*Rahmi Kopar holds a Ph.D. from the Center for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, University of Dundee, and an LLM from the University of Vienna.
After the Turkish Parliament ratified the agreement on the maritime boundaries with Libya in December 2019, the EU acted swiftly issuing a statement condemning it. The President of the European Council Charles Michel, while explaining the EU's stance on the matter stated: "The MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] infringes upon the sovereign rights of third States and does not comply with the Law of the Sea and cannot produce any legal consequences for third States." Many European leaders along with French President Emmanuel Macron also expressed discontent with this agreement and Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean.
This article will focus on the EU's approach to these issues and its utilization of international law as political leverage rather than whether Turkey and Libya's agreement is legal under international law, an issue dealt with expertly by Mesut Hakki Casin in an earlier article here.
Exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean ten years ago has led to the current stalemate. After Israel discovered gas in its Leviathan and Tamar fields around 2010, the Greek Cypriot Administration followed suit and unilaterally issued exploration licenses for several blocks around the Cyprus Island. Both Turkey and the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) considered this illegal back then because the Greek side continuously ignored the rights of Turkish-Cypriots to these resources. Following the exploration of these gas reserves in the region, Israel and Greece persistently attempted to exclude Turkey from benefiting from any potential gas developments or production.
Despite Turkey having the longest coastline in the Mediterranean, EU-backed Greece, through its agreement with Egypt, is attempting to apply the mainland’s continental shelf rights to its small islets located 350 miles away and only a few miles off the Turkish coast, which would infringe on Turkey’s territory and lead to a position in which nearly all of the Aegean waters would belong to Greece. To any reasonable individual, such claims would be inequitable and unfair and under international law would be baseless as clearly explained here.
Leaving aside the legal discussions, the EU’s reaction to both agreements reveals its favoritism towards Greece. On Aug. 6, when Greece and Egypt inked a deal to determine the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the two states, described by the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias as the ‘’the exact opposite’’ of the Turkey-Libya deal, the EU did not respond despite the fact that Turkey had confirmed that it breached its continental shelf rights and declared it null and void.
The fact that there was already an existing EEZ between these two states through which Greece and Egypt already drew their lines questions the legal weight of the new agreement.
If the new Greece-Egypt maritime delimitation deal bears the same legal equivalence as the
Turkey-Libya deal, the fact that the EU or any EU leader did not issue any single statement against this agreement so far is proof of its double standards. The EU’s reaction against Turkey was as swift as an arrow while the Greek deal seems to have fallen on deaf ears. These two agreements, in appearance, deal with the same issues and if a critique or an international law principle applies to one, it must also automatically apply to the other.
The EU claims that international law principles are used as a basis for its argument in response to Turkey’s action. These principles must be applied to any other involved parties and given that the law has not been changed in the past year, an EU response is now required for Greece’s actions under the same law.
Unfortunately, what has been witnessed is a clear example of how the EU has utilized international law as a political tool to secure its own interests. If the EU continues to use international law as a “sword of Damocles” against other states, this law will eventually become meaningless and will open the gate for other states to follow the same path in declaring controversial zones.
The region’s stability and energy security are at stake if the EU is adamant in supporting Greece at all costs. Turkey, as the biggest economy and the biggest military power in the region, has been resolute in its stance for nearly 15 years and has made it clear that it will not throw in the towel on this issue. Excluding Turkey from the East Mediterranean’s economics and politics will not bring about a solution to the disputes in this region. The Turkish government has often repeated that these disputes must be resolved via negotiations, and as a gesture of goodwill, it recalled its drilling ships operating in the East Mediterranean this month. However, instead of coming to the negotiating table, Greece signed the delimitation agreement with Egypt.
Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan stated last week that through dialogue a win-win solution to the Eastern Mediterranean dispute could be reached. The EU has a part to play in either supporting this for a peaceful resolution or it could continue to indulge Greece, the EU’s spoiled child, putting the region’s stability at risk.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.