September 19, 2011
During the last two months relations between Turkey and Cyprus have worsened to an extent unheard of for years. In the most recent days, Turkish politicians have gone the point of threatening with naval force in case the Cypriot government would go ahead with drilling for gas in its economic zone and, even worse, the EU with breaking off relations in case Cyprus were to assume the routine presidency of the EU in the second half of 2012.
What seems to lie behind this “war of threats” that P.M. Erdogan had started in late July, is the discovery of substantial gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean, with Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Cyprus putting up stakes for their respective economic zones.
The gas reserves do not appear to stretch to the southern shores of Turkey.
The only way for Turkey to profit from them would be through obtaining international recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which it has failed to reach since its creation in the early 1980s. It therefore sends an “ultimatum” for the two parties to rapidly conclude their negotiations for re-unification, and assuming them to fail to take make another push for TRNC.
Whatever may have motivated the Turkish political leadership to make their outrageous verbal attacks, Turkey would be the first to suffer from suspending relations with the EU. The EU might in return suspend negotiations for accession or the customs union, which would cause substantially more damage to Turkey than to the EU.
Turkey has no choice but to accept the EU rules for rotating presidency. If it does not, negotiations will have to discontinue during the second half of 2012; it may then become difficult to simply resume them.
Turkey will also have to accept the right of Cyprus to drill for gas around the island, including its northern shores. Any attempt to prevent this by force would have to be a “casus belli”.
To prevent such escalation the President of the European Council should rapidly call M. Erdogan and invite him to scale down the rhetoric. He should by the same token invite the parties for a meeting in Brussels to calm the atmosphere and discuss all open issues, from reunification to gas and accession. The situation has lasted too long. Neither Turkey nor the EU can afford to open another arena of conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Author : Eberhard Rhein