The East Mediterranean region is rapidly evolving into a strategically vital yet vulnerable region. The so-called Arab Spring and its consequences, especially in Syria and Libya, have made the whole region even more fragile. Greece acknowledges the importance of the emerging geopolitical situation in the East Mediterranean, thanks to its own geography and because of Turkey’s policies vis-a-vis Greece and other states in the region.
Greece’s strategic goal for achieving peace and security in our relations with Turkey necessarily implies a readjustment of our policy. For the past 20 years, since the Helsinki European Council, Greek foreign policy has been actively pursuing Turkey’s accession to the European Union.
This prospect, however, is not viable anymore. Let’s be honest: Our neighbor’s full accession to the European Union is no longer an objective for the EU, or indeed for Turkey. The EU would prefer a special relationship instead – i.e. a special framework of cooperation with Turkey. A framework which, in my opinion, should also include defense and security affairs.
We must not allow Europe to treat Turkey in an ad hoc fashion: We need a concrete framework for our relationship based on rules and principles. An economic agreement is not enough. We need a framework of cooperation that will also take into consideration security and naturally the territorial integrity of both Greece and Cyprus. This will clear the landscape for the EU itself, officially acknowledging the two member-states as the southeasternmost borders of the Union.
Greek-Turkish relations are indeed problematic because of Turkey’s behavior: They were further damaged by the recent signing of the memorandum of understanding between Turkey and the Tripoli-based Libyan government. To face the Turco-Libyan initiative, the Greek prime minister, as well as the minister of foreign affairs, have taken decisive diplomatic initiatives with other states in the region as well as guaranteeing the solidarity of our European partners.
The agreement between Ankara and Tripoli is not a dead letter, however. It is a memorandum signed between Turkey and a United Nations-recognized government. Nonetheless, it is not compatible with international law, it does not have legally binding consequences, and it does not bind third parties. It is in fact a Turkish reaction to the cooperation initiatives and alliances that Greece has successfully forged in the region, especially in the field of energy.
The new geopolitical reality in the Mediterranean Sea is pressuring Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who entertains the personal political ambition of being the father of some sort of Ottoman rebirth. His vision is to evolve into a new “father of the nation,” a goal he strives to achieve by 2023, the centennial of the foundation of the Turkish Republic. Regarding the energy game, Erdogan is trying to get the upper hand by signing a deal with a failed state.
I believe Greece is on the right path aiming at the strategic and diplomatic isolation of Turkey. At the same time, it is working toward a rapprochement in its relations with Russia and certainly the US.
Turkey aspires to play a decisive military role in the Libyan civil war. I believe however that the international community, including Greece, will not allow the escalation of instability in the region. Greece is not weak: It possesses capable diplomacy and it is strengthening its alliances.
To confront the memorandum of understanding between Turkey and Libya, which violates international law, but mainly in order to settle the other delimitation issues of the Central and Eastern Mediterranean, we must proceed to the delimitation of maritime zones with Albania, Italy and Egypt as soon as possible.
Despite the Albanian Parliament’s invalidation of the exemplary agreement we achieved in 2009, Greece has the right to expand its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles. In addition, Greece must restart its negotiations on exclusive economic zones with Italy: These negotiations have been postponed in view of the reactions of the Italian fishing community. In short, we must complete the maritime delimitation negotiations with our neighbors to the west and south. This will create a positive precedent for Turkey as well.
Notwithstanding the ongoing historical difficulties, I remain a fervent supporter of a peaceful resolution of the Greek-Turkish disputes, something that will help both nations to thrive. A solution regarding the continental shelf dispute through a bilateral agreement does not seem feasible. We have acknowledged that since the Konstantinos Karamanlis era. The ultimate goal of Greek foreign policy since then has always been a joint recourse to the International Court in The Hague. We need to restart the dialogue now by signing an arbitration agreement that will open the way to the International Court.
By signing the agreement, Turkey will de facto recognize the jurisdiction of the Court, despite the fact that it has not signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) or the 1958 Convention on the Continental Shelf, two documents which Turkey is unlikely to ever sign or ratify. This scenario is feasible given it was agreed in 1975 between the governments of Karamanlis and Suleyman Demirel.
To achieve that, it is absolutely imperative that Turkey accepts the jurisdiction of the Court on the issue of the delimitation of maritime zones between Turkey and the EU and contributes to a peaceful resolution of the Cyprus dispute on the basis of the agreement to create a bizonal, bicommunal federation on the island. These points must become part of the new framework of cooperation between the EU and Turkey to which I referred before.
However, if Ankara refuses to sign such a memorandum, then the international community will see Turkey as an unreliable partner which does not accept dialogue between nations and has no arguments to support its extreme positions.
Greece however, like any state, also needs to forge strong alliances and to boost its military preparedness in order to secure its independence and territorial integrity. The recent bill we passed in the Hellenic Parliament for the strengthening of the Armed Forces is a step in that direction. The upcoming upgrading of the F-16 fighter jets is necessary, but we also ought to increase military personnel. The time to discuss both the employment of new professionals and to extend military service, as well as imposing mandatory conscription at the age of 18 has come.
Thanks to the initiatives taken by Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis, we have reached a national consensus and we have created a united front regarding Greek-Turkish relations. This is our strongest asset. By being committed to this consensus, we will further strengthen our cause and our diplomatic service will be more effectively backed.
We are ready to negotiate with Turkey, in good faith. We believe in peace and the mutual prosperity it generates. But violations of our national sovereignty will not be accepted.
Dora Bakoyannis is an MP for New Democracy and served as Greece’s foreign minister from 2006 to 2009.