Will the ‘Borrell process’ resolve the eastern Med’s deadlock?
İbrahim Kalın, the president’s adviser and spokesperson, confirmed international press reports of a temporary de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece during a televised interview on July 28.
Kalın said that, upon instructions from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey had decided to suspend the activities of the Oruç Reis seismic research vessel to the south of the Greek islands of Rhodes, Karpathos and
Kastellorizo. Before that, the Greek navy had deployed a dozen warships to the area, arguing that the Turkish move violated its sovereign rights.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had to speak with both Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis around a week ago to call for restraint and ask both to adopt a more constructive approach.
The suspension of the activities shows Turkey’s constructive attitude toward resolving the problem in the eastern Mediterranean, Kalın said, without giving details on how long this moratorium would last. During a recent press conference in Ankara with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya suggested a four-week suspension of activities in the said area.
More precisely, Ankara’s move is a response to an initiative launched by the EU’s high representative for foreign and security policies, Josep Borrell, who is conducting diplomacy behind the scenes to defuse the tension and find a breakthrough to the problems emanating from the eastern Mediterranean.
Dubbed the “Borrell process,” the initiative is a product of his talks with Çavuşoğlu in early July, when the Turkish foreign minister pledged that Turkey would pursue a more flexible approach if the European Union would guarantee the rights and interests of the Turkish Cypriots over potential hydrocarbon revenues. Turkey does not rule out joint hydrocarbon activities in the disputed waters as countries conduct exploration in their own designated continental shelves.
No doubt, Borrell’s main supporter in this process is Germany, which is the current six-month EU term president. Unlike France, Greece and Greek Cyprus, Germany is against imposing new sanctions on Turkey over the eastern Mediterranean, believing that the problem can only be resolved through engagement, not by ratcheting new tensions with Ankara.
According to an EU diplomat familiar with Borrell’s efforts, the experienced Spanish official is trying to come up with a compromise between Cyprus’ Turkish and Greek communities over revenue distribution. This strategy is perfectly in line with Turkey’s expectation, as it has always been pushing an intra-communal dialogue in Cyprus. And Ankara’s move to suspend oil exploration in the said area is clear support for Borrell’s initiative.
Without question, Borrell’s task is a difficult one given the complexity of the crisis in the region. There are two major problems: the one over the divided island between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot administrations, as well as with Turkey, and the second one between Turkey and Greece over the demarcation of their respective exclusive economic zones.
In this context, his initiative has strengths and weaknesses. One of the most important privileges he has is the support of many prominent EU members, including Germany, Spain, Italy and some others. It was this strong support that nixed French demands for a new round of sanctions on Turkey during the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on July 13. Turkey sees Borrell as an honest broker and has made clear that it’s ready to cooperate with him on a fair negotiation.
His weakness is that France and some other countries are opting for a hard-line stance against Turkey. Greece seems to be open to dialogue with Turkey as it is aware that escalating tension will further destabilize the region and jeopardize its interests. It will be difficult to persuade Greek Cyprus to compromise, and it will likely try to use France’s anti-Turkish stance to its advantage.
Although it won’t be easy, Borrell has the opportunity to start a new and promising process to resolve the problems before it’s too late. As many wise people and diplomats suggest, the only option for peace and stability in the Mediterranean is engagement and dialogue.