ATHENS – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s historic visit to Greece on December 7, the first such visit in 65 years by Turkish President, has reconfirmed diverging views between Athens and Ankara on issues concerning the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Cyprus and exploration for hydrocarbons while both countries remain partners in boosting EU energy security through the Southern Gas Corridor that will transport Caspian gas supplies to Europe, reducing reliance on Russia.
Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe in Athens on December 8 that the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) is the only project that involves both countries which has a good prospect to be realised.
“Turkish Stream, especially as Nord Stream-2 develops – despite the objections by a number of players – has few chances to reach European soil, as things stand right now. As for the Eastern Mediterranean, for the time being Greece and Turkey are in opposite sides; their interests diverge, as they both seek to secure the transportation of regional hydrocarbons, supporting different routes,” Filis said.
“I do not see how their interests can converge, given Ankara’s rhetoric and actions. The only option for Greece and Turkey to coincide is through a project that will connect Eastern Mediterranean reserves through Turkey and Greece with the European market. But given Turkey’s maximalism and its attempts to undermine Cyprus’ right to exploit its hydrocarbons, expectations cannot but be low,” the director of research at Institute of International Relations explained.
Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas told New Europe on December 8 that even though Greece-Turkey energy cooperation is strong in quite a few areas, the two countries still have major differences with regards to agreeing Exclusive Economic Zone boundaries.
“This was clear from Erdogan’s visit to Athens. This also has an impact on Cyprus,” Ellinas said, adding that Turkey has not ratified UNCLOS, the United Nations law of the seas, and, in addition to not recognising Cyprus, it is disputing Cyprus’ rights to an EEZ and its offshore hydrocarbon deposits. “In effect, Turkey claims that its continental shelf has precedence and that islands, such as Cyprus, are not entitled to full EEZs. It claims that the capacity of islands to generate maritime zones should be limited in competition with the continental coastal states. Turkey uses similar arguments in its dispute with Greece,” Ellinas said.
However, Italian energy major ENI has investigated in detail and has substantiated the legitimacy of Cyprus’ rights to its EEZ, both on the basis of UNCLOS and other relevant international conventions and agreements, he said. On this basis ENI and French energy major Total are fully satisfied about their rights to explore and exploit their licensed blocks, which they won legitimately through international competition, Ellinas said, reminding that Italy and France support this and made their positions clearly known during recent visits to Cyprus by their Defence Ministers. In addition, Cyprus rights to its EEZ are recognised by the EU, the US and the international community, he said.
“Erdogan’s visit to Athens will not lead to resolution of their EEZ dispute. If anything he has reconfirmed it, by bringing up the Treaty of Lausanne and saying that it needs to be updated on the issues concerning the relations between Greece and Turkey,” Ellinas said. “This has implications on the boundaries between the two countries, including EEZ delineation, in the Aegean and the islands. Greece of course rejects this,” he added.
“One hopes that with time these issues will be resolved amicably, without opening up new fronts by disputing international treaties, and if they are resolved Cyprus will also benefit, especially if in the meanwhile there is also a solution of the Cyprus problem,” Ellinas said, adding that it is hoped that the agreed confidence-building measures can be helpful in steering Greek-Turkish relations in the right direction.
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