On top of Europe's current economic ills, Brussels is facing the problem of growing tensions with Turkey, a country having the official status of a EU candidate. Recently Ankara renewed the threat to freeze all ties with the EU if Cyprus assumes the rotating EU presidency in July, 2012.No comment on the issue followed from the European Commission so far, but Brussels reiterated in various ways that Turkey should refrain from directing any threats at Cyprus. At the moment, Ankara and Nicosia appear to be on the verge of an armed conflict over the exploratory drilling for oil and gas on a disputed part of the Mediterranean shelf and are exchanging strongly worded warnings about response measures. At the highest point of the angry exchanges, Turkey's energy minister Taner Yildiz actually dropped a hint about the Turkish navy's coming into play .
At first glance, the impression is that the current outpourings of militant rhetoric are devoid of practical sense. On the one hand, Cyprus is supposed to preside over the EU in almost a year from now, on the other – chances are slim that Brussels would bow to a EU hopeful and scrap the plan. The conflict, however, is deeply rooted. Cyprus and Turkey are synchronously boosting efforts to start extracting hydrocarbons from the marine shelf. Cyprus' president Dimitris Christofias announced that as early as this October Texas-based Noble Energy would perform the first series of exploratory drilling for the country “within its exclusive economic zone”. In response, Ankara unveiled its own plan to invite Norway's ship Bergen Surveyor to implement a delimitation within a disputed part of the marine shelf with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which no country other than Turkey recognizes. It should be noted that a conflict is thus brewing inside the NATO framework. According to Taner Yildiz, an existing agreement on the continental shelf allows Turkey's energy company TPAO to start exploration in the region of North Cyprus “in connection” with Cyprus as a whole. The latter phrase sounded as a reference to the possibility that Turkey's exploration can spread to other parts of Cyprus' coastal zone, which would entail serious risks and ultimately make the situation unpredictable.
Greek foreign ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras demanded that Turkey refrain from any exploratory activities threatening the sovereign rights of Greece in the region  and Cyprus' foreign ministry described Turkey's steps as a provocative act in breach of the international law . UN Secretary-General's special representative in Cyprus Lisa M. Buttenheim urged the parties involved to resolve disputes peacefully .
Clearly, the context of the situation is not limited to a dispute over the marine shelf. Generally, Ankara is becoming unprecedentedly assertive in a broad spectrum of international affairs. Initially, it offered mediation over the Iranian nuclear problem, then entered into bitter disputes with Israel which used to back Turkey in its standoffs with the Kurds and Islamist regimes, and finally seized the opportunity to take a bigger role in the overhaul of the Greater Middle East in the wake of the Arab spring. Considering that Ankara holds plenty of sway over the future of the Karabakh peace process and can say Yes or No to a number of key energy projects, Turkey's parlaying the influence into geopolitical ambitions is completely natural. Consequently, Anakara should be expected to become increasingly pushy in dealing with Cyprus.
In the meantime, the EU is paying for its own mistakes. In 2004 it granted membership to Cyprus as a whole, without even asking for a preliminary deal between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots or having both approve the peace plan floated by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The logic behind the admission of Cyprus was that its reunification would become easier to achieve within the EU, but the reckoning proved unrealistic along with the European diplomacy's plan to briskly find a cure for South East Europe's other ills – those of Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Turkey's stated position is favorable to the reunification of Cyprus, but the terms it actually pushes for – continuing Turkish military presence in Cyprus and the legalization of the Turkish settlers' community which estimatedly numbers up to 100,000 – are unacceptable to Nicosia. Both provisions were elements of Kofi Annan's original plan but were brushed off by Greek Cypriots in a referendum on the eve of Eurointegration . The materialization of Turkey's suggestions would have ruined hopes for the repatriation of Greek Cypriot refugees, leave the ethnic balance in Cyprus tilted in the Turkish community's favor, or even help to convert Cyprus into Ankara's military protectorate in the long run. Still, Turkey remains a “guarantor” of Cyprus jointly with Great Britain and Greece since 1960 and accordingly holds a UN mandate, meaning that no deal over the divided island ignoring Ankara's interests may go through.
The truth seems to be that at the moment both Brussels and Ankara are implicitly drawing benefits from the conflict. Now that Turkey's candidacy is pretty much doomed due to the opposition mounted by France, Greece, and others, the EU gets a convincing pretext for reneging on the pledge to accommodate the country. Sending a message of encouragement to the financially embarrassed Greece must also fit neatly into Brussels' agenda. At the same time, Turkey can shift the blame for the chronic failure of its EU aspirations on the Brussels bureaucracy which it slams over the alleged lack of respect for the country of 70 million people and the outright disregard for its national interests. Turkish finance minister Mehmet Simsek, for example, made it clear that certain circles in the country question the feasibility of the Eurointegration bid given that decades of knocking on Europe's door produced no result. A new round of tensions between Turkey and the EU should make it easier for both to save face, Cyprus as a hostage to the increasingly tough geopolitics automatically being the losing party to the game…