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Our View: EU Commission speaking for us all in expressing concern

The Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis

The European Commission was talking on behalf of all of us in expressing concern over the latest Greece-Turkey stand-off in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s seismic vessel Oruc Reis has returned to the sea area that Greece regards as part of its easternmost continental shelf, escorted by frigates from the Turkish navy, while the Greek armed forces have been placed on high alert and navy vessels have moved to that part of the sea.

It is exactly the same scenario we witnessed last month, the tension being defused by the intervention of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who persuaded the two countries to solve their differences through dialogue. As a result, the Oruc Reis returned to Antalya and the ships returned to their naval bases. The relief that the worst had been avoided did not last for long. On Thursday Greece and Egypt signed an agreement on the delimitation of their EEZs which overlap the areas that are part of a similar agreement between Turkey and Libya.

This prompted Turkey to issue a navtex, from August 10 to 23, for the area west of Cyprus, part of which Greece regards as in its continental shelf. Both countries are now issuing navtex messages in what seems like a game, albeit a very dangerous one. Turkey’s decision to send out the Oruc Reis has been condemned by the EU and the US State Department, both of which have called for the vessel’s return to base. Turkey was in defiant mood, however, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying on Tuesday “all sorts of seismic and drilling operations” will continue in the area.

His Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias also talked tough, asserting that “Greece will defend its territorial integrity and sovereign rights,” and calling on Turkey to leave Greece’s continental shelf. He also called for an emergency meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council to discuss the matter. Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke with the secretary-general of Nato Jens Stoltenberg about Turkey’s provocations. The German government, meanwhile, has once again taken on the role of mediator, even though the situation is different from what it was last month, when there was no Greece-Egypt agreement.

Turkey has no right to object to this agreement, considering at the end of last year it signed a delimitation memorandum with Libya that included Crete and Rhodes’ continental shelf. Nor can it use the bullying tactics it has been using against Cyprus, systematically violating the Republic’s EEZ, against Greece, which is determined to defend its sovereignty. We can only express the hope that de-escalation efforts succeed because the dispute over sea areas cannot be resolved through hostilities, but only through dialogue. There is no other way, even though persuading the two sides to agree to a dialogue, as things are, might be a little difficult.

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