EU foreign ministers are to hold talks on Monday on a maritime territory deal between Turkey and Libya that has stoked tensions between Ankara and EU capitals and raised the stakes in an escalating battle for resources under the Mediterranean Sea.
The accord signed by Ankara and the UN-backed government in Tripoli late last month demarcates new maritime boundaries between the two countries, according to copies of a mapleaked last week and later confirmed by a Turkish foreign ministry official. The deal was ratified by the Turkish parliament on Thursday.
The new maritime boundary transects an area claimed by Greece and Cyprus. It runs close to the Greek island of Crete and could jeopardise plans for a gas pipeline to deliver eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe. The deal also threatens to complicate the peace process in war-racked Libya, officials in Libya said.
Analysts say the move is another potential flashpoint in Turkish-Greek relations as Turkey seeks to muscle in on efforts to exploit gasfields in the Mediterranean, where it is already in bitter dispute with Cyprus over exploration rights. The Libya deal “is presented in a hostile way to Greece and Cyprus”, said Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Europe think-tank.
Athens and Ankara have been at odds for decades over control of the Aegean Sea as a whole but the Turkish-Libyan accord marks the first time that Greece faces a challenge to its sovereignty in the Cretan Sea. Greek officials fear that Turkey wants to extend a dispute with Cyprus over undersea gas and oil exploration by challenging Greek mineral rights in waters south of Crete.
Speaking before a parliamentary committee on Thursday, Turkey’s deputy foreign minister, Yavuz Selim Kiran, said the deal sent an “important message” to the international community on Turkey’s determination to stand its ground.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, claimed on Friday that the Turkey-Libya accord was illegal under international law and reflected its neighbour’s “aggressive stance” towards Greece.
“Nobody is going to recognise this meaningless document . . . not just because it’s invalid but because there’s no equivalent legal authority on the Libyan side that can do so,” the premier said, briefing Greek lawmakers after his meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey at last week’s Nato summit near London.
Greece also announced on Friday that it was expelling Libya’s ambassador to Athens because he had allegedly failed to meet a deadline for handing over a copy of the agreement to the foreign ministry in Athens.
The deal was unlikely to be ratified by Libya’s parliament, which is controlled by supporters of the Libyan National Army fighting to overthrow the administration in Tripoli, according to a senior Greek official. The LNA is backed by Turkey’s regional rivals Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, while Ankara has allied itself with and supplied weapons to the Tripoli government.
Turkish officials claim that Greece and Cyprus, which remains divided into Greek- and Turkish-speaking enclaves after decades of failed negotiations, have long refused to engage in negotiations on how to divide the Mediterranean region’s natural resources. Cyprus has angered Turkey by allowing international energy companies to conduct exploratory work in seas it claims as its exclusive economic zone.
Ankara has sent Turkish vessels to explore the same waters in response, triggering an EU threat to impose sanctions. The European bloc admitted Cyprus in 2004, even though the island was divided.
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