How does Greek-Egypt deal endorse Turkey’s thesis in the Mediterranean?
A maritime demarcation agreement inked between Greece and Egypt is problematic for two main reasons, timing-wise and content-wise.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry signed the controversial deal on Aug. 6, a day before Ankara and Athens were supposed to jointly announce the resumption of talks for the solution concerning a bunch of problems stemming from the Aegean Sea, as stated by presidential adviser and spokesman İbrahim Kalın.
As we know, Turkey decided to pause the seismic works of the Oruç Reis research vessel on July 22 after the intervention of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The idea was to give room for diplomacy that would pave the way for the resumption of talks between Turkey and Greece in late August, and for the efforts of EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell to create a mechanism for the revenue sharing of the hydrocarbon reserves of the island.
Therefore, the rush to sign the agreement just a day before the Ankara-Athens move can hardly be explained as an example of good timing or goodwill. Athens and Cairo were negotiating on this agreement for 17 years, and there would not be much on stakes in postponing the deal for another few months.
At this point, when Turkey has dispatched its vessels back to the eastern Mediterranean for surveys accompanied by the warships and Greece issued a counter-NAVTEX and mobilized its navy, it would be difficult to convince both parties to return to the table.
The Greek-Egypt deal has also sparked controversy over its content. Former Greek foreign ministers and legal experts have criticized that Athens had to make concessions to Egypt by abandoning its long-standing opinions that all the Greek islands have maritime jurisdiction areas to the full extent.
The agreement signed between Greece and Egypt is based on a partial delimitation as Meis Island (Kastellorizo in Greek) and part of the coast of Rhodes have not been included. It is believed that Egypt has refused against Greek pressure on Kastelorizo in a bid to avoid a confrontation with Turkey.
Although Dendias has told the Greek media that both Meis and the remaining coastline of Rhodes will be used in future negotiations with both Egypt and Greek Cyprus, many legal experts in Turkey point out the fact that this deal with Egypt has the potential of creating a precedent for the similar attempts in the future. They also recall that Greece did not start its continental shelf from its islands in the Ionian Sea under the maritime delimitation agreement with Italy.
That prompted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s opinion on the consequences of these two deals of Greece.
According to Çavuşoğlu, Greece has abandoned its long-standing position that the islands have 100 percent maritime jurisdiction area based on the provisions of the 1982-dated UN Law of the Sea as its deal with Egypt did not apply this thesis. Not granting 100 percent maritime jurisdiction areas to the Greek islands in the Mediterranean and the Ionian Sea is endorsing the Turkish thesis over the effect of the islands in demarcation agreements between the countries, he also suggested.
Turkey is of the opinion that the islands have zero effect in defining one country’s continental shelf or economic exclusive zone and cites Meis Island as an example to this end. Meis is only two kilometers from the Turkish mainland while 580 kilometers from the Greek mainland. Greece suggests that its continental shelf extends to nearly the entire eastern Mediterranean at the expense of Turkey’s rights in the same area. Any rational would see that Turkey, as the biggest mainland and having the longest coastline, will never accept it.
The Greek deals with Egypt and Italy have shown that it can be flexible on its long-standing thesis, and it’s time to show a similar approach when it comes to sitting on the table with Turkey.