Greeks debating Turkey

Greeks debating Turkey

The Memorandum of Understanding on the delimitation of maritime jurisdiction signed recently between Turkey and Libya has fueled already problematic relations between Turkey and Greece with new tensions. By a strategic move that Ankara sees as a checkmate, Greece must come to grips with a new situation in its southeastern sea area right next to its islands of Crete and the Dodecanese.

The Mitsotakis government -just over five months in power- was called to act swiftly to block the agreement and embarked in a frantic diplomatic race to make his EU colleagues express their opposition to the Turkish moves. He succeeded in getting support during the EU Summit on Dec. 12. A paragraph was added in the conclusions of the summit stating that the Turkey-Libya Memorandum of Understanding “infringes upon the sovereign rights of third states, does not comply with the law of the sea and cannot produce any legal consequences for third states. The European Council unequivocally reaffirms its solidarity with Greece and Cyprus regarding these actions by Turkey.” But the supportive stance by the Europeans was not accompanied by sanctions, much to the disappointment of the Greeks. Since then, Ankara continues with the next step of its plans and already announced that it might be sending troops to Libya if the Tripoli government asks for it. Meanwhile, it announced new research and drilling in the “new areas” presumably the new exclusive economic zone (EEZ) declared jointly with Libya.

Such a fast-moving situation has caused alert among the Greeks, although analysts and diplomats are now claiming that the move by Ankara was not unexpected. It was known for some time that the Turks were planning to declare their own EEZ in the Mediterranean.

Then, why did Greece do nothing? Is it too late to stop Ankara from redrawing the map?

A relentless blame game started among the Greek politicians across the political spectrum who served their country for the last two decades. They went at each other’s throats for criminal inaction towards Turkey. They claim that after Turkey’s official recognition as a candidate state for joining the European Union, the Greek governments followed an “appeasement” policy relying on the eagerness of Turkey to join “the club,” hoping that it would abide by the “EU prerequisites.” Former prime ministers such as Costas Simitis, Costas Karamanlis and Antonis Samaras and their policies towards Turkey during the previous two decades became the subject of heated arguments as politicians are now blaming each other for having lost precious time in adjusting their policies towards a Turkey which is now acting outside the old “European vision.”

The speed by which the events are developing in the east Mediterranean brought two of the most prominent former foreign ministers of Greece, who served during crucial moments of Turkish-Greek relations, to a discussion panel last week: Dora Bakoyiannis and Evangelos Venizelos — accompanied by experienced retired diplomats, gave their own assessment and suggestions on how to deal with a “new Turkey under Erdoğan.”

I have selected some of the most interesting points: Venizelos’s view is that the policies implemented during the 45 years by Greek governments towards Turkey after the Cyprus crisis did not secure the Greek interests as they procrastinated from making any major policy decisions. Venizelos indicated that the EU’s decision to accept Greek Cyprus to full membership has neither led to a political solution to the problem nor to the delimitation of maritime zones between Greece and Turkey. Now, the European lure is too faint, he said. Venizelos suggested specific political and diplomatic initiatives that will ensure peace and stability in the region. He also suggested, “good knowledge and understanding of Turkey, especially after the 2016 attempted coup.” He suggested the restarting of the Turkey-Greece exploratory talks for delineating an EEZ and the continental shelf in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean concerning the international law of the sea and stating that they would accept any verdict by the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Dora Bakoyiannis called the Turkey-Libya agreement “a heavy blow under the belt.” Although signed with an internationally recognized state (Libya), it is weak and does not produce legal results, suggesting that Greece should avoid applying purely economy-based diplomacy and should complete the agreements for declaring EEZs with Albania, Egypt and Italy.