EU considers freezing Customs Union negotiations with Turkey
Irene Kostaki - New Europe
Amid growing concerns about the aggressive offshore drilling activities that are currently being carried out near the Cypriot coast by the Turkish government, the European Union is mulling putting Ankara’s accession chapters under discussion ahead of the European Council meeting in 20-21June,
Turkey disputes the existence of an Exclusive Economic Zone that belongs to Cyprus. Instead, Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claims he has the legal right to send exploration vessels in the are, a move that EU-member Cyprus says violates its sovereignty.
According to the draft joint communique, the EU leaders are preparing “to respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus,” and to reiterate that the bloc condemns “Turkey’s continued illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean” while noting that “Turkey continues to move further away from the European Union”.
The EU’s leaders plan to publicly declare that Turkey’s EU accession negotiations have come to a standstill and no further chapters in the accession process can be considered for opening or closing at this time, including the change of status of the Customs Union with the EU and visa liberalisation for Turkish passport holders.
“No further work towards the modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union is foreseen,” the leaders are expected to say at the end of the week.
The EU is also prepared to show Turkey that further escalation is possible if any illegal drilling continues. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has already said that he may demand that the EU sanction Turkey because of Ankara’s continued violations of Cyrpus’ territorial waters.
The dispute adds to a series of disagreements between the EU and Turkey in areas such as the rule of law and democratic standards, especially since a so-called failed coup against Erdoğan’s Islamist government in July 2016.
Cyprus was split in 1974 into the EU-member Greek Cypriot south and the internationally unrecognised Turkish Cypriot north when Turkey invaded in response to a coup by local supporters of a formal union with Greece.