As the whole world has watched tensions mount between Turkey and Greece, Josep Borrell, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, spoke to the Financial Times, saying: “The tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean between Greece, Turkey and Cyprus have been increasing exponentially, and there is a strong risk of a confrontation that goes further than just words.”
Borrell, whose five-year tenure started in December, stated that EU leaders may discuss further restrictive measures at the European Council on Sept. 24.
Expressing their opinion on the Financial Times news report written by Michael Peel and Ben Hall on condition of anonymity, some EU diplomats claimed that the Greek Cypriot side has hog-tied the EU.
Turkey's hydrocarbon exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean by the Oruç Reis vessel have stirred up France, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, which has been increasing their military mobility in the region for months.
A new front – the Eastern Mediterranean – has been opened on the Ankara-Paris line, where tension has already been high recently due to the reversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, and developments in Syria and Libya.
While France sided with the leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar, Turkey supported Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), which also is recognized by the United Nations.
France, one of the countries providing arms to the PKK/YPG terrorist organization in Syria, has also been a frequent critic of Turkey's military operations in northern Syria. Referring to Turkey’s military operations in Syria, French President Emmanuel Macron told a magazine in recent months: “You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake.”
And in response to the question of whether Turkey will not be in NATO in the long term, he answered: “I wouldn't say that. It is not in our interest to exclude Turkey from NATO, but perhaps we should reconsider NATO,” igniting a new debate.
Another tension between France and Turkey in recent months has emerged with the reversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. The decision to reopen Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship drew a negative reaction from Paris.
In a statement back then, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian expressed dissatisfaction with the decision.
While the Oruç Reis vessel continued exploration activities in company with military ships, Macron has sided with Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration and said he would boost the military presence in the region.
France's La Fayette frigate and two Rafale fighter jets were sent to an area off of the island of Crete last week in a joint exercise with the Greek navy. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis posted a tweet in French, praising Macron.
Norms and rules
In fact, at the heart of this tension in the Eastern Mediterranean are two important maritime law discussions: The navigational telex (Navtex) and the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
As part of its hydrocarbon exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey deployed its Oruç Reis vessel to carry out a new seismic survey on July 21 and issued a relevant Navtex to the mariners in the region.
The Greek media and authorities reacted to the issuance of the Navtex for this region spanning between Kastellorizo (Megisti-Meis) and Rhodes islands from July 21 to Aug. 2. I must emphasize that the Navtex issued is not independent of the agreement on the limitation of maritime jurisdictions signed between Turkey and Libya on Nov. 27, 2019.
Turkey's new seismic searches under the maritime jurisdiction agreement with Libya, which has been reported to the United Nations, has caused tension with Greece, which does not recognize the agreement.
Konstantinos Floros, chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, who was in Greek Cyprus when Turkey issued a Navtex to the south and east of the island of Kastellorizo and stated that it would conduct drilling activities, cut his visit short and returned to Greece.
In a statement, the Greek Foreign Ministry claimed that the Navtex issued by Turkey was “illegal,” accusing Turkey of violating international law. The Greek media claimed that the Greek army was alarmed after the Navtex was issued.
Among the allegations raised by various media outlets, the one that came to the forefront most often was that the Greek navy decided to send warships to the region and all the permissions of the armed forces personnel were canceled.
Moreover, these Greek media outlets noted that this concerned Egypt’s maritime jurisdiction areas, underlining that Cairo’s response was an object of interest – which indicates that Greece will continue to pursue its policy of putting pressure on Turkey through the countries in the region.
Navtex is basically a communication system that automatically gives written reports and warnings of possible danger, safety and weather to international medium frequency ships.
The device automatically receives data from the unidirectional shore station at a distance of 400 nautical miles from the shore. Navtex broadcasts are held free of charge every four hours. Weather report publications are issued in a simplified short format.
Navtex is part of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). A Navtex issuance refers to notifications made through a Navtex device.
Navtex messages and navigational announcements in Turkish territorial waters are issued by the Directorate of Navigation, Hydrography and Oceanography of the Naval Forces Command (DzKK) from Antalya, Samsun, Istanbul and Izmir broadcasting stations.
Notices and warnings are binding for all ships and boats, regardless of whether they are civilian or military. These notices are also publicly posted on the website of the General Directorate of Coastal Safety. The naval forces of the countries announce the information of training and exercises in advance and issue warnings not to enter these areas.
In other words, Navtex is a one-way communication device. The Navtex device is a system that receives the broadcast by a shore station and shows it to the user via an antenna.
Communication is actualized using radio frequencies instead of satellites. In other words, Navtex is not a satellite system but a terrestrial system. It broadcasts using radio frequencies. Therefore, the frequencies used are important.
What about the EEZ?
The term of EEZ was first regulated in Sections 55 to 75 and Section 5 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As stated in Article 57 of the convention, the EEZ shall not extend beyond 200 nautical miles from the main lines which are considered to be the beginning of the territorial waters.
The EEZ means granting some sovereign rights to the coastal state, both under the seabed and within the sea, in the region extending from the coast to the open sea at a maximum of 200 nautical miles. The EEZ gives the coastal state important economic rights and powers in this maritime area. However, the convention also gives some rights to third states over the maritime area in question.
The EEZ within the limits of national jurisdiction includes living resources and oil, natural gas, coal, cassiterite, titanium, magnetite, zircon, ilmenite, rutile, monazite, gold, platinum, diamond and other precious stones, chromite, sand and gravel and copper, nickel, chromium and iron in deposits in hard rocks on the seabed, and other non-living resources such as phosphorite and potash salts in deposits formed by chemical precipitation.
The EEZ, a special jurisdiction area, is not an area under the absolute sovereignty of the coastal state but a maritime area that gives the coastal state exclusive powers only over natural resources. This legal status gives other states the right to continue to use this area freely in other matters.
According to Article 55 of the UNCLOS, the EEZ is an area beyond territorial waters and adjacent to these waters, subject to the special legal regime set out in the convention in question, and the rights and powers of the coastal state and the rights and freedoms of other states are regulated by the relevant articles of the convention.
According to the Territorial Waters Law No. 476, the width of Turkish territorial waters is 6 miles in the Aegean Sea and 12 miles in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Article 56.1 of the UNCLOS stipulates the powers of coastal countries as follows:
(a) sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds;
(b) jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to:
(i) the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures;
(ii) marine scientific research;
(iii) the protection and preservation of the marine environment;
(c) other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.
According to Article 56.2 of the Convention, “In exercising its rights and performing its duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State shall have due regard to the rights and duties of other States and shall act in a manner compatible with the provisions of this Convention.”
This article clearly shows that it is not possible to say that all maritime areas belong only to Greece, as well as that there is a fair share of truth in the theses put forward by Turkey regarding what is happening in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Moreover, Nele Matz-Lück, professor of international public law at Christian-Albrecht University of Kiel, pointed out that the determinative factor in limiting the continental shelf and the EEZ is the impact of the islands on this border, adding: “Due to the multitude of Greek islands, Turkey is in a good point. For instance, if Turkey was to take the issue of the island of Kastellorizo to an international decision-making body, I cannot imagine the decision being in Athens’ favor since Kastellorizo is a tiny island located less then 3 kilometers away from Turkey’s shores, and into Turkish territorial waters. A line could not be drawn in the middle.”
Emphasizing that Turkey has set the distance of coastal waters for its national territory at only 6 miles, the German professor noted that Greece also complies with this regulation, but Turkey concludes that Greek islands should not have more than 6 nautical miles of EEZ or continental shelf, while the Greeks see it differently.
In response to the question of whether a peaceful resolution of the Turkish-Greek issue is possible, she replied that it may be possible if the issue is brought to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague or to an arbitration court.
Matz-Lück had previously made statements about developments in the Eastern Mediterranean to the Tagesschau news portal and supported Turkey's theses.
Turkey's Ambassador to France Ismail Hakkı Musa said in a speech that Turkey was right about the tension in the Eastern Mediterranean, noting: “In a similar problem between Croatia and Slovenia recently, the EU overtly said, I am not authorized.” Indeed, the EU does not have the authority to determine maritime jurisdiction.
Moreover, Turkey does not want special treatment for itself in the Eastern Mediterranean. However, the EU moves the issue to Europe’s agenda and Europeanizes it as if this is the first time such a problem has occurred between the two countries.
Turkey and Greece must resolve the issue between themselves. EU countries apply to a criterion when there is an issue between themselves, while in the case of Turkey, they impose Greece's demands on Turkey under the name of so-called unity and solidarity. This is not possible. There is nothing acceptable about that.
Beyond regional crisis
The Eastern Mediterranean crisis, which is being squeezed into a narrow area between Turkey and Greece, but which in essence includes a wide geography and community of actors, has gone beyond a bilateral regional crisis, growing into an international crisis.
Therefore, the parties to the crisis are not only Turkey and Greece. The two countries are just the tip of the iceberg in the crisis. In fact, it does not go unnoticed that this crisis is very different than the crises in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
First, the crisis is not created between organizations or through organizations. Therefore, there is a change in the “instrument/actor-method” in proxy wars/reckoning. Moreover, the crisis, which appears to be among nation-states, is also losing this quality and moving to a further stage.
At this point, efforts to turn the crisis between Turkey and Greece into a crisis between Turkey and the EU, between Turkey and NATO and, ultimately, between Turkey and the U.S. with French interventions are noticable here.
The fact that the crisis reveals an image of a Turkish-Western crisis through the Greek-French duo every day is quite meaningful in this respect. This, in turn, is important for showing us the source of Greece's role and motivation in the crisis.
After all, the EU does not have the right to have a say on the Eastern Mediterranean issue. While the United Nations’ maritime law and treaties are obvious, I must underline that Turkey has never been a party to the UNCLOS due to the problems in the Aegean islands.
Turkey is not a party to the United Nations’ maritime treaties. Turkey will be justified if the issue is brought to the ICJ in The Hague or to a court of arbitration.
* Istanbul-based lawyer, Ph.D. student in constitutional law at Marmara University