Expansionist designs or legitimate rights?
The Greek propaganda machine was quick in trying to portray as “unimpressive” a not-so-accustomed Turkish presentation in Ankara, and later in Brussels, on Turkey’s legitimate and inalienable rights in the eastern Mediterranean. It was claimed that diplomats from Turkey’s European allies and other countries, particularly the Israelis and the Egyptians, were not impressed with Turkish briefings. Kathimerini newspaper underlined that a Greek diplomat was among the diplomatic guests of the Ankara briefing and reported that “sources” told it that diplomats attending that meeting met with skepticism the presentation made by Çağatay Erciyes, the director general for bilateral political and maritime, aviation and border affairs.
Why this panic? Was it up to Greek diplomats to decide whether other countries were impressed or not with the information they were provided? Irrespective of how it was perceived by Greece, or the Greek Cypriot state, Turkey’s operations in the eastern Mediterranean are held within the contours of its continental shelf and in areas where the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has issued a license to operate to Turkish Petroleum, the Turkey’s state-run oil company.
The petroleum company’s drilling activity, which started on May 3 and will continue in line with the program announced, demonstrated Turkey’s determination not to bow to fait accomplis by either Greece, Greek Cypriots or their partners. Obviously, nothing can be accomplished in the eastern Mediterranean by bypassing or refusing to engage Turkey.
Admitting the Greek Cypriot government into the European Union in 2004 was a big mistake that today even most European countries admit. Greece, holding its European partners hostage because of Germany’s eastern expansion ambitions, achieved the EU membership of Cyprus though it was the Greek Cypriots who killed a U.N. settlement plan just a week before the accession completed on May 1, 2004.
Now, the EU, standing as a defender of the Greek Cypriot claims and telling Ankara that the unilateral exclusive economic zone of Cyprus constituted the external border of the union, is not only unprecedented and unacceptable but also underlines that the European club can never be an honest broker – a role it keeps on demanding to be given – between the two people of Cyprus. Obviously, maritime claims of EU member states that violate legitimate rights of third countries, in this case Turkey, cannot be portrayed as EU external borders.
As was described by Erciyes in his presentation to diplomats – a presentatrio0n available on the ministry’s web site – the Greek and Greek Cypriot maritime claims are “maximalist” with the assumption that Cyprus and the islands in disputed areas were all entitled to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf (CS). Recently, Erciyes wrote on social media that “Entitlement & Delimitation are not the same thing. Islands may get zero or reduced EEZ/CS if their presence distorts equitable delimitation. This is a fundamental international law principle. Final maritime boundaries can only be determined through agreements (not violating 3rd parties’ possible boundaries) or through litigation. Overlapping maritime claims prevail in the absence of a settlement.”
Irrespective of how the Greek and Greek Cypriot governments describe and with whatever solidarity consideration the EU might respond to Turkey’s legitimate actions, obviously, maritime claims of EU members violating the legitimate rights of third countries cannot be portrayed as the external borders of the EU. Telling Turkey that even if it might contradict international law or established practices because of solidarity considerations the EU was obliged to support, the Greek Cypriot and Greek positions could only hurt further the already very troubled web of Turkey-EU relations.
Turkey has legitimate rights in the eastern Mediterranean emanating from its territorial shelf. Trying to portray Turkey’s determination to defend its rights as “expansionist designs” could only be described as “to remain Greek to realty.”