Turkey accuses EU of bias over oil drilling in Cypriot waters

Erdogan vows to protect Turkish Cypriot rights and to continue drilling

Turkey has rejected European Union charges that its oil and gas drilling in Cypriot waters are violations of international law and accused Brussels of bias.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday his country was not conducting operations in anyone else's area and vowed to protect Turkish Cypriot rights and to continue drilling.

In a statement, the Turkish foreign ministry said it was protecting its continental shelf rights in the eastern Mediterranean and would continue to defend Turkish Cypriots’ rights and interests around the island.

Ankara was responding to an EU decision to cut financial aid to Turkey by €145.8 million for next year and initiate other punitive measures against it for violating Cyprus's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which corresponds to the island's continental shelf.


While the sum amounts to a fraction of the €4.4 billion allocated to Turkey for 2014-2020, the reduction symbolises EU dissatisfaction with Turkey and is part of a package of measures. These include re-evaluating European Investment Bank’s loans to Turkey (€385.8 million in 2018), the suspension of meetings between senior EU figures and Turkish officials, and targeted sanctions against Turkish and foreign firms and persons involved in illegal Turkish drilling.

Turkish Petroleum’s Fatih drill ship began operations in May in the western sector of Cyprus’s internationally-recognised EEZ. On Monday a second ship, Yavuz, anchored off the island’s east coast in preparation for drilling into the seabed of the northern third of the island occupied by Turkey in 1974 following a botched coup by the Athens junta.

Licensed to drill

Ankara claims Yavuz has been licensed to drill by the Turkish Cypriot administration, which seeks to benefit from the island’s offshore oil and gas resources. The EU does not recognise the Turkish Cypriot entity in the north, which is recognised only by Turkey.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said Turkey's intention of starting a second drilling operation was an "unacceptable escalation which violates the sovereignty of Cyprus". After urging Turkey to refrain from such activities, she said, "Turkey's continued actions have a serious negative impact across the range of EU-Turkey relations."

EU measures are to be finalised next week by European foreign ministers.

Turkey's actions also elicited protests from the Cyprus government, Greece, the US, Russia, Britain, France and Egypt. Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades called for an early meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, but reiterated that Turkey's operations in the EEZ prevented resumption of talks on reunification of the divided island.

UN-facilitated negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots were suspended in mid-2017 and have not resumed due to the entrenched positions of both Cypriot sides and Ankara.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times