It is widely argued that as a result of the 2008-2009 energy crisis between Russia and Ukraine, member-states of the European Union and European countries more generally, want to diversify their energy sources and ultimately reduce their dependency on Russia. In light of this, continental Europe emerges as an energy market in need, while potential alternative energy (natural gas or oil) producers and/or transporters acquire significant geopolitical, geo-economic, and strategic value. The existing energy pipeline projects that end up in Europe, coupled with other similar projects currently in progress and the newly-found natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean – in the Israeli and Cypriot maritime Exclusive Economic Zones – and in the Black Sea, lead to the emergence of a new geo-economic competition of strategic significance. This competition for fulfilling Europe’s energy needs has political extensions and implications for the actors involved. Τhe most important actors taking part in this competition, at this juncture, are arguably Turkey – along with energy producers such as Azerbaijan – and Israel in cooperation with Cyprus and even Greece.
It has become obvious that in the Eastern Mediterranean a new politico-economic, and in an important degree, strategic, axis is developing, consisting of Israel, Cyprus, and Greece. This cooperation has not come as a surprise for those who follow the geopolitical developments of the last years in the region. It is the product of various factors and developments that have taken place on different levels. Yet, the most significant factors that have led to the creation of this cooperation (and for many, alliance) are the gradual changes in Turkish foreign policy, mainly since 2002, which have led to the deterioration of the Turkish-Israeli relations, as well as the discovery of hydrocarbons in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Cyprus, in conjunction with the efforts of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) to delimitate its EEZ with other states of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish-Israeli relations took a turn for the worst in May 2010, with the “Gaza Flotilla incident”, where Israeli commandos killed eight Turkish and one Turkish-american activist during a raid on the “Mavi Marmara” ship that was carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip. Regarding the case of Cyprus and the natural gas, the tensions escalated when Turkey, since the summer and autumn of 2011, threatened the RoC both verbally and by mobilizing warships, in order to achieve the interruption of its efforts for drillings in “Block 12”, in the southeast of the Island.
Natural resources have long been the cause of both development and conflict. Of course, in resource-abundant countries natural resources have, more often than not, caused conflict rather than development. However, the same cannot be said for third countries, often colonial powers, which exploited such resources abroad for their own development. This is one of the reasons why natural resources have been often referred to as a “curse”; an additional reason is the implications that the exist-ence of natural resources has for the management of the economy (e.g. high prices, low exports, etc.).
Cyprus has itself effectively acquired the status of a resource-abundant country when recently, on what was called “an historic” day, the President of the Republic Demetris Christofias announced that the Block 12 of the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) “contained an estimated 5 to 8 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas”. As “the second-largest hydrocarbon discovery in Europe in more than a decade”, the Cypriot natural gas paves the way for not only local but also regional development and cooperation. However, there is always the flip side of the coin and that is the international rivalry that may be triggered due to the alteration of the regional balance of power as a result of this and other developments. Below I briefly examine the features of the limited crisis surrounding the Cypriot natural gas and the Eastern Mediterranean more generally, as well as the features of a potential international cooperation at the re-gional and trans-regional level. The goal is to deter-mine whether bilateral disputes could be bridged, given the political and geopolitical realities at hand, to the end of avoiding a crisis escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean.
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On the 28th of December, the Cypriot President Demetris Christofias announced that the Aphrodite Block 12 field off the coast of Cyprus contains between 5 and 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which “opens up great potential for Cyprus and its people,” he said. Now the question is whether the gas find might also create a new dynamic which could lead to greater regional cooperation and a faster solution to the Cyprus problem.
Apart from President Christofias many other officials and academics supported the idea that the discovery of natural gas could make the conditions for a settlement more favourable. This notion implies, among other things, that Turkey will recognise the great interest it has from a future settlement in Cyprus; that it will appreciate how it could benefit from a future joint exploitation of the natural gas by the two communities under a federal state; as well as the possibilities of cooperation between Cyprus and itself, in consuming and transporting the gas. This is not implausible. And no one could question the benefits that Turkey would have from the implementation of such a scenario. However, this logic does not take into account the coercive attitude and unproductive diplomacy that Turkey has been pursuing of late. Moreover, this rosy picture also does not consider the other external relations of Turkey such as with the EU, nor the state’s domestic politics. Thus, while we cannot exclude the possibility that Turkey will change its stance, at the same time, the realities we have at hand do not leave us much space for optimism.
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.