EU Rejects Turkey-Libya Maritime Boundary Deal Amid Escalating Dispute With Greece

December 13, 2019 Updated: December 13, 2019
FONT BFONT SText size

An accord between Libya and Turkey mapping out maritime boundaries on the Mediterranean Sea is a violation of international law and Greece’s sovereignty, European Union leaders declared at a European Council summit on Dec. 12 in Brussels.

On Nov. 27, Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding on maritime zones with Libya that ignores Greece, Egypt, and Cyprus—countries that also border the Mediterranean Sea. Moreover, the deal does not take into consideration the fact that between Turkey and Libya lies Crete—the biggest island of Greece.

The heads of all European Union states convened on Dec. 12 for a summit in Brussels and took a stance on the Turkey-Libya accord by adopting a conclusion on the issue.

“The Turkey-Libya Memorandum of Understanding on the delimitation of maritime jurisdictions in the Mediterranean Sea infringes upon the sovereign rights of third States, does not comply with the Law of the Sea and cannot produce any legal consequences for third States. The European Council unequivocally reaffirms its solidarity with Greece and Cyprus regarding these actions by Turkey,” the conclusion (pdf) states.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium December 12, 2019. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attends the European Union leaders summit in Brussels on Dec. 12, 2019. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen spoke on Dec. 9 at the summit of chairs of parliamentary groups from the center-right European People’s Party (EPP). Von der Leyen said that the EU executive fully backs Greece in its escalating dispute with Turkey over maritime zones, according to EurActiv.

“We are on your side, Turkey’s action in the Aegean is unacceptable, we will send a clear message to Turkey,” Von der Leyen said.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said that the Memorandum of Understanding between Turkey and Libya “raises major concerns. We expressed our solidarity and our support to Greece and Cyprus, and we will continue doing that.”

The European United Left/Nordic Green Left parliamentary group (GUE/NGL) deemed the Turkey-Libya agreement “arbitrary and illegal since it completely ignores the International Law of the Sea and the legitimate rights of other states in the region.” according to its website.

“The recent illicit Memorandum of Understanding with Libya and Turkey’s verbal note to the U.N. with the defined unilateral coordinates violate the sovereign rights of Greece,” the website states.

“France, Italy, and the Netherlands expressed their ‘full support’ to Greece during a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in Brussels” held on Dec. 9, according to EurActiv.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio will meet in Rome soon to “jointly coordinate the next actions,” says the same source.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said the Turkey-Libyan accord was a “blatant violation of international law.” Greece also expelled the Libyan ambassador, Mohamed Younis AB Menfi, on Dec. 6, giving him 72 hours to leave the country.

Turkish diplomat Cagatay Erciyes, the head of the air force and navy department at the Turkish Foreign Ministry, posted Dec. 2 on Twitter a map showing the alleged maritime demarcation line between Turkey and Libya.

Erciyes claims that the E-F line is the demarcation agreed between Turkey and Libya, according to the same source.

“Libya is also in conflict with Greece over off-shore exploration licenses that Greece issued for waters south of Crete, which is located between Turkey and Libya,” according to World Oil magazine.

Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Donmez said on Dec. 4 that Turkey “will grant licenses to …  start oil and gas exploration, and production studies in [its] maritime jurisdictions delineated in the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Libya,” reported Hurriyet Daily News.

Greece has lodged its objections to the United Nations over the accord between Libya and Turkey, saying the pact could affect the implementation of the Libyan agreement brokered by the U.N. in 2015 to end years of fighting in the North African country.

Turkey on Dec. 12 sent its accord with Libya on a maritime boundary between the two countries to the United Nations for approval, a Turkish diplomatic source said.

Reuters contributed to this report.