01/28/2022, 10.53
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Economy trumps territorial disputes between Ankara and Athens

by Marta Ottaviani

After 12 years, the Joint Economic Committee met in the Hellenic capital: a memorandum on strategic sectors was signed, while trade  already tripling since 2005. But the historic divisions between the Turks and the Greeks over Cyprus and the deposits in the Mediterranean remain, as does the issue of migrants.

Milan (AsiaNews) - It may not be a peace agreement, nor the healing of century old wounds, but following the theory that more money can bring at least a little more stability, on paper (and so far only there) Turkey and Greece seem to have taken a step forward. On Monday 24 January, the JEC, the Joint Economic Committee, met for the first time in 12 years. The meeting was held in Athens and came after the JTC, the Joint Tourism Committee, which had taken place in Athens last November, also after a 12-year hiatus.

On a theoretical and practical level, the will to mend fences is there and the programme is vast. The delegations of the two countries signed a memorandum providing for the encouragement of trade and mutual investment in the countries, as well as the promotion of joint ventures between Turkish and Greek entrepreneurs. The memorandum also touches on particularly strategic issues, such as cooperation in the energy sector, research and development and environmental protection.

In short, good intentions and mutual benefits. But the major political issues remain on the table, and they risk compromising the implementation of the memorandum.

Alexandra Voudouri, an analyst at the Macropolis think-tank specialising in South-Eastern Europe, told AsiaNews, "the two delegations,discussed important topics such as tourism, energy, transport and the conditions for carrying out the memorandum. At the moment there are still tensions between the two countries, but many of these remain at a rhetorical level. The fact that there are unresolved issues of a national, political and strategic nature does not mean that cooperation in the economic, trade, tourism, energy, etc. sector can be taken forward. For Athens, the fact that there is a channel of communication with Ankara is an important aspect. Diplomatic sources also underlined how a positive climate can foster constructive discussions and developments in the region.

The issues on the table, however, remain and are important. Firstly, Greece and Turkey have a decades-long dispute over the demarcation of their territorial waters. Athens, unlike Ankara, like 167 other countries, signed the UNCLOS in 1994, the international convention that also sanctions the definition of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), i.e. an area of sea in which the country in question has sovereign rights to manage natural resources, including energy, as well as the right to decide where and when to install facilities such as oil platforms. The extension of the Exclusive Economic Zone goes up to 200 nautical miles, which means that Athens has the right to probe a large part of the waters of the Aegean. Also linked to territorial waters is the issue of Turkey's claim to certain islands, first and foremost Castellorizo, which with its EEZ creates continuity between Greek and Greek Cypriot zones that Turkey does not recognise. Directly linked to this issue is the question of exploration in the waters of the Mediterranean for gas deposits.

Since 1974, then, there has been the enormous problem of the island of Cyprus, invaded by Turkish troops and which since 2004 has been living in a paradoxical situation. Here too, all the questions relating to the exploitation of the waters remain, with Turkey acting as guarantor for KKTC, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Finally, there is the tragedy of the migrants who leave Turkey every year to try to land on the Greek islands and whom Ankara in 2020 herded over the land border with Greece, threatening to let them all pass, using their suffering as a weapon of blackmail.

In short, there are many knots to untangle, but so far they have not stopped business. In 2021, trade between Greece and Turkey increased by 69.2 per cent compared to the previous year and has tripled since 2005. "I believe that both sides will benefit from this memorandum in a fair way," concludes Voudouri. "Speaking in realistic terms, an economically unstable Turkey would create problems for many, not just Greece, on many levels.

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