Egyptian and Greek political leaders stressed the importance of trilateral cooperation with Cyprus, inviting Turkey as well

Egypt and Greece pledge cooperation in the Mediterranean with Cyprus

AFP/COSTAS BALTAS - Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (R) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hold a joint press conference at the Maximum Mansion in Athens on 11 November 2020

More and more Mediterranean countries are joining the cause of Greece and Cyprus. The crisis in the Mediterranean driven by Turkey will eventually spill over to all the countries on the eastern seaboard.

Respect for maritime borders is an aspect to be taken into account in President Abdelfatah al-Sisi's Egyptian policies. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis therefore met the Egyptian president yesterday to reiterate the importance of trilateral cooperation between his country, Egypt and Cyprus, stressing the stability and security of the Mediterranean. 

Mr Mitsotakis' final declaration invited Turkey to comply with international standards and join the group. An invitation that will probably be rejected by Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been violating the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Cyprus and Greece since the summer of 2019. 

Mr Mitsotakis described as "emblematic" the agreement signed in August between Greece and Egypt for the partial delimitation of their exclusive economic zones and assured that negotiations are still continuing.

Mitsotakis stressed, adding that “contrary to the stance of neighbouring Turkey, the Mediterranean can become a sea that unites instead of dividing peoples,”said Mitsotakis, who invited Ankara to "abandon aggressive actions and accept the rules of good neighbourliness that will bring new benefits to its people". 

The prime minister also praised Egypt's role in controlling immigration and the ceasefire in Libya. Furthermore, he stated that Egypt is a European ally in the Arab world and on the African continent and that Greece is in favour of deepening relations between that country and the European Union. 

"Egypt is a pillar and a beacon for moderate Islam, real Islam, the only one," said Mitsotakis. Al-Sisi, for his part, stated that "terrorism has no relationship with religion" and condemned insults to all religions. 

rueda de prensa Egipto y Grecia

“I also did not fail to express …the appreciation we all feel for Egypt’s important role as a beacon of moderate, of true Islam. Especially in times, like the present, when certain forces are attempting to don a religious mantle,” he added.

During their joint news conference, Mitsotakis stated that Greece and Egypt will welcome “a more decisive role of the United States in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean” under President-elect Joe Biden.

Greece and Egypt's relations with Turkey have become complicated for various reasons: Greece has a dispute with Turkey over the delimitation of the maritime areas in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, while Egypt criticises Ankara's support for the Islamist group of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered a terrorist organisation in its country. 

Al-Sisi's visit coincided with the announcement of new explorations by the Turkish seismic vessel Oruç Reis in maritime areas that Greece considers its own. The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs described this new warning as illegal and stated that "the new provocation" makes a constructive dialogue less feasible. 

Al Sisi y Erdogan
Turkey has turned a deaf ear to the European Union's warnings 

Turkey's tug-of-war in the eastern Mediterranean has strained relations with the European Union. In October 2018, Turkey sent a first drilling vessel to search for natural gas in the waters off the island of Cyprus, despite the tensions with Greece and the EU club caused by previous exploration. 

Not happy with this, Turkey sent a second vessel in June 2019. With the excuse that the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) had granted Turkey the maritime space for its activities, the Anatolian country started to explore within the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of Cyprus and Greece. 

Gas exploration and prospecting activities in the waters in dispute with Greece and Cyprus have been one of the issues that have most strained relations between Turkey and the European bloc and have been on the agenda of European Councils that bring together the Union's heads of state and government. France has furthermore intervened militarily in the Mediterranean, providing support to Greece and exerting pressure on the ground to prevent Turkey from continuing with its activities.

In October, NATO Director Jens Stoltenberg tried to calm the waters by opening a direct communication line between Turkey and Greece. Turkey withdrew its vessels at this time and tension seemed to disappear. The idea of two Alliance member states clashing in this way unsettles Stoltenberg, who sees NATO's strength falter. 

But it was not a week before the prospecting ship 'Oruc Reis' returned to action, along with two other tracking ships, leaving European commissioners stunned by the fact that they are avoiding harsh sanctions against Turkey. 

Following a diplomatic initiative led by Germany, the Union has undertaken to review relations with Turkey in December, pending the cessation of Ankara's belligerent actions in the region. If not, European leaders will consider sanctions directly against the Erdogan government. 

Buque turco

It is important to remember that Turkey currently controls the migratory tap that goes to Europe and also maintains and controls the gas and oil pipelines that provide heating to the countries north of the Union.

The new summit to be held in December points towards a package of tough measures for Turkey. Cyprus and Greece used to be the only advocates of sanctions on the Ottoman country, but it now seems that France will also join in. "We will push for strong European responses, which could include sanctions,” French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, told the Senate. 

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, stressed that "the December summit would serve to take stock of the situation", declarations before which the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, indirectly requested "an arms sales embargo on that country". 

Everybody's eyes are on Erdogan internationally, as he is present in most of the hotbeds of tension of the new world order, from Libya to the Aegean Sea, Syria, Iraq and now also in Nagorno-Karabakh.