Cyprus urges EU to fill ‘power vacuum’ in EastMed

Cyprus is prepared to host a EU task force to help the bloc fill a power vacuum in the eastern Mediterranean, which Turkey is taking full advantage of, Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said Wednesday.

The EU has so far failed in using sufficient “soft power” to position itself as the leading player in eastern Mediterranean, which is fraught with problems such as terrorism and illegal immigration, brought on by a perceived U.S. disengagement from the region, AP quoted Christodoulides as saying.

The Cypriot official accused Ankara of using the present power void to fulfil its goals of attaining regional domination, in addition to assuming the leadership of the Islamic world.

“Some in Brussels are under the impression that the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU. That’s a mistaken impression,” Christodoulides said, noting that Cyprus expects the EU to urge Turkey to sit down for talks.

Turkey is locked in disputes with both Greece and Cyprus over territorial waters in the Aegean and Mediterranean and has sent ships to drill for gas off Cyprus to press its claim to the waters there. The EU has condemned Turkey’s drilling activities in the region and imposed some sanctions on the country, but Greece is pressing other EU member states to prepare more severe sanctions against Turkey if it proceeds with the oil-and-gas exploration plans.

Turkey, for its part, rejects claims by Athens that its oil-and-gas research vessels were encroaching on Greek waters in the eastern Mediterranean and says it will continue to defend its legitimate rights and interests in the region.

Cyprus “should look seriously” at the possibility of building up a naval deterrent force as a way of rallying the international community to pressure Ankara to cease its provocations, Christodoulides said.

Turkey invaded the northern third of Cyprus in 1974 in response to a Greek Cypriot coup that sought unification with Greece. Cyprus has been divided since then between a Greek Cypriot south, a European Union member, and the Turkish Cypriot north, only recognised by Ankara.