East Med: Greece, Cyprus seek more EU pressure to stop Turkey

The EU has to date failed to persuade Ankara to stop exploring in waters disputed by Greece and Cyprus.

A view of Turkey's research vessel, Oruc Reis anchored off the coast of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey [Burhan Ozbilici/AP]

Greece and Cyprus pushed for a tougher European Union response to Turkey’s natural gas exploration in contested Mediterranean waters at an EU summit on Friday after Ankara restarted operations of a survey ship.

Two weeks after their last summit where leaders discussed economic sanctions, the EU has so far failed to persuade Ankara to stop exploring in waters disputed by Greece and Cyprus.

Turkey said on Wednesday it was restarting operations of a survey ship that it withdrew last month.

“I sincerely hope that we will be able to strongly and unanimously support Greece and Cyprus against the newest provocations made by Turkey,” Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa told reporters as he arrived at the summit.

France and Germany said earlier this week Turkey had only “weeks” to revise its stance and stop what they also said were provocations but declined to give a strong ultimatum as Athens and Nicosia would like.

EU leaders had agreed on October 2 to give Turkey until early December before considering economic sanctions and Germany, which has so far led diplomatic talks with Ankara, wants to give dialogue a chance because of close EU-Turkey trade ties.

“There will be an effort to give a strong warning [to Turkey],” a senior EU diplomat said.

Cyprus is frustrated that, in addition to the Turkish exploration ship off a Greek island, Turkey has sent another vessel to Cyprus’s economic zone to conduct seismic surveys.

EU member Cyprus is also furious that Turkish Cypriot authorities have partially reopened the beach town of Varosha, a former resort area fenced off and abandoned in no man’s land since a 1974 Turkish invasion that split the island.

“Turkey remains consistent in its provocative and aggressive behaviour,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday in Brussels.

Turkey maintains Greece has no right to oppose its work 15km (9.3 miles) from its mainland in the eastern Mediterranean and on its continental shelf.

In a statement this week, Turkey’s foreign ministry said the activity range was “fully within Turkish continental shelf”.

“It is unacceptable for there to be opposition against our country, which has the longest coastline to the eastern Mediterranean, operating 15km from its mainland,” it said, adding Greece’s criticisms were “baseless accusations with no standing in international law”.

“Our expectation from Greece is for it to withdraw its maximalist claims that are contrary to international law … put an end to its exercises and military activities that increase tensions in the Aegean and the Mediterranean, and to enter into a sincere dialogue with us.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies