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Turkey as Embargo Country? – European Union Looks Into Drillings Off Cyprus

Turkey as Embargo Country? – European Union Looks Into Drillings Off Cyprus


On 11 November 2019, the European Union adopted a legal framework for restrictive measures against Turkey. The EU is thus responding to Turkish exploratory drilling for natural gas deposits off the Cypriot coast, which Cyprus and the European Union consider illegal. The legal framework will make it possible to sanction individuals or companies responsible for or involved in drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. However, no specific measures have been imposed yet.

Possible sanctions: Travel ban, asset freeze, ban on making funds available

The possible sanctions include a travel ban to the EU (Article 1 of the decision) and traditional financial sanctions such as an asset freeze and a ban on making funds available (Article 2 of the decision). Those concerned by the sanctions are the people and companies listed in an Annex.

The framework makes it possible to list (i) persons or entities responsible for drilling activities related to hydrocarbon exploration and production not authorised by Cyprus within its territorial sea, exclusive economic zone or continental shelf or (ii) persons or entities providing financial, technical or material support for the above mentioned drilling activities as well as persons or entities associated with them.

Whether the EU will make use of this option to list persons and entities remains to be seen over the next few weeks and months.


Large natural gas deposits are thought to be present in the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean around Cyprus. Turkey has sent several drilling vessels to the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus to conduct exploration for natural gas deposits. Turkey considers the areas part of its continental shelf. The disputes are taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing occupation by Turkey of the northern part of Cyprus since 1974 in violation of international law.

The EU Member State Cyprus and the European Union are monitoring the Turkish drilling activities with great concern. Turkey has continued its drilling activities in Cypriot sovereign waters despite the Union's repeated calls on Turkey to cease such activities in the Eastern Mediterranean in contravention of international law. This has a serious negative impact on EU-Turkey political relations. As a consequence, the EU has already suspended negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement with Turkey and decided not to hold the Association Council and further meetings of the EU-Turkey high-level dialogues for the time being as well as to reduce the pre-accession assistance to Turkey for 2020. The creation of the legal framework for sanctions now represents the next stage of escalation to encourage Turkey to concede.

No arms embargo

In mid-October of this year, the EU decided not to impose a formal arms embargo in response to the Turkish military offensive in Northern Syria. Instead, the EU foreign ministers referred to national declarations to immediately stop authorising any more exports of arms which could be deployed in the conflict. A formal arms embargo would have had the consequence in Germany, for example, of greatly increasing the range of sentences for contravention, and at EU level would have meant that even the supply of non-listed defence goods to military projects would have required notification. The EU has refrained from such a measure to date, however.

Further references

Regarding general issues of sanctions and embargo law, please refer to our recent feature on sanctions and embargo law in Germany, published in the International Comparative Legal Guide, Sanctions 2020.

By Dr. Bärbel Sachs, Partner, and Dr. Carl-Wendelin Neubert, Senior Associate, Noerr

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