EU plans to exploit the Mediterranean Sea and the wealth beneath it

Maria Damanaki, Member of the European Commission in charge of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, gave a press conference following the publication of the results of a study presented by the EC on the governance of the marine space. According to this new study, the establishment of maritime zones, including Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the Mediterranean, could allow for a more effective spatial planning policy, which in turn could help attract investments and further economic activities. (EC Audiovisual Services, 11/7/2013).

Maria Damanaki, Member of the European Commission in charge of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, gave a press conference following the publication of the results of a study presented by the EC on the governance of the marine space. According to this new study, the establishment of maritime zones, including Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the Mediterranean, could allow for a more effective spatial planning policy, which in turn could help attract investments and further economic activities. (EC Audiovisual Services, 11/7/2013).

At a time when the Mediterranean Sea is not at its most peaceful times the European Commission presented a study which finds that the “establishment of maritime zones, including Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), in the Mediterranean would benefit the EU’s Blue Growth and wider sustainability agendas”. The study is entitled “Costs and benefits arising from the establishment of maritime zones in the Mediterranean Sea”.

Around this strategic and crucial in every respect sea basin, the cradle of our western civilisation, only a few coastal states have declared any EEZs. This EU initiative may trigger a series of such claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The obvious target is to exploit the wealth of the Mediterranean Sea, but probably more so the hydrocarbons that lie beneath the water. That is why the EU cannot wait for more peaceful times to go along with this plan.

Understandably the study becomes even more important after the latest findings of the huge natural gas reserves located in the area between Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. It’s not only that. There is also evidence supported by scientific data that there are more reserves of natural gas and oil in the Eastern Mediterranean. According to the Law of Sea a coastal State may claim an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that can extend up to 200 nautical miles from the coast. Within its EEZ a coastal State “has sovereign rights for the purposes of exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing living and non-living natural resources (e.g. fish and hydrocarbons) and other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone (such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds) as well as jurisdiction with regard to artificial islands, installations and structures, marine scientific research and the protection and preservation of the marine environment”. With EU member states EEZs of 200 nautical miles the largest part of the Med fish and hydrocarbon stocks will become European property. There is more in it.

The Law of the Seas

Given the economic and the political preponderance of the European Union in this crucial part of the world, whatever exists in or lies beneath the water of the Med Sea will be exploited and controlled by the EU member states, even if it belongs to the EEZ of a north African country. Self-sufficiency in energy has been a European dream all along the era of the hydrocarbon fuels. Now there is a possibility that the dream comes true and the EU will not let it go.

The problem is though that some key countries like Turkey have repeatedly denied to ratify the Law of the Seas. In this case Ankara doesn’t accept that the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea have a right to an EEZ as it is clearly provided by the Law of the Seas. Turkey and Russia however applied to the letter the Law of the Seas in the Black Sea, when they agreed between them their rights in this closed sea basin. Turkey creates more problems also in the Eastern Mediterranean by not recognising the Republic of Cyprus and the island’s rights on the huge natural gas findings in this region. Anyway Cyprus established its EEZ and will produce the first quantities of natural gas in a  few years now.

According to the study “The fact remains that, although the models used in the analyses in the previous sections are testing the value of presence or absence of EEZs or derivative zones, coastal states in the Mediterranean are increasingly, both de facto and de jure, assuming their rights under UNCLOS. The apparent flexibility offered by the high seas is already becoming constrained. A regular feature of the interviews conducted with coastal states is the regular insistence that, irrespective of their views on the claims of their neighbours, they really don’t want to provoke conflict and will go to some lengths to avoid it. This is the type of tolerance the coastal states of the Mediterranean have had centuries of practice at to ensure the maintenance of the equilibrium they all depend on. Perhaps the time has arrived to regularise the situation which otherwise becomes a mosaic of rights and constraints”.

Plan your EEZs

By this statement the European Commission indirectly asks all coastal states and more so those who have not ratified the Law of the Seas, that they have to accept it, “otherwise (it) becomes a mosaic of rights and constraints”. Obviously the issue gains crucial importance because of the oil and natural gas findings and the prospect of more such discoveries. Without the EEZs being agreed, proclaimed and applied, the exploitation of what lies beneath the water is impossible. That is why the Commission demands from everybody to accept that the Law of the Seas rules in the Mediterranean.

Still the authors of the study state that, “This study reflects the opinions and findings of the consultants and in no way reflects or includes the views of the European Union and its Member States or any of the European Union institutions”. Despite this acknowledgment which is standard in similar studies – ordered by the Commission but drafted by outside consultants – the fact remains that the main theme of this work is the application of the Law of the Seas in the Mediterranean. It is also a fact that the very basic conclusion of the study is that if the Law is not applied the result will be “a mosaic of rights and constraints”.

There is no doubt then that the European Commission and the EU member states would persistently follow a strategy along those lines. The target is nothing less than the achievement of energy self-sufficiency in our hydrocarbon thirsty old continent.

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