Former European ambassador said EU is unlikely to approve Turkey on Mediterranean gas drilling

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) welcomes Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis (L).

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LONDON – The European Union will not go far to impose sanctions on Turkey, a regional expert told CNBC, despite Ankara’s controversial activity in the Mediterranean Sea.

Turkey, Greece and Cyprus are in the east in search of energy resources in parts of the eastern Mediterranean waters, which both Athens and Nicosia are part of their own territory. Countries and regions in the region include Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Libya.

The dispute, which goes back four decades, has increased in recent weeks. Turkey’s quest to expand its oil and gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean Sea resulted in a minor collision between the two frigates last month.

Greece, increasingly angry at Turkey describing it as an “illegal” activity, has called on its EU partners to impose “stricter sanctions” on Ankara. EU leaders will discuss deadlock among NATO members in an emergency meeting in two weeks time.

For its part, Turkey has claimed that it has every right to prospect in election waters and accuses Greece of trying to seize an unfair share of marine resources.

Turkey’s former EU ambassador Mark Pierini said earlier this month, “Leaders cannot reestablish their unity with Greece, but restore their solidarity with Greece.”

“The sanctions will not yield much results here,” he said.

Turkey ‘ready to play hard ball’

Turkey’s economy has struggled in recent years and the global recession has increased the pressure on the embattled nation. In addition, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political party has lost its traditional dominance in the country.

Chatham House policy expert Vasilis Ntus told CNBC that Erdogan wanted to “cement” his legacy by adopting a more assertive regional policy.

He added that Turkey was “looking to play a strong role in the region and is ready to play hard ball.”

This is another opportunity that forces the European Union to think about what further relations with Turkey will look like.

Vasilis Butes

Policy Specialist at Chatham House

Turkish officials, according to Euronews, have asked the European Union to mediate the situation in an honest way rather than siding with Greece and Cyprus.

At a summit of South European countries on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said the aim was to “redefine dialogue with Turkey without credulity and in good faith.”

Relations between Turkey and the European Union have been tense at times. In 2005, Ankara began negotiations to become a member of the European Union. The process was always expected to take a long time, but was effectively negotiated in 2018, after the European Union stated that Turkey is backsliding in 2018 in terms of democratic commitments, rule of law and fundamental rights.

However, Turkey has played an important role in the migrant policy of the European Union. The 27-member bloc agreed to give 3 billion euros ($ 3.5 billion) in 2015 to curb the flow of migrants to Turkey’s European region.

“This is another opportunity that forces the European Union to think about what a forward-looking relationship with Turkey will look like,” Ntousas said.