The debate over the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in the ever-tumultuous Eastern Mediterranean never rests. Still, the tensions that lurk behind this debate are mounting anew. Quite recently, two academically significant but also politically active figures of special relevance for Greece crossed swords over the issue: Angelos Syrigos - Alternate professor of European and Regional Studies, Secretary General for Population and Social Cohesion in the earlier Samaras Government – started this discussion; Christos Rozakis, professor Emeritus of International Law, ex- Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs in a Simitis Cabinet, then Judge and Vice-President at the European Court of Human Rights joined in; both, presently, in an advisory capacity to the wider staff of current Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias.
But also, in nearby Cyprus – well, not exactly adjoining Greece but still in the wider region insofar geopolitics and geo-economics go – veteran politician and President of the Republic Nikos Anastasiadis also joined the fray, following Turkish claims over the Cyprus EEZ. To start from this end of things, Anastasiadis went on record to warn that insofar Ankara tries to establish itself in the role of protector of Turkish-Cypriot interests by sending drill-ships in the EEZ of Cyprus, it should limit itself to the EEZ of the (illegally proclaimed) Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – while promising natural gas finds are up to now in southernmost areas. (Where, Anastasiadis reminded Turkish-Cypriots, their own rights exist only if Cyprus is seen as a non-divided entity). Anastasiadis also stated that were limits to be drawn of the Cyprus EEZ, they would rather have to do with Greek rather than Turkish sea-zones; meanwhile, Cyprus is initiating moves to complete its own EEZ South- and South-Westwards, i.e. with Greece and Libya.
On the Greek side of things, Angelos Syrigos started the argument with a clean-cut position: Greece should table to the UN coordinates for the country’s own sea zones (exclusive economic zone and continental shelf), such coordinates to combine with those of Cyprus’ own and to form the basis for sea-areas delimitation in the Eastern Mediterranean (as has been the case between Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt in Southern East-Med). Rozakis countered with the Montego Bay/UN Law of the Sea Convention that frowns upon unilateral acts in seas areas with less then 400 miles width, and nudges countries toward bilateral agreement as a basis for any such delimitation. At the root of the Rozakis argument one finds the threat of Turkish military activity in the region, were Greece to act unilaterally. (Not to forget the threat of “casus belli” raised by the Turkish Parliament in the mid-Nineties, were Greece to proclaim territorial waters of 12 miles – instead of 6 up to now – in the Aegean; not the same matter, but one unpleasantly close). Syrigos came back with a position calling for both Greece and Cyprus to table coordinates, if not to proceed to unilateral EEZ delimitation, up until close to the point that the three countries (Greece-Turkey-Cyprus) meet (coordinates have been tabled to the UN by countries like Spain, Italy, Croatia (of little importance to this argument), Israel (in 2011 – but Israel will always be Israel…) and Lebanon (2011). To Syrigos, to hope for bilateral delimitation of either EEZ or continental shelf between Greece and Turkey is self-defeating since repeated efforts were with no results in the Eighties, the Nineties and ever since 1999. Just hoping that something will happen through bilateral talks is a recipe for fatalist inaction…
Since Cyprus seems to be moving to the direction of completing its own EEZ, Greece looks set to try what Athens considered until now to be a high-wire act . One has just to hope that all senarios of friction and of increased friction-plus) with Turkey have been played out.