By Sarantis Michalopoulos
(EurActiv) — The Greek parliament will discuss and ratify the maritime deals demarcating exclusive economic zones (EEZ) with Egypt and Italy next week, Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas has said.
“The debate in the Parliament for the ratification of the EEZ agreements with Egypt and Italy starts next Monday and the voting will take place on Wednesday,” he said.
The move is expected to infuriate Turkey which has described the Greek-Egyptian agreement as “null and void”, emphasising that Greece and Egypt have no mutual sea border.
Meanwhile, Athens says the Greek-Egyptian deal basically cancels the controversial memorandum of understanding between Turkey and Libya to demarcate maritime zones in the region.
The Turkish-Libyan deal ignores the island of Crete and Greece says Turkey wants to set a legal precedent with an “illegal” MoU under international law.
The EU has also condemned the Turkish-Libyan MoU.
Turkey’s deal with Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord of Libya, has escalated the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean between Greece and Turkey.
Turkey has sent seismic vessel Oruc Reis accompanied by Turkish navy into Greek territorial waters. Ankara claims that Oruc Reis acts within Turkish territory.
Double standards and sanctions
The EU has backed Greece in this matter but has fallen short of proposing specific actions so far, prompting criticism in Greek media.
Athens has tried to link sanctions threatened against Belarus following elections which the EU says were falsified, with potential action against Ankara as well, but European Council President Charles Michel made it clear on 18 August that more time would be needed to discuss Turkey.
“As for the other main topic discussed by our foreign ministers, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, I propose that we allow time for thorough preparation and come back to the topic during a special European Council on 24-25 September 2020.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday (19 August) that the EU could not have double standards for Belarus and Turkey.
“The EU approach in terms of human rights and the rule of law cannot be different for Belarus and different for Turkey,” the right-wing Greek premier said.
However, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen explained yesterday that Turkey and Belarus are “two different situations”.
“We have long history with Turkey, opportunities, cooperation but also conflicts,” she said, emphasising that what is important for the EU is the “willingness of all sides to engage in a problem-solving dialogue”.
Critics also suggest that the EU decided to hold this extraordinary summit exclusively on Belarus without including Turkey to avoid a “trade-off” of sanctions.
The EU has repeatedly said that a toolbox of potential options to deal with Turkey will be discussed at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on 27-28 August in Berlin.
Greek press reports criticised the fact that in the case of Turkey the EU talks about “options” while in the case of Belarus “sanctions” were pushed forward.
Greece has called for sanctions that would “paralyse” Turkey’s economy, targeting key areas such as the banking sector, but obtaining unanimity among EU members for sanctions against Turkey will be a big challenge.
EURACTIV was informed that during the last foreign ministers’ meeting on 14 August a number of countries such as Spain asked for “discreet diplomacy” towards Turkey.
Germany, Hungary and Italy have also taken a cautious approach.
Romania proposed to invite Turkish foreign affairs minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to themeeting in Berlin, an idea that EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell immediately rejected.
So far France and Austria have asked for a tougher EU stance towards Turkey. On Wednesday President Emmanuel Macron described Turkey as “destabilising factor for Europe” accusing its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of pursuing an expansionist policy which “mixes nationalism and Islam” and is not compatible with European interests.
The role of Germany
Germany, which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, has pushed for de-escalation of the crisis and is trying to mediate between the two countries by pushing them toward dialogue.
Many in Athens, though, believe that Germany’s neutral stance encourages Turkish aggression.
Greek media reported recently that at the 14 August foreign ministers’ meeting, Berlin clashed with Athens over the final formal statement, suggesting that Berlin opposed the idea of “welcoming” the Greek-Egyptian maritime deal and that, therefore, no formal statement was adopted.
Diplomatic sources told EURACTIV that the meeting was informal and could not adopt formal statements unless they use a written procedure afterwards.
The same sources added that Berlin’s position has always been one of solidarity with Greece and Cyprus while emphasising the need for de-escalation in the region.
However, EURACTIV was informed that at that meeting German foreign minister Heiko Maas was “slightly disappointed” with the escalation.
Some said he hinted that the Greek-Egyptian maritime deal came one day before the alleged official start of the negotiations between the two countries and therefore delayed the prospect of dialogue.