A Greek-Egyptian milestone

Ioannis Kotoulas
Thursday 13 Aug 2020

The signing of an Exclusive Economic Zone Agreement between Greece and Egypt is a major turning point for both countries and the rest of the region, writes Ioannis E Kotoulas

On 6 August, Greece and Egypt signed an historic deal delimiting their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), an important development for stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. The deal was a result of many diplomatic contacts between the diplomatic and technical personnel of both countries and 13 rounds of bilateral negotiations. The EEZ deal promotes the national interests of both countries in various aspects and is based on international law.

First, and most importantly, the agreement de facto and de jure obliterates the EEZ memorandum between the Tripoli government led by Prime Minister Faisal Al-Sarraj in Libya and the regime led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed in 2019. The Al-Sarraj-Erdogan Memorandum is illegal from the point of view of international law and was based on tactics of extortion used by Turkey against the then crumbling Tripoli regime, as Libyan officials have recently revealed. The Greek-Egyptian EEZ now permanently abolishes the ambitions of Turkish expansionist plans.

Second, the Greek-Egyptian EEZ deal allows the two countries to move on with the exploitation of their natural resources without external interference and on a legal basis guaranteed by international law. Again, we should remind ourselves that Turkey is one of the few states worldwide not to have signed the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Third, the EEZ deal creates a new diplomatic nexus in the Mediterranean and a network of similarly minded states including Egypt, Greece and Cyprus, with France and the US acting as external actors providing diplomatic support. Egypt now shares sea borders with Greece and Cyprus, two EU member states, and it has dealt a blow to a revisionist Turkey that envisages itself as an historic rival of Egypt.

Exclusive Economic Zone Agreement between Greece and Egypt
Exclusive Economic Zone Agreement between Greece and Egypt

The agreement is the result of the joint will of two independent states that have reached a result based on mutual respect and shared interests. It is fully in compliance with international law, and especially the law of the sea. For Greece, it confirms the fundamental principle that all islands, like other land territories of the Greek state, possess full economic zones. For Egypt, “this agreement allows both countries to move forward in maximising the utilisation of the resources available in the Exclusive Economic Zone, especially promising oil and gas reserves,” as Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has said.

The agreement was greeted in friendly terms by Arab countries such as the UAE and Bahrain, as well as by Libyan National Army (LNA) representatives who have stressed that Greece should proceed with a corresponding agreement with the Libyan parliament in Tobruk. Libya is now at a crossroads, as a new legal and geopolitical reality has been created between Egypt and Greece, and it has the choice to join this new Greek-Egyptian nexus and conclude a deal with Greece, thus ensuring EU diplomatic and financial support.

Greece and Cyprus are Egypt’s best diplomatic allies in the EU framework, and they will continue to be so to an even greater extent now that the legal realities of the EEZ have been implemented. Libya can benefit from this diplomatic nexus and under the guidance of Egypt sign an EEZ deal with Greece.

The EEZ Agreement is only a partial demarcation agreement, however, and it needs to be completed by another Egyptian-Greek agreement. According to Article 121 of UNCLOS (1982), “the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf of an island are determined in accordance with the provisions of this convention applicable to other land territory.” This in effect means that the Greek island system of Kastellorizo, like all other territories of the Greek state, possesses an economic zone in full. And the fact that Turkey has not signed the UNCLOS does not allow it to disregard the validity and obligatory aspect of the new treaty, which is now customary international law. Any delimitation should be made according to the situation arising out of the physical and political geography of the delimitation area, as international law indicates.

The EEZ between Greece, Egypt and Cyprus forms a united bloc that will keep revisionist actors outside. Further steps can be taken that will deepen the strategic cooperation between Greece and Egypt, including naval and aerial military cooperation. Egypt’s military, due to initiatives taken by the government under President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, is one of the strongest in the world. Greece possesses the 16th strongest airforce in the world and a considerable naval fleet.

The Mediterranean is our joint geopolitical space. The signing of an EEZ Agreement between our two countries is a major turning point for the geopolitical equilibrium of the region and the result of a pro-active, strategic mentality in both the Egyptian and the Greek governments.

*The writer is a lecturer in geopolitics at the University of Athens in Greece.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly 

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