EU May Freeze Customs Union Talks With Turkey Over Drilling

Nikos Chrysoloras

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union is set to threaten Turkey with retaliation over its drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, adding to signs of deteriorating relations between Ankara and Brussels.

EU governments will vow to freeze negotiations over the modernization of the customs union between the bloc and Turkey, while reiterating that accession negotiations have come to a standstill, according to a draft communique seen by Bloomberg. They will also signal that further escalation is possible, as the EU “stands ready to respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus,” if drilling activity continues.

The statement, due to be approved by the EU’s European affairs ministers on Tuesday, is subject to ongoing deliberations between diplomats and the final wording may change. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday that he may demand EU sanctions against Turkey over drilling activities.

Turkey and Cyprus are at loggerheads over offshore gas reserves in Eastern Mediterranean, as Ankara disputes Nicosia’s Exclusive Economic Zone claims. Turkey has sent exploration vessels in the area, with Cyprus protesting a violation of its sovereignty.

The dispute over Cyprus adds to a series of disagreements between the EU and Turkey in areas such as the rule of law and democratic standards. Despite the tension, EU governments are wary of completely damaging a relationship that has kept millions of Syrian refugees within Turkish soil and at an arms length from Europe.

Ministers meeting on Tuesday are also likely to put off the start of accession negotiations with the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania. Despite pressure from Western Balkans governments and the European Commission to immediately begin formal accession talks, the bloc’s ministers will say that they will re-examine the issue by September, according to the draft communique seen by Bloomberg.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nikos Chrysoloras in Brussels at nchrysoloras@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Richard Bravo, Flavia Krause-Jackson

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