The European Union has adopted a legal framework allowing for the imposition of sanctions against certain designated natural and/or legal persons, in response to Turkey’s drilling activities within Cypriot territorial waters1. The sanctions could have significant implications for those with interests in the oil and gas sectors in the region, and they are the latest in a series of measures targeting Ankara.
Whilst no designations have yet been made, the new framework provides for travel bans to the EU and asset freezes. These sanctions can be imposed on natural or legal persons who are: (a) responsible for, or involved in, drilling activities related to hydrocarbon exploration, production and extraction not authorised by Cyprus, within its territorial sea or exclusive economic zone or on its continental shelf; (b) providing financial, technical or material support for such drilling activities; or (c) associated with those who fall within categories (a) or (b).
These sanctions follow repeated calls by the EU over the last two years for Turkey to cease what the EU alleges to be illegal drilling operations to the west and, more recently, northeast of Cyprus .2
The sanctions add to a number of other measures recently imposed on Turkey by its western partners in response to its activities in Syria, reflecting growing tensions with the NATO ally.
Last month, certain EU member states decided to halt arms exports to Turkey, and all member states committed to adopting "strong national positions" regarding such exports3, although they stopped short of an EU-wide arms embargo. In the US meanwhile, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed certain sanctions on Turkey in response to Turkey’s military operations in Syria, although these were lifted after only four days, after a ceasefire was agreed4. This was followed in the following week by the House of Representatives passing a bill, the "Protect Against Conflict by Turkey Act"5, which would impose further sanctions on Turkey if it eventually becomes law.
1 Council Decision (CFSP) 2019/1894 of 11 November 2019 concerning restrictive measures in view of Turkey's unauthorised drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean (OJ L 291, 12.11.2019, p. 47) and Council Regulation (EU) 2019/1890 of 11 November 2019 concerning restrictive measures in view of Turkey’s unauthorised drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean (OJ L 291, 12.11.2019, p. 3).
2 "European Council meeting (22 March 2018) – Conclusions", European Council, 23 March 2018; "Turkish drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean: Council adopts conclusions", Council of the EU press release, 15 July 2019; "Turkey's illegal drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean: Council adopts conclusions", Council of the EU press release, 14 October 2019
3 "North East Syria: Council adopts conclusions", Council of the EU press release, 14 October 2019.
4 “Treasury Removes Sanctions Imposed on Turkish Ministries and Senior Officials Following Pause of Turkish Operations in Northeast Syria”, US Department of the Treasury Press Release, 23 October 2019
5 H.R.4695 - Protect Against Conflict by Turkey Act, Congress.Gov, accessed 19/11/2019.