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Italy joins France in warning Ankara about Cyprus gas drilling

The US government has also defended the right of EU member Cyprus to proceed with the drilling

Italian Minister of Defence Roberta Pinotti is paying a “symbolic” visit today (31 July) to Cyprus in light of oil and gas drilling that a consortium of France’s Total and Italy’s Eni is now carrying out in the region.

Cyprus started offshore drilling for gas in its economic zone triggering the strong reaction of Turkey, which warned it would take counter-measures.

Turkey claims that Cyprus’s internationally recognised government has no jurisdiction to explore for hydrocarbons.

A total of 2,000 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas has been discovered in the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of Cyprus, Israel and Egypt and exploration continues. The EU’s total gas consumption was 426 bcm in 2015.

Media in Athens and Nicosia commented that the visit of the Italian politician is “symbolic” as Rome wants to send a message to Ankara regarding the gas drilling activities in the region.

Earlier this month (17 July), French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly also visited the island and Greece’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias calling it a “good development”.

“Do not forget that there are also French warships in the area that remind the Turks that the one breaching the law cannot be at the same time the one that enforces it,” he told EURACTIV in an interview.

The island of Cyprus remains divided into Turkish and Greek parts. After the recent collapse of Cyprus peace talks, the government in Nicosia decided to move on with the scheduled drilling of gas in its exclusive economic zone.

The US government has defended the right of EU member Cyprus to proceed with the drilling while the European Commission has reiterated that Ankara should refrain from making threats against EU member states.

On 24 July, Parly and Pinotti held a meeting in Rome and talked about the European defence issue.

“The meeting between Minister Roberta Pinotti and her French counterpart Florence Parly marks a new step on the path to a stronger European Defence,” the Italian ministry of defence said in a statement.

BACKGROUND

A total of 2,000 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas has been discovered in the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of Cyprus, Israel and Egypt and exploration continues. For the sake of comparison, the total annual consumption of natural gas in the EU was 426 bcm in 2015.

Turkey is the only member of the United Nations which does not recognise Cyprus. Unlike Nicosia, it has not signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

France’s Total and Italy’s ENI moved into position on 12 July to start exploratory drilling off Cyprus’s coast. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned the energy companies, and indirectly the two capitals, not to proceed with the drilling, as they would risk “losing a friend”.

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