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Eastern Mediterranean drilling disputes worsen

By Lawrence Gash

Cyprus dubs Turkey a 'pirate state' as relations in the region deteriorate

Relations between Turkey and its neighbours have continued to deteriorate over the EastMed pipeline project. Strong words in recent days reveal the antipathy on all sides.

Since the discovery of significant oil and gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean sea powers in the region have scrambled to lay claim to the lucrative commodities.

On Sunday, EU member Cyprus condemned Turkey for attempting for the fourth time to drill for oil and gas in its disputed territorial waters.

The government of the island, which has been split between Turk and Greek since 1974, branded Turkey a “pirate state” and appealed to the European Union.

The government of President Tayyip Erdogan accused the EU of “double standards” and of remaining “silent since 2003 to the usurping of our country's and the Turkish Cypriots' rights in the eastern Mediterranean”.

Sentiment towards Turkey in Europe has worsened since 2015-16 when the prospect of it being fast-tracked into the EU was discussed. In a leaked draft letter the German newspaper Deutsche Welle revealed that the EU’s foreign affairs commissioner recently considered cutting pre-accession aid to Turkey by 75 per cent.

Nonetheless European powers are trying to strike a balance in their dealings with President Erdogan. Turkey currently holds millions of displaced Syrian refugees cared for with the help of EU funds. The Turkish leader has threatened to unleash a new migrant crisis if he feels Turkey is being mistreated.

Turkey’s revival of claim to waters 200 miles from its coast comes two weeks after the EastMed Pipeline agreement. This project would provide 10 per cent of Europe’s natural gas from fields in Israeli waters transported through Cyprus and a number of Greek islands and into Italy, bypassing Turkey.

With France requesting to join the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, which will be hosted in Egypt, another founding member, and the US hoping to join as a permanent observer Turkey looks increasingly alienated.

This international pressure will not stop Turkey’s desire for resource rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. President Erdogan is already beginning to look for opportunities further afield.

This week he has defended Turkey’s interest in Somalia stating: "We had a proposal from Somalia. They said that Somalia had oil in its seas. As in Libya, we could do the same. There would be steps that we will take there. This is something beneficial for us.”

FURTHER READING: East Med gas pipeline ignites geopolitical tensions

FURTHER READING: Green energy trial injects hydrogen into UK gas grid

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