Problems of the sea

Problems of the sea

The statement from Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesman Ömer Çelik yesterday, added another sparkle to the already electrified atmosphere lately between Greece and Turkey. Speaking after a meeting of the central committee of his party, Çelik underlined that “block 7 [for which the Greek Cyprus has invited international bids for exploration work] is inside the Turkish continental shelf” and “Greeks should not claim they have rights in the area.” Otherwise, he said “our armed forces will give the necessary answer.” 

“We advise the Greek and the Cypriot side not to attempt any move,” he warned.

Referring to Turkey’s drillship “Fatih,” which started works yesterday off the coast of Antalya within Turkey’s territorial waters, he confirmed it is protected by Turkish navy ships.

The spokesman also gave a strong reaction to the expressed intention of Greece to extend its territorial waters from 6 to 12 nautical miles starting from the Ionian Sea. “This is a very dangerous approach,” he said. “I warn them we will give the strongest reaction for even the slightest move by the other side and against any attempt [by Greeks] toward extending the territorial water in that manner. I warn them of the decision of the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1995,” Çelik went on, referring to the Turkish Parliament’s decision that any attempt by Greece to increase its territorial waters from 6 to 12 miles in the Aegean Sea would be a “casus belli,” a cause for war for Turkey.

Judging by Çelik’s words, Ankara is quite angry at the latest activities in the Eastern Mediterranean but particularly on the issue of Greece’s plans over its territorial waters. The “extension of the Greek territorial waters” has apparently been a phased plan prepared by the Tsipras government to be implemented first in the Ionian Sea and eventually to cover the whole of coastal line of Greece.

The plan, which had not been discussed with Greek opposition parties, was worked out by the Greek Foreign Ministry during the term of Nikos Kotzias. Ironically, Kotzias revealed the plan – to be implemented by a simple presidential decree – on the very day he resigned from his post less than two weeks ago.

Once revealed, the plan has become a cause for strong statements by Ankara like that of Çelik yesterday, although it has been shelved for a later date at the moment.

These angry statements from Ankara almost on a daily basis have made Greeks wonder and fear on whether, when and to what degree Turkey would show its teeth. For the ordinary Greek who is still struggling to make ends meet despite declarations by the government that the “crisis is over,” the width of their seas perhaps would not mean much. A really harsh response by Turkey, although, would create yet more turmoil in their life.

Not surprisingly, relations with Turkey have recently topped the agenda for academics, analysts and geostrategists, who are currently trading barbs through every format of Greek media. For example, they discuss whether Greece can legally decide to increase its territorial water just by a presidential decree or whether this is a matter for the parliament by passing a law. Their argument points to the Greek constitution, which provides that “no change in the territorial limits may be implemented without a law, voted by an absolute majority of the total number of MPs.”

But there are others, among them Kotzias, too, who insist that Greece ratified by law in 1995, “A Constitution for the Oceans” and the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the provisions of which, have a supra-legislative effect. So, Greece may extend their territorial sea at any time alongside the overlying airspace up to 12 nautical miles from the baselines. And for the application of that provision in the domestic legal system, “presidential decrees are issued following a proposal by the cabinet.” 

There is also a school of thought that goes beyond legal interpretation. Those supporting it think that instead of Greece sitting back and not giving Turkey the pretext to apply the “casus belli” for real, it should have been better to make the initial move with a step forward instead of a “step back,” although they are not very clear whether they mean a military or a legal battle.

Perhaps, it is useful to add in the end the opinion of the former Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos. Highly controversial but always intellectually intriguing, Pangalos was asked yesterday what Greece’s stance should be against “provocative Turkish moves.”

“I would say, it is better not to try the Turks because Turkey is a big power, we have to accept that,” he said.

And added, “Greece should respond on an international diplomatic level and a national foreign policy council should decide on all actions.”