By Jean Christou
THE Foreign Ministry yesterday welcomed the adoption of a resolution by the European Parliament earlier in the day condemning Turkey’s violation of the island’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
At the same time, Foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides told MPs at a House Finance committee meeting to discuss the ministry’s 2015 budget, that Cyprus would be seeking assistance from foreign experts to see what legal measures could be taken against Ankara.
In Brussels earlier in the day, the EP passed a joint resolution demanding Ankara immediately withdraw its seismic vessel Barbaros from Cyprus’ EEZ.
The resolution was submitted by seven parliamentary groups from various political parties and was debated on Wednesday night. The resolution was not supported by the Greens, who although had signed the initial draft, decided to withdraw when an amendment they submitted was not included in the final text.
The EP resolution makes it clear that Cyprus has full and sovereign rights to explore the natural resources within its EEZ, and that “the Turkish maritime surveys must be seen as both illegal and provocative”. It demands that Turkish vessels operating in waters in and around the EEZ of Cyprus “be withdrawn immediately”.
Turkey should also sign and ratify “without further delay”, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is part of the acquis communautaire.
The foreign ministry said in a written statement that the resolution noted the “inconvenience and discomfort of the European Parliament” over the Turkish violations.
While the move was a political victory for Cyprus, Kasoulides told MPs there were other measures to be considered related to criminal law and arbitration, all of which would be examined by international firms prior to a final decision by the government.
The areas in which the Turkish ship is surveying, although part of the EEZ, are classed as international waters, he said but added: “The fact that Turkish vessels are in the area, even if they don’t or have not done anything, cannot be considered as a legal basis.”
Speaking purely from a legal perspective, Harry Tzimitras, the director the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO Cyprus) told the Cyprus Mail that international law was “neither necessarily black and white, nor automatically applicable.”
“The coastal state enjoys in its EEZ not sovereignty, but some sovereign rights,” Tzimitras said.
“These are exclusive rights for the exploration and exploitation of natural resources, fishing, environmental protection, and production of energy from the air above the sea level. These are specific and exhaustive. The EEZ then is a functional sui generis area combining freedoms of high seas and sovereign rights.”
Tzimitras said the conduct of peaceful research activities by any state in the EEZ of another state is allowed as long as such activities are not prejudicial to the security and good order of the coastal state. The freedom of navigation for commercial ships of any state also extends to warships of any state, he said.
The laying of cables is also allowed under Article 58. “Although the literature on the subject is divided, the majority would seem to suggest that the issuing of a NAVTEX blocking specific areas for seismic research (not general scientific research, but research for oil and gas) and the engagement in such search activities is strictly speaking not legally permissible,” he added.
“Although Turkey has not signed the Law of the Sea Convention, the relevant provisions pertaining to the EEZ are binding upon the country, as they have acquired the status of customary international law and are thus binding upon every state.”
Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides, referred to a cabinet decision on Wednesday to adopt a package of regulations for the configuration of other sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the continental shelf and EEZ, which will be sent to the House shortly.
“The adoption of this legislative package is part of a large effort that began last year, under the coordination of the ministry of foreign affairs… for review and modernisation of the legislative framework for the maritime zones of the Republic,” he said. “It aims at the optimum setting of sovereignty and other rights and jurisdiction of the Republic, at sea in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
Cypriot MEPs yesterday welcomed the EP resolution, which they said was hard won but was a strong message to Ankara, which had done its best to derail it.
Turkey’s EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Volkan Bozkir and Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign minister’ Ozdil Nami, who was in Brussels, had tried to drum up support among MEPs against the resolution.
“Turkey does not give any validity to this vote,” Bozkir was quoted as saying.
Nami expressed the view that EU institutions and the European Parliament should convey balanced messages through their decisions and statements, and should make an effort to aid the resumption of Cyprus negotiations. The Greek Cypriot side pulled out of the talks after Turkey issued is NAVTEX in early October.