Greece, Israel and Cyprus signed on Thursday a historic agreement for the construction of the EastMed pipeline, bolstering their tripartite alliance and shaking things up in terms of the geopolitical implications for the region. The pact takes on particular importance due to the current developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and the challenges that Turkey has created by signing the two memoranda with the Tripoli-based government in Libya.
Officials in Athens stress, however, that the alliance sealed by Thursday’s agreement does not stand in opposition to Turkey as it had been built over the last 10 years. All the involved parties clarified that the agreement should not be seen as counter-measure or hostile move against Ankara. To strengthen their claim, the three countries also said that this co-operation is “open” to all. The EastMed agreement however does send a variety of messages not only to Turkey, but also globally.
The three countries signed an agreement for the construction of a pipeline that seeks to link Israel’s reserves with Cyprus and then with Crete and Greece’s mainland through a sea area that Ankara claims belongs to Turkey. The agreement is based, however, on international law, the three signatories are quick to stress.
The EastMed pipeline could create new prospect for Greece and the European Union, diplomats say. Following a decade-long absence from the geopolitical field, mainly due to its financial crisis, Athens could now be considered as a notable player that has important energy alliances. Furthermore, because the project aims at improving the EU’s effort to diversify its energy resources, reducing its reliance on Russian gas, it also enjoys the full support of the United States.
The significance of the EastMed pipeline, however, is also dependant on whether the project is ultimately deemed viable. Two years of research will go into establishing whether the construction of such a long pipeline (roughly 1,900 km) is economically and technically feasible. Also, the future inclusion of Italy in the project is considered a vital factor. Italy has shown some reluctance so far, but has expressed support for the project. The agreement leaves space for Rome to sign later, possibly next month.
Greece, Cyprus and Israel are adamant that the pipeline is technically feasible. In fact, it was stressed that the construction of the first section from the Karish North deposit within Israel’s exclusive economic zone to Vasilikos in Cyprus could be ready as early as 2021. Greek oil and gas exploration firm Energean, which owns and operates the Israeli field through a local subsidiary, also said that building a 215-kilometer pipeline by 2021 to supply natural gas to Cyprus is possible.
Despite the efforts of the Greek, Cypriot and Israeli leaders to disconnect the project from developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially following Turkey’s intervention in Libya, the message to Ankara in the joint statement they issued on Thursday was clear.
Among other things, it stresses that “the Turkish decision to deploy troops in Libya presents a dangerous threat to wider regional stability.” The statement also noted that: This decision constitutes a gross violation of the [U.N. Security Council] resolution … imposing an arms embargo in Libya and seriously undermines the international community’s efforts to find a peaceful, political solution to the Libyan conflict.”
Athens plans to keep reminding to its European and NATO allies about the issue of the two memoranda on military cooperation and maritime borders signed by Turkey with the internationally recognized government in Libya. The maritime borders accord strengthens Turkey’s claims that large parts of the eastern Mediterranean are its own territory.
There are several key events coming up where Greece will back up its effort to annul these agreements. The first is the quartet Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Cairo on Saturday. The ministers from Greece, Cyprus and Egypt are due to be joined by their French counterpart. It is the first time that France will join this tripartite, showing its interest in the developments in the East Med. This interest is partly dictated by economic interests as France’s Total plans to be commercially active in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone. All four countries oppose Turkey’s claims in the East Med as well as its plans in Libya.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s official visit to Washington on January 7 will also be another significant moment. Encouraged by the strong reaction from Washington against Turkey’s plans to deploy troops in Tripoli, Mitsotakis will seek broader support for Greece’s positions.
Greece is due to raise once more the issue of Turkey’s accords during January’s European Council, seeking perhaps more action from its European allies. Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias held a telephone call on Thursday with EU’s diplomatic chief, Josep Borrell, to press home this message.
A day after the EU summit, on Jan 29, Mitsotakis is to visit Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron. The French President has already taken a firm stance against Turkey’s plans in both the East Med and Libya so Athens will be hoping to extract further backing for its positions in the French capital.
By Alexandra Voudouri
Source: Macropolis (registration required)