EU will defend Cyprus rights in East Med

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Brussels will act to defend the rights of European Union member state Cyprus in its standoff with Turkey over maritime and energy rights, visiting European Council President Charles Michel said Wednesday.

Michel’s visit comes a day after Turkey said its Yavuz drillship would continue its energy search off Cyprus until October 12, despite international calls to withdraw its assets from the region.

The top EU official is in Cyprus ahead of an emergency meeting of EU leaders next week that will include Turkey’s activity in the eastern Mediterranean with sanctions a possibility.

“The European Union stands in solidarity with Cyprus as it faces a grave situation. That is why we have decided to call a summit on relations with Turkey,” Michel told reporters after meeting Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades.

“I believe we must be very firm when it comes to defending the rights of all member states, including Cyprus,” he added.

Turkey, Greece and Cyprus have been locked in a row over energy resources and maritime borders in the region, with Ankara infuriating the EU allies by sending research ships with naval escorts to work in contested waters.

There have been fears of conflict erupting and Cyprus is pressing the rest of the EU to impose fresh sanctions on Ankara over the drilling.

Michel said Brussels did not want to send the message that this was a dispute only involving Greece and Cyprus but “the rights of the EU”.

He said EU solidarity was about action, not just words.

Cyprus’ President said Michel’s visit comes at an “extremely worrisome” time as “Turkey continues to violate our maritime zones” with “illegal drills” of Yavuz.

He said while Turkey refuses to enter into a dialogue, the EU should take tougher action to deter an escalation.

“Respect for the sovereignty of all Member States should remain a rule that no one can ignore or show contempt for,” said Anastasiades.

He said next week’s European Council should remain united and determined to implement decisions.

“I reiterated to President Michel that, as Cyprus, we emphasize the need to remain focused on utilizing all the means at our disposal, avoiding double standards.”

Anastasiades added: “As long as there are illegal actions against Member States, the EU’s response should be immediate.”

Turkey said the Yavuz will be accompanied by three other Turkish ships, according to a maritime notice that added “all vessels are strongly advised not to enter” the area.

Nicosia said such maritime notices within its jurisdiction were illegal.

Cyprus’ internationally recognised government has long been at loggerheads with Turkey, which began drilling for oil and gas in designated Cypriot waters last year.

NATO allies Turkey and Greece are at odds over the delimitation of their continental shelves.