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The Exclusive Maritime Economic Zones in the Mediterranean

Nowadays all coastal countries are taking action at maritime level by creating Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and this happens also in the already crowded Mediterranean, thus redesigning power projections, possible future agreements and future alliances.

It is Turkey, however, which has currently allied with al-Sarraj’s Tripolitania to avoid the harsh conditions that Cyprus and Greece have long imposed on its EEZ.

In principle, Turkey wants economic equality in Cyprus between the two ethnic groups, namely the Greek and the Turkish ones.

Therefore it forces -often manu militari – the external exploration ships to move away from the Cypriot sea, which is an excellent future extraction area.

Turkey’s idea – which has so far proved effective – serves to separate the Greek contact and continuity with the neighbouring maritime areas of Cyprus and Egypt, so as to avoid the Greek control of the EastMed gas pipeline and hence break the continuity line between Southern Europe and Africa, which is needed mainly by Italy.

It is useless to resort to more or less universal lawyers and courts of justice. We need to “carry the sword”, as Our Lord Jesus Christ also advises.

The new Turkish EEZ stretches from the Kas-Marmaris line, on the edge of the Kastellorizo island to the south of Crete, with a triangle that enters the maritime area between the EEZs of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt.

Clearly the aim is to isolate the Greek EEZ from the Cypriot and East and South Mediterranean ones, which have already been classified as particularly rich in oil and gas.

So far Turkey has not specified the precise geographical and geo-mathematical boundaries of its new EEZ, but Egypt has also dismissed it as “illegal” and Greece has branded it as “absurd”.

A possible strategic calculation is what makes us think that Turkey still regards al-Sarraj in Tripolitania as a card to play for a possible future victory against Khalifa Haftar. It is likely, however, that President Erdogan simply considers al-Sarraj the safest card to play anyway, thanks to his Westernist affiliations.

Westerners will not abandon al-Sarraj and his Tripolitania full of jihadists and Muslim Brothers. This is music to Erdogan’s ears, since he does not want to be left alone to hold the bag of a failed State, namely Tripolitania.

Either you are smart on your own – and Erdogan certainly is, besides being an expert strategist – or you trust other people’s stupidity and, in this case, nothing is better than Westerners’ foreign policy.

In principle, however, what is an EEZ? According to the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea, which fully entered into force on November 16, 1994, it is the largest sea area – which, however, cannot exceed 200 miles – in which a coastal State exercises its sovereign rights on the body of water for managing natural resources, such as fishing or the extraction of oil, gas or other substances, as well as for the ecological and biological protection of the marine environment. We should not overlook also scientific research into the sea environment, which is currently essential for technological evolution.

Unless otherwise provided for, theEEZ outer limit coincides with that of the continental shelf in which the State under consideration has the right to exploit mineral resources.

In this case, the EEZ may not even be proclaimed officially , but the coastal State has always exclusive and original rights on the continental shelf.

Italy – which is now the country of Farinelli and of the ancient tradition of the castratoopera singers – is also very cautious about the issue of the Turkish-Libyan EEZ. However, at the Cairo Summit held on January 8 last, Italy declared null and void the claims of Turkey and Tripolitania to oppose the claims of Greece, Cyprus and France.

As to Tripoli alone, however, an EEZ has already existed since 2009.

It unilaterally incorporates the Fisheries Protection Zone, established in 2005, but the Libyan capital of the West, namely Tripoli, has also declared it has held negotiations only with Greece. As Tripoli claims, said negotiations have ended due to the Greek claim to include in its EEZ a small island below Crete, namely Gaudo, which would have changed – to its benefit – the  equidistance line between the Greek EEZ and Tripoli’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

In the discussion on the Mediterranean EEZs, however, Greece demands a rigid geographical equidistance enhancing its many islands while, currently, in maritime law there is a tendency to use a principle of proportionality between sea surfaces and length of coasts.

Hence Turkey has proposed to Tripoli a new border further north than the one accepted by Greece. This greatly enhances the coasts of Cyrenaica and Anatolia, but severely harms the rights of Crete and the Greek Dodecanese.

Greece, in fact, wants to establish its EEZ not in the Aegean Sea – which would be geographically and politically obvious, although it here clashes with a whole range of conflicting interests of Italy, Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Israel – but in the East Mediterranean.

For its Exclusive Economic Zone, Greece has long been seeking agreements with Italy and Albania, but Italy considers only the protection of its fisheries to be a priority, while Albania regards the 2009 Treaty as severely unfair to Albanian maritime interests.

After the harsh darkness of German financial operations against its small economy, Greece is now rebuilding its maritime policy and its modest, but intelligent power projection.

It is by no mere coincidence that Greece immediately wanted to take part in the European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH), which would monitor commercial and non-commercial transit in the Strait of Hormuz.

EMASOH is led by France, which now has a close relationship with Greece against Turkey, and sees the participation of Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Germany, Holland and Portugal.

For the time being Greece has exploited the Cypriot harshness vis-à-vis Turkey, especially by granting exploration permits in areas delimited and bordered by the EEZs of Israel, Egypt and Cyprus.

Turkey strongly challenges this Greek maritime autonomy, supporting the right of the Turkish Cypriot community to collect their share of royalties and, in any case, considering part of the Greek EEZ – the one in which prospections have been authorized – to absolutely belong to Turkey.

The East-Med Gas Forum organized by Cyprus has so far stabilized relations between Crete, Israel and Egypt. The solution reached at the Forum, however, is inevitably written in the sand.

The real problem for Turkey, however, is the route of the new EastMed gas pipeline, which excludes the Turkish territory and part of the European market from the next gas pipeline planned by Turkey together with the Russian Federation.

So far the EU has not shown it accepts the document for the Turkish-Libyan EEZ.

In fact, however, the European Union cannot effectively oppose the Mediterranean countries that want to have a clearly excessive EEZ in relation to their coasts and economic weight.

As mentioned above, Italy has not signed the Memorandum of January 8 last in Cairo.

There are many reasons explaining this attitude: Italy does not like Turkey’s excessive autonomy, but it is not even happy with the Greek and Cypriot maritime projects, while France well protects its Total and hence also the agreement between Totaland ENI, between Cyprus and the Lebanese and Egyptian coasts.

Italy’s energy policy, which has never viewed the EastMed pipeline favourably, appreciates and enhances instead the Green stream pipeline from the Libyan (and Tunisian) coasts but, on the other hand, does not even effectively protect its own immediate interests in Libya or Tunisia.

The strategic link between Turkey’s and Tripoli’s policy, however, is based on a proven fact: the strenuous defense by the EU, Great Britain, Israel and the United States of the gas fields identified south and east of Cyprus.

Therefore Turkey must look elsewhere to certify its hegemony over oil and gas, which is a right of passage and not a right of production.

Also Colonel Gaddafi, however, had a very personal and sometimes imaginative idea of international maritime law.

In 1973 the Raìs included the entire Gulf of Sirte in the Libyan inland waters. In 2005 there was the proclamation of the Fishing Protection Zone 62 miles from the coasts of Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya. In 2009, however, there was also the new Libyan EEZ which stretched up to “what international law permitted”, as the Colonel of Sirte used to say, but it was a rather subjective interpretation of maritime law.

Cyprus, the real punctum dolens of Turkish maritime policy, already established its EEZs with Egypt (in 2003), the Lebanon (in 2007) and Israel (in 2010).

It should be recalled that Turkey has not yet its own EEZ, except for the one defined between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot Republic, and it accepts the proposal of EEZ with al-Sarraj, while it actively opposes all oil operations in the East of Cyprus.

Greece has always been bound by NATO’s obligation not to exacerbate tensions with Turkey. It has therefore stopped the establishment of its own EEZ, but Turkey’s activism with Tripoli has changed the situation and hence also Greece’s geopolitical choices.

Certainly every State is anyway free to define its own EEZs, but it should ultimately be a right limited by binding international treaties. Currently, however, the legal-practical criteria are clear and sufficiently common: the first principle is geometric equidistance, while the median line is – almost always – the result of a free agreement between the Parties.

Moreover, the classic approach of equidistance was taken for delimiting the Turkish-Libyan EEZ. As mentioned above, a line was drawn from the waters directly behind Kastellorizo up to the Marmaris peninsula just in front of Rhodes, while the Libyan area of this EEZ goes from the geographical border of Cyrenaica with Egypt up to Derna.

The Greek islands, apart from Kharpatos, have been completely neglected by the Turkish EEZ, but certainly Greece cannot and does not want to deal directly with Cyrenaica or Tripoli.

Hence what can be done? Greece could immediately extend its territorial waters – which are currently still limited to 6 miles – to 12 miles. However, also Italy is involved since, following the 1985 decision of the European Court of Justice, it must set up its EEZ. The Court of Justice ruled that, while establishing their EEZs, both Malta and Libya should stop at meridian 15°10′, which is the one where the zone of interest of third countries begins – hence precisely Italy.

Among these issues there is the extension – wanted by the Algerian government – of its EEZ to the Central-Western Sea of Sardinia, overlapping the Italian Ecological Protection Zone and the Italian-Spanish continental shelf.

There is long-standing tension between Spain and Algeria, due to the role of the new post-Franco Spain in the Spanish Sahara and its never denied support to the Frente Polisario y del Rio de Oro, as well as to a vast sequence of old and new conflicts.

The political meaning of the Algerian operation is obvious: as from now Algeria wants to consider itself a frontline State compared to France, which, moreover, has extended its territorial waters up to Ventimiglia and Menton, with an agreement signed secretly in 2015 between Italy and France – an agreement which, strangely enough, grants to France the fishy areas of Cimitero, Fuori Sanremo, Ossobuchi, Vapore and Banco.

“Sanremo’s red prawns are a dream”, as the Genoese Paolo Conte sang in Genova per noi.

The agreement is not yet operational, but France has already involved the EU for its implementation.

Hence the Italian masochism does not only concern the Libyan coast.

However, there has been a sequence of creations of Mediterranean EEZs. Israel has defined its Exclusive Economic Zone by excluding the sea in front of Gaza, also for obvious security reasons, thus integrating its areas with those of Cyprus and Greece.

This has immediately led to Turkey’s reaction and it is well-known that Turkey is now the main point of reference for Hamas, the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the Gaza Strip and in Sinai where Hamas also operates as a thorn in the flesh of the harshest enemy of the Muslim Ikhwan, namely Al Sisi’s Egypt.

In February 2018 units of the Turkish Navy blocked – rather harshly – a Saipem ship which was to explore and probably drill an underwater area off Cyprus, where Turkey had unilaterally declared the universal blockade of seabed exploration activities.

Moreover, in October 2019, Turkey started its oil and gas exploration in Block 7, which – as established by the Cypriot government – falls within the joint competence of Total and ENI.

Total – a French company re-founded after the Second World War by the former French intelligence agent Guillermet -was given 20% of the Cypriot Blocks 2 and 9 (the same amount previously held by the Cypriot company Kogas), and 30% of Block 3 – with ENI down to 50% – and also 40% of Block 8, previously totally in ENI’s hands.

On the one hand, in June 2018 ENI discovered the large Egyptian underwater field, namely Noor, which is already the most important one in the Mediterranean and could radically change Egypt’s economy and power projection.

Hence, on the other hand, Turkey is holding tight the whole underwater oil and gas area of the sea around Cyprus- even extending it to the coasts of Cyrenaica – so as to maintain its status as a global oil hub between East and West and counterbalance the oil expansion of Egypt, Israel, the Greek part of Cyprus and the Lebanon.

As already mentioned, the issue of the Algerian EEZ is particularly interesting, if only our governments had any idea of what the national interest.

It should be recalled that Algeria established its new EEZ on March 20, 2018.

As is well known, the border applies also to the seabed: the Algerian area partly overlaps the Hispanic-Italian continental shelf and the Italian Ecological Protection Zone, to the west of Sardinia, with the Algerian EEZ stretching north-westwards, in the Gulf of Oristano, up to reaching the waters of Portovesme, Sant’Antioco, Carloforte (the area where the best Italian tunafish is produced), Oristano, Bosa and Alghero.

The cusp of the Algerian area (coordinates 40°21’31” N and 06°50’35” E) is about 60 miles from the coast of Sardinia, but 196 miles from the Algerian coast.

The Algerian EEZ replaces the old Fisheries Protection Zone (FPZ) established in 1994, which had a maximum distance of 40 miles from the Algerian coast of Ras Tenes and, as things stand now, seems a clear imitation of the new Turkish-Libyan EEZ – to Italy’s detriment, of course.

We should also recall the proposals for maritime expansion by some States in the East. The Levantine Sea is very rich in oil, as well as the Ionian Sea, where Greece is supposed to have designs on its oil and gas.

There is also the sea south of Crete, now seized and requisitioned by Turkey, but also the Adriatic Sea, which is currently exploited for natural gas by Croatia and Montenegro.

The proposal for establishing an Italian EEZ was submitted to the Chamber of Deputies on December 20, 2019, while the proposal for the establishment of a Ministry of the Sea lies idle in the Senate.

Certainly, Turkey has recently granted to al-Sarraj’s Libya a very “generous” loan of 2.7 billion US dollars, but – as noted above – Turkey wants to become the one and only energy hub of the whole Mediterranean, both for the lines coming from Russia and the Caucasus and for those originating from the Mare Nostrum.

Blue Stream, South Caucasus Pipeline, Southern Gas Corridor, TANAP and the Turkish Stream are all elements of a future Turkish hegemony in the energy world, which is Erdogan’s top priority.

Italy cannot be excluded from all these sectors and, regardless of the government in office, it shall anyway not leave ENI alone and finally conceive an Italian geopolitics in the Mediterranean, which is clearly missing today.

Giancarlo Elia Valori