On Monday, European Union Foreign Ministers criticised Turkey for beginning gas exploration operations in Cypriot waters and for the transformation of the Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque.
The Foreign Ministers have been planning for months to take a tougher position towards Ankara, though no urgent measures are expected.
“When I see now what is happening with Hagia Sophia, that is a blow,” Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.
Hagia Sophia was originally built in Constantinople as a Christian cathedral. The Pope and others have expressed their sadness and criticism of the move by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
EU Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell was in Turkey last week where he also discussed Ankara’s disputes with Greece and Cyprus over energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean region.
Turkey has dispatched warship-escorted vessels to drill for gas in an area where Cyprus insists it has exclusive rights. The Turkish government has said it is acting to protect its interests in the natural resource rich area, and those of Turkish Cypriots.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said that the movements in the Mediterranean were “a reason to worry” for the 27-nation bloc. She insisted that human rights and democracy issues would also be taken up during their regular monthly meeting.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a press conference that exploration in the eastern Mediterranean would begin and was based on the agreement signed between the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) and Turkey in 2019.
On 9 July, Cypriot Minister of Defense Karalambos Petrides discussed the situation in the eastern Mediterranean and the Special Economic Zone of Cyprus during his meetings with the Ambassadors of Greece, France, and Italy. He also pointed out that strengthening cooperation and agreements between neighboring countries would lead to stability and security in the region.
In December 2019, Turkey signed two MoUs on defence and gas drilling in the Mediterranean with the Tripoli-based GNA, including a maritime border agreement. The agreement was rejected by several countries including Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and the UAE, who described it as an illegal act that violated the sovereignty of other Mediterranean states.