Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in Parliament this week that Greece plans to extend the western limit of its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea to 12 miles. The announcement was made during a debate ahead of a vote on Greece’s maritime boundaries agreement with Italy and a similar one with Egypt.
The timing was not random. Greek foreign policy is guided by international law. The decision to extend our western territorial waters follows an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) demarcation agreement with Italy. It also follows talks with Italy and Albania. It would perhaps have been a mistake to announce an extension before reaching an EEZ deal with Italy as such a move could create unnecessary friction with an ally.
Meanwhile, Greece maintains a right to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles in other sea areas, including the Aegean, when it sees fit, in accordance with the provisions of international law and its national interest. The leftist opposition SYRIZA party claims that it had been planning to announce similar measures before it was voted out of power. It is true that when Nikos Kotzias handed over the Foreign Ministry portfolio to then prime minister Alexis Tsipras, he did mention that the relevant presidential decree had already been prepared. In any case, the SYRIZA government did not carry out an extension of territorial waters (neither with a presidential decree nor a law). This is now being pursued by the Mitsotakis administration, and in a more appropriate manner: first an EEZ deal with Italy, then an extension of territorial waters.
The decision to extend Greece’s western territorial waters confirms a new era in Greek foreign policy as testified by other initiatives of the Mitsotakis administration. In this era, Greece is not only declaring its rights, but it is securing them with international treaties as stipulated by international law. This is demonstrated by the delimitation agreements signed with Italy and Egypt, the partial extension of Greece’s territorial waters, the effective defense of our national border in the northeastern Evros region and the Aegean against Turkey’s attempts to exploit migrants and refugees to promote its geopolitical objectives, and, last but not least, by the formation of a broad anti-Turkey alliance with the Arabs, Israel, Cyprus, Greece, France, Austria and other countries. The ultimate objective of the government’s diplomatic drive is the promotion of a geostrategically aware Europe that is in a position to effectively defend its interests internationally, particularly in the Mediterranean.
Greece remains committed to the need to come to an understanding with Turkey in the framework of talks on continental shelf and EEZ delineation. It is also open to the possibility of international arbitration if these talks fail to lead to an agreement. At the same time, it has made clear that it will defend, with determination and a cool head, its territorial integrity and all sovereign rights by every possible means, at great cost to anyone that challenges the above.
Dimitris Keridis is a professor of international relations and a deputy with the ruling New Democracy party.