Instead of taking on the role of fair mediator, Brussels has broken its own rules to accept the Republic of Cyprus into the EU and is now inflaming tensions with Turkey over natural resources.

Enes Güzel 5 August 2019

Disagreements over the exploration of hydrocarbon resources have heightened tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Despite the fact that these strains are taking place between Greece and the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) on the one hand, and Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) on the other, one should not absolve the European Union (EU) from its responsibilities in igniting such conflict in the first place.

In fact, Brussels not only failed to play its role as a fair mediator between the Turkish and Greek communities in settling the Cyprus problem in 2004, but all its actions on this matter represent a textbook example of how not to handle a peace process.

The EU’s decision to admit the Greek Cyprus to the EU without a political settlement with Turkish side has not only violated international law but has also led to the denial of Turkish Cypriots’ inalienable rights over the island and its resources. The region is, therefore, paying the price today for the consequences of the EU’s decision to accept the Greek Cypriot administration as a member state without settling the political problem in Cyprus, as stipulated by the EU’s own regulations.

To add insult to injury, the EU failed to adopt corrective measures in light of its ethical, moral and political obligations. It has, alas, persisted in treating the East Mediterranean problem in a manner that is negligent and lacks neutrality. Brussels’ recent position on Turkey’s drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, in which it considered them illegal and a breach to the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus, reveals that the Union persists on going down the road to perdition in this region.

By deciding to impose sanctions on Turkey, the EU demonstrated that, contrary to its supposed role as a force for stability, its policies might inflame the situation in an already unstable region. Reflecting back on the EU’s past mistakes in admitting the Greek Cypriot administration to the EU and not recognising the TRNC, one can see that it has led to at least two major problems.

Firstly, as an EU member state, the RoC unilaterally claims its rights over the natural resources and make agreements with other countries on the exploitation of resources without including Turkish Cypriots, who are the co-owners of the Island. This leads to the violation of Turkish Cypriots’ rights over the island’s resources. Secondly, hidden behind the EU membership status, the RoC pressured the EU into putting sanctions on Turkish drilling activities. Brussels’ sanctions came as a result of the blackmail applied by both Greece and the RoC, which are both EU members.

The RoC has indeed exploited its EU membership to threaten to use its veto power against North Macedonia and Albania’s EU membership bids should the EU not coerce Turkey into stopping its drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Imposing sanctions on Turkey for its legitimate drilling activities represents yet another biased and unjust treatment of the EU towards Turkey and TRNC. Even though the EU’s recent sanctions do not have a considerable impact on Turkey and look rather symbolic, it shows how one-sided the EU is, and how these sanctions are politically motivated.

The energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean provide everyone in the region with a win-win situation. Solving the Cyprus problem could ease tensions in the region and positively influence the regional dynamics, particularly in terms of regional energy security. In fact, the use of natural resources could be a catalyst for the resolution of the Cyprus problem and represent salvation for both communities. As long as an agreement is not reached under a UN framework, one that considers all aspects of the Cyprus issue, threats and sanctions will not solve the problem; they will only make it worse. In addition, without reaching a political settlement on the Cyprus issue, neither side will be able to benefit from energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The EU should listen to Turkey and the TRNC’s multiple calls for dialogue and cooperation over natural resources. The latter represents a golden opportunity for the resolution of the Cyprus issue and should be used for the solution of the problem.

The EU’s past mistakes have already created an unstable and dangerous environment for the Eastern Mediterranean. It is high time for the EU to reconsider its policies in this context and play a positive role for the peace, stability, and prosperity of the entire region.

*This article was originally published on TRT World's Opinion Section.

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