EU Signals Sanctions on Ankara over Drilling Off Cyprus
The European Union will put on hold high-level talks with Ankara and negotiations on an air transport agreement, as well as freeze funding for Turkey next year, over "illegal" drilling for gas and oil in the waters off Cyprus, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters.
The joint EU decision, which may still be changed, will be discussed among national envoys in Brussels on Thursday with the aim of adopting it when the bloc's foreign ministers meet on Monday.
"In light of Turkey's continued and new illegal drilling activities, the (EU) decides to suspend negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement and agrees not to hold further meetings of the high-level dialogues for the time being," the draft said.
"The Council endorses the (European) Commission's proposal to reduce the pre-accession assistance to Turkey for 2020 and invites the European Investment Bank to review its lending activities in Turkey, notably with regard to sovereign-backed lending," it said.
It added that the EU would be ready to introduce more restrictive measures against Turkey should it continue with the drilling.
The discovery of huge gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has sparked a dispute between EU member Cyprus and Turkey, which last month sent a second ship, the Yavuz, to search for oil and gas in the region.
"The drilling activities of our ship Yavuz are based on legal and legitimate grounds," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
In May, Ankara sent the ship Fatih into Cyprus' exclusive economic zone to begin drilling there, while the Yavuz was deployed last month to search for oil and gas to the east.
The European Council said on Monday it was considering "appropriate measures" and would respond "in full solidarity with Cyprus" in light of the second exploration.
The United States and Egypt also joined a chorus of criticism this week.