On 6 August 2020, Egypt and Greece signed a maritime boundary delimitation agreement to set up the exclusive economic zones (EEZ), at a time Turkey imposes maximum pressure within the East Mediterranean Basin, which mostly swindles the two countries of their economic interests. Thus, both Egypt and Greece have taken the initiative to delimitate the boundaries between them, thereby securing their shared interests. In this context, the article aims to explain the practices adopted by Turkey, and how the delimitation deal secures the interests of both Egypt and Greece at present, and stands as a beginning for future economic partnership between them.
FIRST: TURKISH OBSTACLES IN THE TERRITORY
Turkey has made every effort to impede any economic exploitation of the natural gas discoveries in the Mediterranean. It has imposed itself on the territory in general to deduct, as much as possible, from this wealth of resources from which it is excluded by the rules of international law. It first began to conduct explorations in Cyprus’ EEZ with the alleged claim of preserving the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the Republic of Northern Cyprus that is ‘only declared by Turkey with no international recognition’. However, despite that this so-called Northern Cyprus region is bordering Turkey, those explorations went far beyond; they were conducted at the EEZ of South Cyprus, or the southern part of the island, as shown in the map.
From this map, it is apparent that the two drilling vessels: Fatih and Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa have entered into the EEZ of South Cyprus. They conducted several drilling operations—e.g. in July and October 2020—in exploration blocks that had been already licensed to ENI and TOTAL, and these violations were resumed back during July 2020, particularly in the two Cypriot blocks: 8 and 9. This was preceded by Turkey’s obstruction of exploration vessels belonging to Eni from operating their work in February 2018, though being licensed by the Cypriot government.
Moreover, in November 2019, Turkey opted to sign a boundary deal with the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya, whose legal mandate is expired, to define the maritime boundaries between Turkey and Libya, despite not being riparian to each other. This agreement came as a violation of the two EEZs of Cyprus and Greece, as shown in the following map:
The Turkish EEZ was ‘designated’ in such way to prevent the two producing countries: Israel and Cyprus, from building the East-Med Pipeline that is planned to transport gas from its two production areas to Greece, then to consumption areas in Europe. It also aims to obstruct Egypt from extending electrical interconnection lines with Greece and then to Europe, without passing through the Turkish EEZ, thereby impeding any exploitation of the produced resources without Turkish involvement. That is why Egypt and Greece expedited delimitation of the undefined maritime boundaries between them to secure their interests and ease Turkish pressures.
SECOND: THE DELIMITATION DEAL AND PROTECTING THE INTERESTS OF BOTH COUNTRIES
The signing of the delimitation deal has come as an end to decades of economic abandonment for the common boundary zone between Egypt and Greece, and to prevent Turkey’s obstruction of natural resources exploitation projects within the whole basin. In what follows, we clarify the benefits (for both countries) of having this delimitation completed.
- We have earlier pointed out that the Turkish Maritime Boundary Delimitation Deal with the Government of National Accord (GNA) mainly deducts from the Greek EZZ. That is to say, Greece’s first benefit from delimitating the maritime boundaries with Egypt is the provision of a legal framework regulating its undefined maritime boundaries in the East Mediterranean region for coming decades, thereby confining the results of the Turkish-Libyan deal by:
- Providing Greece with a legal justification, along with the Law of the Sea, in the form of an international agreement that contradicts with the Turkish-Libyan deal, thus strengthens Greece’s position by preserving its EEZ before international organizations and the international community in general.
- Causing Turkey to miss out on the opportunity of delimitating its maritime boundaries with Egypt which is considered riparian to it. During the last period, this delimitation has been a persistently pursued aim by Turkey by offering a bigger EEZ than that possible outcome of delimitating boundaries with Greece. But, Egypt refused this offer in adherence to the rules of international law in general, and to the Law of the Sea in particular.
- The maritime zone in the southeast of Crete Island is economically untapped due to the undefined boundaries with Egypt since decades, in contrary to the zones of Ionian Sea in west Greece which were proposed for exploration during 2019 and 2020. Hence, international companies have already begun surveying and exploration activities there, despite predictions of huge amounts of oil and gas in the East Mediterranean basin. The following map shows the Greek zones where current discovery and exploration operations are taking place.
The map shows vast areas at the Greece EZZ, highlighted in orange, which are free of exploration due to the undefined boundaries with Egypt, despite predictions of huge amounts of gas in these areas.
- Delimitating boundaries with Egypt can help Greece transform into a transit country of European energy from the south, right after the completion of the East-Med Pipeline project with both Cyprus and Israel—a project that aims to transfer gas from the basin producing countries to inside Europe across Greek lands, in addition to gaining related price preferences and transit tariffs that would serve the Greek economy. Greece also receives deliveries of Egyptian liquefied gas from Idku and Damietta through Revithoussa Station, west of Athens, and has electrical interconnection lines with Egypt. But these projects were all threatened by the alleged Turkish EEZ and its consequences, including interruption of geographic connection between Greece and East-Med countries.
- For Egypt, the agreement allows exploitation of discoveries at the western zone of Mediterranean boundaries, as well as the extraction of its natural resources. However, despite that the eastern zone is more privileged due to the boundary delimitation between Cyprus and Israel, it remains far from being exploited because international companies do not work at any zones with undefined or contested boundaries.
- The agreement allows Egypt to complete its planned transformation into a regional hub for energy trading by:
- First, liquefying the gas imported from Israel and Cyprus and transferring it to European lands through Greece. Egypt signed a deal with Israel early last year—between the private Egyptian company Dolphinus Holdings on the one hand, and the two companies: Delek Drilling and its U.S. partner Noble Energy on the other hand—to export an estimated $15 billion of natural gas from the two fields: Tamar and Leviathan. Then, in October 2019, the gas deal was amended to increase the exported amount to Egypt from 32 billion cubic meters as specified in the original deal, to 60 billion cubic meters of gas over 15 years. Egypt also signed a deal with Cyprus on 19 September last year in Nicosia, to build a gas pipeline connecting the two countries to transfer the Cypriot gas to Egyptian gas liquefaction stations. This agreement came into effect right after it was published in Egypt’s Official Newspaper (al-Gareeda al-Rasmia) on 5 July 2019.
- Second, completing its projects of electric power trading that would be of no real value if not interconnected with Europe through Greece. Egypt signed an estimated €2-billion electricity interconnection deal with Cyprus—and from which to Greece—through a cable with a capacity of 3000 megawatts per hour. These capacities are increasing as the number of cables, as well as Egyptian growing capacities in power generation, increase. In addition, Egypt works toward having electric interconnection with Saudi Arabia through a cable, with a capacity of up to 3000 megawatts; while it already started electric interconnection with Sudan at a capacity of 70 megawatts per hour, and with Jordan through an electric cable with a capacity up to 550 megawatts per hour. During 2018, Egypt sold a total of 188 gigawatts to Jordan through this cable.
The agreement also allows Egypt and Greece to cooperate in the field of prospecting and exploration for oil and natural gas, with the presence of large Greek companies such as Energean, along with Egyptian startup companies such as Egas and others. In addition, both countries possess vast, land and sea sites that have not been discovered yet, and through which the role of these companies can be maximized and pushed forward to achieve economic gains. This will accordingly benefit both economies which currently suffer the heavily-pressing COVID-19 pandemic, especially on one main economic pillar for both countries: the tourism sector.
To sum up, the Egyptian-Greek Maritime Boundary Delimitation Deal comes as a strategic move for strengthening the existing cooperation between both countries. That is by protecting their current economic interests which is threatened by the boundary delimitation deal between Turkey and the Government for National Accord (GNA) in Libya. In addition, the Egyptian-Greek deal stands as a pillar for future cooperation between both countries, particularly in the field of prospecting and exploration for oil and natural gas, and also for the development of their shared economic relations as a whole.