In the ongoing dispute between Brussels and Ankara, the European Union has extended its sanctions against a Turkish company by one year. The sanctions were imposed due to Turkey drilling and conducting natural gas exploration in the Mediterranean.

EU Sanctions on TPAO

So far, the EU has only imposed sanctions once under this framework, when it constricted two officials of the legal upstream Turkish company TPAO into restrictive measures in relation to Turkey’s “unauthorized” drilling in front of Cyprus in February. An EU entry ban and asset freezes continue to apply to them.

The sanctions were initially imposed on TPAO exploration manager Mehmet Ferruh Akalin and deputy exploration director Ali Coscun Namoglu at the end of February after unauthorized drilling activities outside the Republic of Cyprus.

“The Council today adopted a decision extending for one year, until November 12, 2021, the existing framework for restrictive measures in response to Turkey’s unauthorized drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean,” it said.

“The EU will therefore maintain its ability to impose targeted restrictive measures on persons or entities responsible for or involved in unauthorized drilling activities of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the statement read further.

Cyprus and Greece Have Long Wanted the EU to Respond More Strongly to Turkish Drilling

Due to recent Turkish gas explorations in sea areas claimed by Greece, the EU has not yet taken any further punitive measures. One reason is that no test drilling has been carried out during the search. Cyprus and Greece have long been calling on the EU to react more sharply to Turkish gas explorations in the eastern Mediterranean that they consider illegal.

At the beginning of August, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis and Turkish leader Recep Erdogan already agreed internally on a written declaration that they wanted to use to ease the situation. Then Greece and Egypt surprisingly signed an agreement on common sea borders, which Turkey felt offended by. The text was never published. Instead, Erdogan put the Oruc Reis vessel on the march. All the actors who mediated back then have known how fragile agreements between both sides can be from their own experience. An explanation may now be fine-tuned again.

EU FP Chief Borrell: Turkey Relations Reached ‘Watershed’ Moment Over Drilling

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned back on September 15 that the EU’s relations with Turkey had reached a “watershed” moment over Ankara’s continued exploration work in the East Mediterranean.

The trigger for the latest sanctions is the controversial use of the Turkish gas field exploration ship Oruc Reis in the eastern Mediterranean, which Ankara recently extended by ten days. Last Sunday, the Turkish naval authority also announced that it would carry out seismic surveys southeast of the Greek island of Rhodes by November 14.

Turkey Rejects Greek Territorial Claims

Turkey had previously sent the Oruc Reis back to the eastern Mediterranean in mid-October to look for natural gas, thus rekindling a dispute with neighboring Greece. The mission has been extended several times and was due to expire on November 4. Greece accuses Turkey of illegally exploring deposits off Greek islands. However, the government in Ankara rejects the allegations and takes the position that the waters belonged to the Turkish continental shelf.

As of late, government heads in Athens, Nicosia, and La Valetta had been in discussion with Turkish president Erdogan while Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have also been involved. It was about bringing Athens and Ankara back to the negotiating table, about future relations with Turkey, and about an international conference on the Eastern Mediterranean.

However, so far, these efforts are all to no avail, and the extension of these sanctions are a testimony of how significantly diplomatic relations with Turkey have deteriorated despite serious European efforts.