Erdogan, Rama and the 12 nautical miles

Erdogan, Rama and the 12 nautical miles

Immediately after Greece announced the expansion of its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea from 6 to 12 miles, some in Albania started playing the same old, tired tune: “Greece is making a grab at our seas.”

To protect himself from the political fallout, Edi Rama tried to calm the objectors, saying that Greece has the right, provided by the international Law of the Sea, to expand its territorial waters when it sees fit, like Albania itself had done in 1990.

The Albanian leader is right on this issue, although it is certain that if he were in opposition he would object.

The real purpose of this commotion is to prevent – or at least delay – the issue of the delimitation of Greece’s and Albania’s exclusive economic zones from reaching the International Court at The Hague, as Athens and Tirana agreed last October. Many suspect an effort is under way to achieve this through procedural delay.

It is notable that even two-and-a-half months after they announced it, the arbitration agreement with which both countries will declare, in writing, that they agree to bring their difference to the Hague court for arbitration has not been signed yet. Athens is in a hurry to move on, since the delimitation of the EEZ in the Aegean, and the related problems with Turkey, are still open, but the Albanian side does not appear willing to proceed.

Rama is facing both a spring parliamentary election and his “best friend” and “strategic partner,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who does not want Greece and Albania to delimitate EEZs through The Hague.

Therefore, leaving the Greek-Albanian EEZ agreement for “never in a month of Sundays,” by freezing the signing of the arbitration agreement, plays to Turkish interests in the area. This is claimed not only by Greeks but also by European diplomats who have served in Tirana and know perfectly well Ankara’s game in the Balkans and the role it envisages for Albania. Albanian politicians had already denounced Turkish involvement in the failure to reach an agreement on Greek and Albanian EEZs in 2009.

Rama’s first foreign visit in 2021 was not to a European country but to his “brother” Erdogan. Indeed, before he had informed Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in September 2020, of his agreement to a joint petition to the Hague court, Rama had been given the “sultan’s blessing” in the resort town of Marmaris.

Immediately after Rama’s visit to Athens on Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu suggested that Tirana should host the exploratory talks meetings.

Rama obviously cannot play a role in the Greek-Turkish rapprochement efforts, but Cavusoglu’s proposal may give the Albanian prime minister some help in the runup to April’s elections.

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