Europe’s leaders have agreed to move forward with imposing limited sanctions on Turkey over its illegal drilling activities off the coasts of both Greece and Cyprus, two EU members Mediterranean, according to a decision published on December 11, following the EU-27’s most recent summit in Brussels.

The targeted measures would penalize individuals and companies involved in gas exploration activities that violate international law in the Eastern Mediterranean with travel bans and a freeze of their assets. Though the move has symbolic significance, an infuriated Greek government had hoped for tougher measures that could severely impact the Turkish economy, including an arms embargo or trade tariffs, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly ordered his naval and energy exploration vessels to violate Greece’s territorial waters and members of Turkey’s government have vowed to use force to seize Greek islands that are located close to the Turkish coast.

Prior to the meeting, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated that EU’s credibility was “at stake” and reminded his European counterparts that they previously promised consequences should Ankara continue its provocations.  

It became clear, however, that tougher measures against Turkey will have to wait until the next EU summit in March. Europe’s leaders have tasked the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, with preparing a report on the state of play concerning EU-Turkey relations and how to proceed.

After giving Turkey another three months to reconsider its stance, the EU urged Ankara to de-escalate tensions in the region and to engage in direct exploratory talks with Greece. Negotiations between Athens and Ankara have been frozen since Turkey sent its research vessel, Oruc Reis, onto the Greek continental shelf. 

Europe’s leaders also condemned Turkey’s unilateral decision to violate a UN resolution by reopening Cyprus’ abandoned coastal district of Varosha, a suburb of the once-thriving Greek Cypriot city of Famagusta. The EU reiterated its support for a UN-backed solution that would see Cyprus become a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with a single international legal status. 

Brussels has adopted a carrot and stick approach to Turkey’s increasingly bellicose provocations. Whilst it has threatened Ankara with an economic embargo, it has also offered trade and customs benefits as a sign of goodwill. 


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