Barnier urges Ankara to show restraint in Cyprus drilling spat

A handout picture provided by the Cypriot government's Press and Information Office (PIO) shows Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides (R), during a meeting with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (L), at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nicosia, Cyprus, 20 May 2019. [EPA-EFE/PIO HANDOUT]

The European Union has urged Turkey to show restraint and respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus in a dispute over exploiting energy wealth off the Mediterranean island.

During a visit to Cyprus, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier reiterated on Monday (20 May) the bloc’s backing for its southern member after it gave Turkey a stern message at a summit in Romania this month.

“We express grave concern over Turkey’s announced intention to carry out drilling activities within the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus,” Barnier told reporters in Nicosia.

“We urgently call on Turkey to show restraint, respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus… refrain from any such illegal action,” he added.

The senior EU official also suggested there would be consequences if Ankara persisted when saying the European Union “will respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus”.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades has slammed Turkey’s drilling bid inside Cyprus waters as a “new invasion” and garnered support from fellow European Union leaders.

The United States, Israel and Egypt have also come out against Turkey’s incursion into the island’s EEZ.

EU and US corner Ankara over ‘illegal’ drilling off Cyprus

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“Turkey’s actions, which are de-stabilising in the eastern Mediterranean region, have drawn broad condemnation from the international community,” Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides said after talks with Barnier.

He said Barnier was well aware of the need for the EU to “react collectively and decisively” to stop Turkey’s violation of a member state’s sovereign rights.

Turkey says that its actions abide by international law and that it’s drilling inside its continental shelf, but it does not recognise Cyprus as a sovereign or EU member state.

Cyprus has accelerated the development of offshore gas deposits and has signed deals with energy giants Eni, Total and ExxonMobil that have seen them carry out exploratory drilling.

US energy giant ExxonMobil discovered the largest natural gas reserve off the coast of Cyprus in February.

The “world-class discovery” is one of the largest finds worldwide in recent years with an estimated five to eight trillion cubic feet (141.5 to 226.5 cubic metres) of natural gas.

Turkey and the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government have overlapping claims of jurisdiction for offshore oil and gas research in the eastern Mediterranean.

Ankara argues that such exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the island’s natural wealth.

In February 2018, a drill ship for Italy’s Eni abandoned an attempt to search for gas off Cyprus after it was blocked by Turkish warships.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in February that Turkey would soon begin drilling for oil and gas near Cyprus.

In addition, Cypriot energy minister Yorgos Lakkotropis announced on Tuesday that Nicosia would conduct eight new oil and gas drillings within its Exclusive Economic Zone over the next two years.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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