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Cypriot President: If Turkey keeps provoking, end its EU candidacy

Nicos Anastasiades

If Turkey does not tone down its aggression in the eastern Mediterranean, it should no longer be considered a candidate for EU membership, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said in an interview to Politico Europe.

Turkey’s oil and gas exploration off the coast of Cyprus, that the EU says is illegal because it infringes upon the island’s exclusive economic zone, is a step too far, he added.

“Either they are compliant with the terms and conditions of any other candidate country, otherwise they could not be either a candidate or accepted,” Anastasiades told Politico.

He added that whilst “we are in favour of having Turkey as a member state of the European Union, we prefer to have a European neighbour rather than to have an aggressive state like Turkey is behaving.”

Referring to the first time EU sanctions were imposed on two individuals linked to Turkish exploration and drilling in the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus, Anastasiades said that some have criticised the move as soft. Adding more names to the sanctions list “is one of the alternatives” available, said the Cypriot President. Yet “I believe that as the EU we are left with no other option than to address the whole spectrum of EU-Turkey relations.” And a decision to formally stop the accession talks is “one of the steps we can take in order to send a strong message to Turkey, although I’d prefer to have a peaceful solution.”

In October, Turkish Cypriots will go to the polls and, if Mustafa Akıncı is re-elected leader, reunification talks between the two sides of the island can “definitely” resume, Anastasiades added.

As a way to fairly divide revenue from the massive natural gas deposits thought to lie off the coast of Cyprus, and de-escalate tensions with Turkey, he told Politico that he has offered Turkish Cypriots a share of gas revenues if Ankara recognises Nicosia’s energy exploration rights.

“I’m ready to open an escrow account in favour of the Turkish Cypriot community, according to the population ratio,” he said. “And if Turkey stops the aggressiveness, and recognises the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus, I’m ready to accept, even without finding a solution to the Cyprus question, to give the right to the Turkish Cypriots to benefit by withdrawing … any proceeds which might be the result of the exploitation of the natural resources.”

Turkey is now also playing a key role in Libya, where it is supporting the U.N.-led government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, but don’t be fooled, Anastasiades warned. “On the one hand, they are saying that they are trying to stop the negative situation in Libya, but at the same time they are giving so many headaches to the surrounding countries [by] violating their sovereign rights and international law.” He said this included “putting in doubt the sovereign rights of Greece” by planning to expand oil and gas exploration to other areas of the Mediterranean Sea.

Concerning migration pressures, Anastasiades said that “despite our repeated requests for effective solidarity and notwithstanding the measures we have taken at national level, Cyprus remains the top receiving EU member state regarding first-time asylum applications in proportion to its population.” With the European Commission about to put forward a new proposal on migration, it “remains to see what the northern partners and friends … mean by solidarity.”

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