From the Greek point of view, it should be a signal that will have an impact throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. When Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias met his Italian colleague Luigi Di Maio in Rome on Monday, the two exchanged documents attesting that their respective states had ratified the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which they negotiated and signed a year and a half ago.
It defines the economic zones and thus the course of the maritime borders between the two countries. And it stipulates the respective demands on the use of raw materials and fishing rights. This “brought a procedure to a conclusion”, said Dendias after the ceremony, “which had been open for 45 years”. This once again showed “our exemplary relations with Italy, both within the EU and on a bilateral level”.
Di Maio also emphasized the exemplary nature of the agreement: It was a “great success for both countries and very important for cooperation in the Mediterranean,” said Italy’s foreign minister. “Stability in the Eastern Mediterranean” can only be achieved through “constant and constructive dialogue between all countries in the region”.
This made it clear to whom the gesture was primarily aimed. To Turkey, which has long been in dispute with Greece over sea borders and access rights to natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean, for example. Before Rome and Athens signed the now ratified agreement in June of last year, Ankara and the transitional government of Libya laid down the borders between the respective “sole economic zones” in the Mediterranean, at the expense of Greece and Cyprus, and in doing so relied on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – which Turkey, unlike Greece, for example, has never acceded to.
No breakthrough in the dispute between Athens and Ankara
Athens immediately declared the Turkish-Libyan memorandum to be “null and void” and then concluded an agreement on the respective economic zones with Italy and then with Egypt. The border agreed between Cairo and Athens intersected with the Turkish-Libyan one, whereupon Ankara declared the treaty “null and void”.
In the meantime, the Greek-Turkish conflict on the law of the sea continued to rise, and the mighty red and white research vessel became a symbol Fasting Reisthat Ankara sent out again and again to use seismic methods to explore the natural gas reservoir off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, which is close to the Turkish mainland. The conflict threatened to escalate militarily several times in the past year, until Brussels and Berlin pushed the two NATO partners back to the negotiating table, so far without a significant breakthrough.
Even if the dispute between Athens and Ankara is obviously the most explosive, a number of unresolved border issues are simmering in the eastern Mediterranean. Lebanon and Israel, for example, resumed negotiations on their controversial maritime border under US mediation in the spring of this year; Greece, on the other hand, together with its neighbor Albania, who had been at war for decades, decided in October last year to have the disputed course of the common maritime border clarified by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Italy is the least conflictual neighbor for the government in Athens. Among other things, the two countries are also contractual partners in a project called Eastmed, which provides for Israeli natural gas to be piped via Cyprus and Greece to Italy in the future – which in turn means that Ankara’s interests are threatened. At the meeting with his Italian colleague Di Maio on Monday, the Greek Foreign Minister Dendias finally demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops from Libya – a message clearly addressed to Ankara.