minsk agreement is implemented, does it mean that the sanctions against Russia will be lifted, except for the sanctions concerning Crimea?
If we have some positive signals, then of course the EU is ready to look at different options.
Both Turkey and Russia often play a positive role in several crisis areas. I’m thinking of Russia’s mediation in the Syrian crisis, and Turkish support to hundreds of thousands of refugees. Do you acknowledge that contribution by Turkey?
Of course, we acknowledge the important role Turkey is playing as far as the Syrian refugees are concerned. But at the same time, we acknowledge that Turkey is looking into the Syrian conflict from its own angle, and that hasn’t been very helpful. If we want to be objective here, yes, congratulations to Turkey for its generosity and hospitality. But at the same time, Turkey should not limit itself to its own national angle, as far as the solution of the Syrian conflict is concerned.