The deal between Greece and Egypt on exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which can be considered as an illegitimate counter manoeuvre to Turkish- Libyan cooperation, does not have legal grounds, Prof. Dr. Hakan Karan, the head of Ankara University Research Center of the Sea and Maritime Law, told Anadolu Agency.
Egypt on August 6 announced that it signed a bilateral agreement with Greece on the delimitation of maritime jurisdictions between the two countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Following the announcement, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the "worthless" maritime deal just announced between Cairo and Athens has no effect on existing exclusive economic zones in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also slammed in a statement the "so-called agreement" and said Greece and Egypt had no mutual sea border and the deal was "null and void" for Ankara.
Professor Karan says the agreement also neglects special cases like disputed status of islands in the Aegean Sea, which is major contention point in relations between Turkey and Greece.
Turkey has a legitimate right of not recognizing this agreement since it is against the current international laws, he said.
"Claiming almost full authority in the islands even they are far from its mainland, Greece violates the Turkey's maritime jurisdiction because it ignores the status of the islands, which is identified as a special case in international judicial decisions," he claimed.
As a country that should have right to speak first in the region thanks to the length of its coastline and the dependence of its population on the sea, Turkey's thesis is based on the participation of all actors in the territory and the consideration of special cases while demarcating maritime borders, Karan said.
- Turkey's calls for negotiations
Despite all President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's calls for cooperation, Greece avoids negotiations, and on the contrary, engages in attempts of increasing tension, according to Karan.
"Nevertheless, at this stage it would be appropriate if Turkey calls for negotiations one last time," he said.
Furthermore, Karan emphasized that the regional countries should devise cooperative mechanisms to administer the disputed maritime territories and potential friction issues in accordance with international law.
In line with the economic interests of the regional states, the cooperative systems will pave the way for reaching a common ground on the border disputes, he added.
"If any state continues its uncompromising attitude despite all the cooperation attempts, Turkey should immediately take all the required steps to protect its economic rights in the maritime jurisdictions," he said.
"For example it would be appropriate to engage in exploration and drilling activities in all Turkish maritime zones, starting from the around of Meis Island, another disputed area between Ankara and Athens."
Turkey also needs to declare EEZ across Turkish continental shelf and borders in the Eastern Mediterranean, as a response to the agreement between Greece and Egypt, Karan noted.
- "Egypt to lose its potential of being a regional gas hub"
The Turkish vision and the maritime agreement between Turkey and Libya achieves two pivotal interests of Egypt, according to Khalid Fouad, an energy analyst in Egypt Institute for Studies.
Firstly the Turkish vision hinders the establishment of the EastMed pipeline threatening the position of Egypt as a regional gas hub in the Eastern Mediterranean, and secondly the Turkish-Libyan agreement maintains the huge areas of EEZ in favor of Egypt.
"However, the strategy of the Egyptian regime suffers from confusion in determining priorities related to Egyptian national security," he said.
He claimed that the EastMed pipeline, seeking to export Israel's natural gas to Europe, hinders Egypt's aim of exporting gas to Europe through its LNG plants on the Mediterranean coast, which means that if the pipeline constructed, this would cause strategic, political, and economic losses to the Egyptian side.
The maritime agreement between Egypt and Greece gives Israel, Cyprus, and Greece the opportunity to continue attempts to construct the pipeline which leaves Egypt out of the equation, according to Fouad.
The process of demarcating maritime borders and determining EEZ is based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which identified 200 linear miles off the country's coast as an EEZ where the country has the right to make exploration and drilling activities for the extraction of oil, gas and other natural resources.
However, the situation appears different in the Eastern Mediterranean region, which is characterized by a complex geographical location in a narrow water basin containing a number of opposite coastal countries.
Therefore, in the Eastern Mediterranean, it can not be relied only on the law of the sea without understandings between the countries and taking into consideration the political, economic, and historical dimension, Fouad concluded.
Having already lost 11,500 square kilometers of its continental shelf with an agreement signed with the Greek Cypriot administration in 2003, Egypt also gave up about 15 thousands square kilometers as a result of the agreement with Greece.
It will gain 21,500 square kilometers of its north-sea border, if the country reaches an agreement with Turkey.
By Busranur Begcecanli