With the wrap-up of a meeting on EU-Turkey relations in Varna, Bulgaria on March 26, top EU officials highlighted Turkey’s strategic role in European energy security but expressed concern over Ankara’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea.

“The European Union stands behind the Republic of Cyprus regarding its right to explore and exploit its natural resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone,” European Council President Donald Tusk told a joint press conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Bulgarian President Boyko Borissov, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “This is also important in view of our shared objective for the successful reunification of Cyprus for the benefit of both populations on the island, for Turkey, the European Union and for EU-Turkey relations,” Tusk said.

Hosted by Borissov, representing the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU, Juncker, Tusk and Erdoğan met for a working dinner to discuss all aspects of current and future EU-Turkey relations, including energy cooperation.

The European Council President stressed that Turkey’s good bilateral relations with the EU Member States are also an important commitment within the accession process. “We welcome positive progress in recent months with some of our Member States but still have serious concerns about inter alia recent Turkish actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea as well as the detention of EU citizens,” Tusk said.

Erdoğan, however, told the press conference that he would like to “plead with the members of the EU to act fairly and that the mechanisms for taking decisions for exploring and evaluating the natural assets in the territory and around the territory of Cyprus should be done in respect of the international law.”

Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe on March 26 that Turkish aggression in the East Med would not be met by force, but only through diplomatic means.

“Cyprus is a member state of the EU and Turkish aggression against Cyprus is also against the EU. The same applies to Greece and the Aegean. As a result, it is important the EU takes a strong position, as it does, to protect its interests and those of its member states,” Ellinas said, adding that Nicosia made it repeatedly clear that exploring and exploiting hydrocarbons in its EEZ is for the interest and benefit of all Cypriots, both Greek and Turkish. “Let’s hope that with EU’s help sense prevails and problems are resolved through dialogue and negotiation and not through strong arm tactics and belligerence,” Ellinas said.

In Varna on March 26, Juncker highlighted the importance of EU-Turkey cooperation in EU energy security. “We have a shared interest related to energy supply. I think we have managed to work together and the European Union has contributed financially thanks to the help European Investment Bank, I think the first supply of gas will come in the time between 2018 and 2020,” Juncker told the press conference.

Borissov noted at the press conference in Varna on March 26 that EU and Turkey “have important progress in the area of energy. In July, the interconnector with Turkey will be finished, while the Greece interconnector is still under construction. I will make sure to call my colleague (Greek Prime Minister Alexis) Tsipras to inform him of our discussions with my colleague Erdogan.” Borisov said while referring to the gas Interconnector Turkey Bulgaria (ITB) and the Interconnector Greece Bulgaria (IGB).