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Greece-Egypt EEZ deal doesn’t sit easy with Turkey



Greece and Egypt signed a maritime border deal on August 6 with Turkey saying the deal falls in its continental shelf.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry reportedly said the agreement allows his country and Greece to move forward in developing promising natural resources, including oil and gas reserves in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).

“First, this is a positive development,” Charles Ellinas, a senior fellow at the Global Energy Center at the Atlantic Council, told New Europe on August 7. “The agreement is based on UNCLOS, recognising the right of islands, as it should. But it needs to evolve further to cover the eastern part of the two EEZs, delineation of which is affected by Cyprus and Kastellorizo. But it is an excellent start, reinforcing internationally accepted maritime principles,” Ellinas added.

But he argued that neither Greece nor Egypt will rush into drilling. He noted that both countries will need to complete EEZ delineation first – including Cyprus – and then divide their respective EEZs into exploration blocks. That would eventually enable the two countries to proceed with licensing rounds. Its only then that exploration and drilling can start, Ellinas said.

Greece hopes that the agreement between Athens and Cairo will effectively nullify an accord between Turkey and the internationally recognised government of Libya. Last year, Turkey and Libya agreed to maritime boundaries in a deal Cairo and Athens decried as illegal and a violation of international law. Greece maintains it infringed on its continental shelf and specifically that off the island of Crete.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the deal between Greece and Egypt falls in the area of Turkey’s continental shelf and violated Libya’s maritime rights.

Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe on August 7 Turkey and Greece were close in revitalising the exploratory talks on the demarkation of maritime zones. “Under the new circumstances, Ankara will freeze them, without providing a timeline. This entails that we should expect more tensions but I don’t think that we will reach a point of no return or that a ‘hot’ incident will emerge,” Filis said. Still, it seems possible that both the Turkish government and the government of Tripoli, which unfortunately acts as a puppet of the former, will rush to issue licenses to (Turkish state oil company) TPAO for blocks near Rhodes, Karpathos and Kassos as well as south of Crete. Then, Ankara might ask Athens to enter in the exploratory talks, in order to prevent seismic surveys in the aforementioned places,” he added.

Filis argued that the dire condition of the Turkish economy makes rapprochement with the European Union imperative. He noted that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, despite his rhetoric, has to improve ties with the Europeans, if he wants to restore credibility and attract foreign capital. “So, under the current circumstances, he should have no desire to enter into ‘adventures’ with Greece and the EU,” Filis said.

Tensions between Athens and Ankara flared up recently after Turkey said it would send a seismic research vessel into an area south of the Turkish coastal city of Antalya and the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

Ellinas reminded that Ankara since said it will hold off on the survey as both countries planned to revitalise talks. “Following Germany’s intervention, last week Turkey ‘paused’ activities to carry out offshore surveys near the Greek islands, south of Kastellorizo, in order to enable dialogue with Greece to address the disputes between the two countries,” he said, adding that it is not now clear how Turkey intends to proceed. Reportedly, not only it denounced the EEZ delineation agreement between Egypt and Greece, but it also terminated preparatory discussions with Greece. “This could be an over-reaction, but it is perhaps in line with Turkey’s approach to these issues – to enforce its views through intimidation and aggression,” Ellinas said, adding, “The only sensible way forward is dialogue. Let’s hope that this will eventually prevail”.

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