The EU was a bystander in relations between Turkey and Cyprus, which deteriorated in 2011 owing to the gas exploration dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The EU would like to see a settlement in Cyprus, integrating the Turkish north into a federal structure, with Turkey co-operating along the way. But it has little leverage over either of the parties: Greek Cypriots are now inside the EU, Turkey’s membership prospects are remote, and the Turkish Cypriots are stuck in the middle. Despite ongoing negotiations between Greeks and Turks in Cyprus, a breakthrough is not in sight. The Turkish position has not changed: no implementation of the 2005 Additional Protocol which would allow Greek Cypriot ships and aircraft into Turkey’s airports and harbours, unless the EU inaugurates direct trade with the north.
In 2011, relations between the EU and Turkey on Cyprus deteriorated because of the gas exploration dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey wants Cyprus to discontinue drilling pending a successful outcome of the reunification talks. It is also increasingly concerned about Israel’s relationship with Cyprus. In December 2010, Cyprus and Israel signed an agreement on the delimitation of respective exclusive economic zones. In August, Nicosia awarded an exploration contract to a consortium including US firm Noble Energy and Israeli contractors. In September, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to send a Turkish exploratory mission escorted the Turkish navy. However, following talks with Barack Obama soon afterwards, he dismissed the military option.
EU member states remained mostly passive: only France and Germany could be said to have made any effort at all to mediate between Nicosia and Ankara.Turkey’s assertiveness made Greece side with Cyprus in this dispute and deepen military co-operation with Israel. The entanglement of the Cypriot problem with Turkey–Israel tensions constrains the EU’s policy. Turkey has threatened to freeze relations with the EU in July–December 2012 when Cyprus assumes the EU presidency as planned. But in December, Turkey’s Minister for EU Affairs, Egemen Bağış, softened the position: while Turkey will boycott the European Council, it will maintain relations with the European Commission and the European Parliament.