Given the growing interest in the energy developments of the Eastern Mediterranean, and Southeastern Europe more generally, this article looks at the importance of this region for the energy security of Europe, and more specifically the European Union (EU), focusing on what role Greece could or should play through the establishment of its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Setting the Geographical Framework
Since we are referring to Southeastern Europe we should first, briefly, set the geographical boundaries of this region. The name Southeastern Europe was firstly used in 1863 by Johann Georg von Hahn and it came to be a synonym to, and characterize the Balkan Peninsula. Other scholars argued for a wider Southeastern Europe that extends as far as Turkey, Cyprus, and even, for example, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. Leaving aside the long-standing debate on the boundaries of Europe, we would argue that given the UN map of Europe and the present geographical boundaries of the EU, including the candidate states for EU membership, Southeastern Europe includes the Balkans in the West, Turkey in the East, the Greek Islands and Cyprus in the South, and extends, roughly, to Ukraine in the North.
Energy Security and Southeastern Europe
The countries of Southeastern Europe are gradually acquiring much significance in terms of energy security for two main reasons: 1) they could play a very important role in the transportation of energy resources (e.g. natural gas, oil) coming from the Caspian Sea, the Mediterranean Sea or the Black Sea in the future, and going to the rest of Europe, and most importantly to the Western part; 2) the potential that some of these countries have for accession to the EU (see Croatia, FYROM, Turkey, Montenegro) create both opportunities for cooperation and challenges for the economic development and the energy security of the EU, that need to be addressed. A third reason would be the need of each of these countries to ensure their own energy security in the midst of these economically uncertain times, for their own reasons – be it economic development, national survival or power increase. To better present the significance of Southeastern Europe for the regional and transregional energy security we list some energy pipeline projects (either in progress or completed – excluding the Russian ones) that are partly meant to serve Europe’s energy needs, and release it from its dependency on Russian energy supply, as well as some of the latest energy developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Some of the most important energy pipeline projects include: the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Crude Oil Pipeline which was completed in 2005; the Caspian-Turkey-Europe Natural Gas Pipeline (Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum) which became operational in 2008 and transports natural gas from “Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia, and then further on to Europe (through the Nabucco and Turkey-Greece-Italy pipelines)”; the Nabucco Natural Gas Pipeline whose completion is uncertain and aims at transporting natural gas from the Caspian and the Middle East to Europe (through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Austria); the Turkey-Greece-Italy Natural Gas Pipeline (TGI Interconnector) which transports natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Greece through Turkey and soon to Italy (2012) and Bulgaria through Greece; the proposed Transcaspian Turkmenistan-Turkey-Europe Natural Gas Pipeline which would transport natural gas from Kazahkstan and Turkmenistan to Europe through Turkey; and the Egypt-Turkey Natural Gas Pipeline (Arab Gas Pipeline) which transports natural gas from Egypt to Turkey with plans to expand to Europe. Further, Cyprus’ recent cooperation with Israel and the American company “Noble Energy” for the extraction of the natural gas from the adjoined reserves between Israel and the Cypriot block 12, add to the overall value that the region has for the EU and beyond. In addition, the possibility that there are underwater energy resources (natural gas) south of the Greek Island of Crete gives a new dynamic to the region, and particularly to Greece, and creates even more prospects for the European energy security.
Conflicting Interests, the Fragile Stability and the Politics of Inactivity
In the above list of pipeline projects one could easily observe that Turkey holds a central position in most of them as an energy hub between East and West. After all this is one of the axes that was added to its grand strategy after the end of the Cold War. The EU, or at least many of its member-states that favor Turkey’s EU membership, would like to see Turkey being the main energy alternative to Russia. Up until now, this logic applied more or less to the states that would not like Turkey to fully enter the EU as well (e.g. Germany, France), since energy security is of the essence. However, since the drillings for natural gas in the Cypriot EEZ began, the interest of these countries in the future Cypriot energy alternative has grown. Within this framework, it is only logical to assume that any attempt from Greece to exploit its energy resources would draw the attention of other European countries thus increasing its regional role, to begin with.
Yet, Greece remains inactive in this respect for one main reason: its relations with Turkey. Turkey maintains the Casus Belli over the Aegean Sea dispute with Greece, and it showed its willingness to cause crises if its role as a regional energy transportation hub is challenged, when it diplomatically coerced the Republic of Cyprus, resorting even to the mobilization of naval forces to make the threat more plausible. Now, Greece, according to the Law of the Sea Treaty (1982) does not have to establish an EEZ to be able to exploit its underwater energy resources, it can do so insofar as it has continental shelf. However, the delimitation of the continental shelf is the main dispute between Turkey and Greece over the Aegean; one that the two countries have been discussing the last few years without any significant progress, apart from the general improvement of their economic and other relations.
The establishment of the Greek EEZ would in a sense resolve the problem but it would still need Turkey’s concession to come to fruition. Even the delimitation of the Greek EEZ with Cyprus would be a problem since Turkey considers the Greek Island of Castelorizo, which is between Greece and Cyprus, to be a “gray zone”. Despite all the problems, it goes without saying that it is imperative for Greece to establish its EEZ at some time in the near future. That would, ideally, not only resolve its dispute with Turkey but also allow it to exploit its underwater and water wealth-producing resources as well as control the marine and air space over the water more efficiently, and to secure any energy exploitation initiatives. Furthermore, the exploitation of possible energy resources could prove of crucial importance for the country’s present financial deadlock and future development.
Conclusions: The Need for an Active, and not a Re-active Greek Foreign Policy
In the end, there are two realities that we should take into account in extracting conclusions: 1) the great benefits that would stem from the establishment of EEZ for Greece, and the resolution of the Aegean dispute more generally, given the increasing importance of Southeastern Europe in the energy sector and beyond; and 2) Turkey’s conflicting interests that stem from its ambition to become a regional hegemony and the role that energy plays in this ambition. On the one hand the Greek foreign policy should stop reacting to external developments; it should start playing a role in creating them. On the other hand it is generally accepted that conflict and war is in no one’s best interest and that it should be avoided. Thus, despite the fact that Greece’s claims are based on International Law, it should not proceed to unplanned unilateral actions that could further destabilize the region. Greece needs to take an “indirect approach” in cooperating with regional and international actors by giving them incentives that would lead them to vouch for its future initiatives. For the time being Greece needs to think and strategize, but it needs to do it fast. Paradoxically, it might have to start countering the Turkish foreign policy by firstly dealing with the Balkan North and the Arab states of the Eastern Mediterranean. The future of the European energy security might as well depend on Greece – and not the least, Cyprus – as an energy producer and hub; this again will depend on how capable Greece will prove to be in managing the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.