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Cyprus - Exclusive Economic Zone – Turkey’s provocative behaviour




One of the basic rights that all the internationally recognized states enjoy is the right to sovereignty over their territory. The term territory does not include only a state’s territory, but also the air and the sea space that surrounds it, in the case of coastal states. Regarding the air and sea space, there are international laws which dictate the exercise of the sovereign right of states in such a way so that this right may not be questioned and the international air and sea navigation may be safeguarded.

Sea Area – United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982, provides, inter alia, clear definitions on the Territorial Sea or Territorial Waters, the Contiguous Zone or boarder zone and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, which was concluded in 1982, in Montego Bay in Jamaica and came into force on 16 November 1994, replaced four older international treaties. On 30th April 1982 in New York, a consensus process was used for the new Convention, during which 130 states voted in favour of the Convention, four voted against and 17 abstained. Among the states that voted against the Convention was Turkey. By the end of 2008, 157 countries ratified the Convention, including Cyprus (12 December 1988) and Greece (1995).

Exclusive Economic Zone

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea introduced many innovations including the establishment of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which starts at the coastal baseline and extends 200 nautical miles out into the sea, perpendicular to the baseline. Article 56 of the Convention defines the rights, the jurisdiction and the duties of the coastal state in the Exclusive Economic Zone. Specifically, the coastal state has sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil. In summary, the coastal state has the right to exploit the natural resources of this zone, as is for example the production of energy from the water, currents and winds. In addition it has the right to establish and use artificial islands, installations and structures. All states have the right to freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight and of laying cables and pipelines, on the provision that they act in the framework of the international law and provided that they do not threaten the security of the coastal state.

Moreover, Article 121 paragraph 2 of the Convention states that all islands have an Exclusive Economic Zone and that the EEZ of an island is determined in accordance with the provisions of the Convention applicable to other land territory.

Agreements between Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon and Israel on the Delimitation of the EEZ

On 12 December 1988, Cyprus proceeded to the ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In February 2003 and January 2007, Cyprus signed an Agreement on the Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone with Egypt and Lebanon, respectively. The Agreement is based on the internationally accepted principle of the median line and in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In December 2010, the Agreement on the Delimitation of the EEZ between Cyprus and Israel was signed.

At the same time, Cyprus announced, on 16 February 2007, the 1st Licensing Round Offshore Cyprus for the grant of Hydrocarbon Exploration Licences and subsequent Hydrocarbon Exploitation Licences, which ended on 16 August 2007. A number of companies demonstrated an interest and were provided with the relevant information.

The inconsistency of Turkey

Turkey did not sign or ratify the UN convention on the Law of the Sea. However, towards the end of 1986, it declared an Exclusive Economic Zone in the Black Sea and concluded an agreement with the then Soviet Union concerning states with coasts opposite or adjacent to the coasts of Turkey, using the method of the median line. Later Turkey started talks with Bulgaria and Romania on the same issue and reached an agreement with them, which was similar to the one it concluded with the then Soviet Union.

Consequently, whereas Turkey has cooperated with adjacent states in the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone in the Black Sea, which is a closed or semi-closed sea as is the Mediterranean Sea, yet it refuses to do the same in the Mediterranean, even though it has itself created a precedent in the Black Sea.

Turkey’s responsibilities emanating from its EU accession course

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was ratified by the European Union (10 December 1998) and consequently constitutes a part of the Acquis Communautaire. All the countries for EU accession, including Turkey, are obliged, at the moment of their accession, to implement the Acquis Communautaire.

A relevant question on the issue was submitted to the European Council by the Greek MEP of the Coalition of the Left, Mr Demetris Papadimoulis. The Council’s reply on 2 June 2005 states, inter alia, the following: “The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is a mixed agreement, i.e. concluded by both the Community and its Member States. Under Article 6 of the Act concerning the conditions of accession of the new Member States, the latter undertook to accede to the agreements or conventions concluded by the then Member States and the Community, acting jointly”.

Mr Papadimoulis submitted another question on the same issue, both to the European Commission and the European Council, on 20 February 2007.

The answer of the European Commissioner for Enlargement Mr Olli Rehn on behalf of the Commission was clear: “The Convention on the Law of the Sea is indeed part of the Community acquis, which Turkey is expected to take over and enforce at the moment of its accession to the European Union. The Commission will continue to monitor the implementation of the acquis in Turkey”.

Of similar content was also Mr Rehn's reply to a question posed by the Cypriot MEP Mr I. Kasoulides regarding the violations of Cyprus’ EEZ by a Turkish vessel. Specifically, Mr Rehn, in his reply of 5 March 2009, makes particular reference to the Conclusions of 8 December 2008 which mention that “the European Commission discourages possible threats, clashes or acts that could have a negative impact on the good neighbourly relations and the peaceful resolutions of conflicts”.

The issue was raised again in an intervention at the plenary of the European Parliament by Greek Member of the European Parliament Mr George Koumoutsakos, who stressed that Turkey is the only candidate country for accession to the European Union that has not yet adopted the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which constitutes an integral part of the acquis communautaire. The Greek MEP’s intervention was made in response to the recent activities of the Turkish hydrographic and oceanographic vessel “Cesme” on the Greek continental shelf.

Mr Koumoutsakos reminded that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has been signed by the European Union itself, by all the EU member states and all the candidate countries for EU accession, except Turkey.

“The adoption of the Convention by Turkey constitutes a necessary prerequisite for the accession of this country to the EU, the Greek MEP said and underlined that Turkey cannot be an exception to the rule.

Turkey’s failure to respond to this issue can only adversely affect its accession negotiations on various negotiation chapters such as the chapters on “Energy” and “Fishing”, Mr Koumoutsakos concluded and appealed to the European Parliament to call on Turkey to adopt the Convention the soonest possible.

Provocative acts by Turkey

A research vessel, belonging to a Norwegian company, sailing under Panama’s flag, which was conducting research in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), (27 nautical miles off the island’s north coast) , on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus, was harassed by Turkish warships on 13.11.2008. The Government’s response was immediate. Specifically, President Christofias sent on 14.11.2008 a letter to the UN Secretary-General with which he reported the Turkish provocations. Additionally, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council were informed in Cyprus and in New York and representations were made to the European Union through the President of the European Commission Mr Barroso, as well as through the French President Mr Sarkozy, who presided over the European Union during that semester.

However, Turkey continued its provocative acts. Specifically, on three other occasions, on 19, 21 and 24 November 2008, Turkish warships harassed research vessels, which were conducting oceanographic research in Cyprus’ EEZ, on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus. The above acts were reported in a new letter by President Christofias on 25.11.2008 to the UN Secretary General.

In the light of the start of the process for natural gas exploration in October 2011, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a press release on 5 August 2011, provokes once again, by alleging that the activities and the agreements signed by the Republic of Cyprus for the exploration of its natural resources are contrary to the international law, and they cause problems to the process of the direct negotiations. Moreover, in the press release, the Turkish MFA supports that the Republic of Cyprus does not have the right to take actions and sign agreements, and calls on the international community to act responsibly and not to encourage these activities. In his written statement (7 August 2011), the Government Spokesman Mr Stefanos Stefanou characterized the statements of the Turkish Ministry condemnable, stressing at the same time that the Republic of Cyprus has the sovereign right to exploit its natural resources and this is what it does in the framework of the international law and the international legality. The reaction by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis was also direct. In her statements to the newspaper “Alitheia” (10 August 2011), Mrs Marcoullis said that letters have been sent to the European partners, the EU Commissioners and the members of the UN Security Council, informing them about Turkey’s stance and requesting their support in the effort to handle this development.

Turkey’s provocative behaviour of questioning the Republic of Cyprus’ sovereign rights constitutes a violation of Turkey’s obligation, as a member of the United Nations, to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, including the Republic of Cyprus. Moreover, such behaviour unavoidably influences negatively the efforts of achieving a negotiated solution to the Cyprus problem.

Cyprus, being a victim of the violation of the UN Charter and the rules of international law, attributes great importance to the respect and the implementation of international law. This principle is a basic pylon of its foreign policy.



Last updated: 10 August 2011


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