The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has sparked a dispute between EU member Cyprus and Turkey, which occupies the north of the Mediterranean island.
The EU has repeatedly warned Turkey to stop exploratory drilling activities in what Cyprus says are its territorial waters, to no avail, and last month EU foreign ministers asked officials to create a sanctions framework.
Now the ministers meeting in Brussels have approved the framework — effectively a blank list — which is needed to impose travel bans and asset freezes on individuals and companies involved in the operations.
The Council of the EU, which groups the 28 member states, said sanctions could target “persons or entities responsible for drilling activities”, “persons or entities providing financial, technical or material support” or “persons associated with them”.
The next stage is for names of people or entities to be added to the list, but this process can take some time as legal checks have to be run to ensure any listing would stand up if challenged in court.
EU diplomats have so far not given a timeframe for when the first listings could be made.
The Turkish foreign ministry later on Monday issued a defiant message, insisting that Turkey would not stop its activities despite the EU’s move.
“It is futile to expect Turkey to take a step back from its rights in the eastern Mediterranean,” the ministry said in a statement.
“In this respect, no one should doubt that we will continue our search and drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean in the same manner,” it added.
The ministry said Turkey and the Ankara-backed northern Cyprus statelet had shown “good-natured effort” with “constructive and positive initiatives” for the hydrocarbon reserves to become a matter that “created stability rather than tension”.
*first published in: www.euractiv.com