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Troubled waters: on EU-Turkey relations

  • 19 August, 2020

  • 5 Min Read

Troubled waters: on EU-Turkey relations

Context

  • Tensions in the eastern Mediterranean soared last week, with Turkey sending an exploration vessel, accompanied by a Navy fleet, to the disputed waters and France despatching warships to assist Greece.

The trigger

  • The trigger for the recent hostility between Turkey and Greece, which have historically shared troublesome relations, has been the discovery of gas in the Mediterranean waters.
  • The EU’s plans to transport the gas to its mainland, which would help reduce its dependency on Russia, have raised the region’s geopolitical profile.
  • Turkey and Greece have overlapping maritime claims.
  • But when EU members and its allies in West Asia and North Africa made plans to build a gas pipeline from the Mediterranean to Europe’s mainland, they kept Turkey out of it, which infuriated Ankara.
  • Earlier this year, the EastMed Gas Forum was formed by Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and Palestine, and Turkey was again excluded.
  • But Turkey challenged the pipeline project and reached an agreement with Libya’s Tripoli-based government, which Ankara is backing, to form an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from its southern shores to Libya’s northern coast across the Mediterranean.

Clash of the EEZ

  • Greece claimed the Turkish zone violated its maritime sovereignty. Later, Greece announced its EEZ with Egypt, which clashes with Turkey’s zone.
  • Immediately thereafter, Turkey sent its survey ship over.
  • The highly complicated issue now has the potential to involve Europe, West Asia and North Africa.
  • It is difficult to demarcate the maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, which is dotted with Turkish and Greek islands.
  • Cyprus is physically divided with the southern part ruled by the internationally-recognised government and the northern part controlled by Turkey.
  • Turkey’s survey ship plans exploration activities around Greece’s Crete Island, which lies just outside the Turkish-Libya economic zone, and Greece and Cyprus call it a violation of their sovereignty.

Isolated Turkey

  • France, the EU’s most powerful military force, has thrown its weight behind Greece and Cyprus.
  • Now, an alliance is emerging among Greece, Cyprus, Italy and France, which is backed by Egypt, Israel and the UAE.
  • Turkey stands almost isolated, but remains a key power in the Mediterranean, which requires the EU to tread cautiously.

Conclusion

  • If the EU wants to transport gas from the coast of Israel to Europe via Cyprus and Italy, an open conflict with Turkey cannot help.
  • What is in everybody’s interest is to dial down tensions and find a diplomatic and mutually acceptable solution to the gas contest.
  • Excluding Turkey, which has a long Mediterranean coast, is unwise. Allowing a resurgent Turkey to bully smaller powers in the region would be strategically disastrous.
  • The EU has to strike a balance between these two options.

Source: TH

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