Dear Members of the Parliament,
Before addressing the sole subject of today’s debate, please allow me to begin by congratulating once again our Coast Guard as well as the Armed Forces that worked together, under adverse conditions last night, in the largest rescue operation of the past months in the Aegean, west of Halki island. Under challenging conditions, almost 100 lives were rescued and are being cared for by the Greek stated. This is to unequivocally prove once again that our activity at sea is not only national but also humanitarian. It is the best response to those who insist on disseminating fake news about Greece’s alleged indifference to people who are in danger at sea.
Today’s session is of special importance, as the Hellenic Parliament is called to ratify two iconic agreements with Italy and Egypt, respectively. Two official instruments delimiting the maritime zones between our countries, which however include clear arrangements, decisive for our broader national interests. They therefore carry major historic and political gravity.
This is precisely why I would like to point out -as did the Minister of Foreign Affairs during the debate in the competent Parliamentary Committee- that our speech must be prudent and responsible, especially today. Because everything that will be stated in this House today will be evidence that may be used, at any time, by some to undermine the national strategy of the country. So let us be particularly cautious, especially today. This is why I will only take the floor once as I do not intend to speak a second time.
The two agreements before us were signed in a space of only a few weeks, but have resolved long pending issues with neighbouring states. They are rooted in the International Law. And they recognise national EEZ and continental shelf with sovereign rights over the sea for all our islands. Finally, they intercept unlawful actions in the region, hence establishing a new reality of peace and security on our seas.
Above all though, these two Treaties signal Greece’s resumption of a role to which it is entitled and needs to vindicate on a daily basis. The role of the guarantor of Europe’s eastern borders as well as interests in the Mediterranean. The role of the ambassador of International Law. The role of the firm arm of dialogue and cooperation in this troubled part of the globe.
It is precisely this role of Greece that is increasingly recognised internationally. This is why, only a few days ago, President Macron introduced the meaningful term “European sovereignty” over “our sea”, referring to the Mediterranean: “Mare nostrum”, “our sea”, to quote him. Chancellor Merkel, too, spoke openly about “rights of the EU Members the dispute of which cannot be tolerated”.
These are significant statement that generate political events. They are, certainly, marked by similar statements of the US, Israel as well as major Arab World countries. Because, indeed, Greece’s agreements with Egypt and Italy are bilateral but have an erga omnes effect. They have universal radiance, because they enrich international practice with a shining example of transnational understanding, based on the principles of International Law and the Law of the Sea.
This is proof that systematic diplomacy can ultimately overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable and yield mutually beneficial solutions. Congratulations are, therefore, in order for the Minister and the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who worked quietly and methodically and negotiated, not only with dynamism but also with skill, with their foreign counterparts, so that we could finally achieve this dual national success.
As you know, I personally inform the political leaders of any developments on our national fronts. This occurred -allow me to stress- also before the signing of the Treaty with Egypt. Regarding the two recent agreements, in particular, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has already made a detailed presentation to the political parties. Here, in the House, at both Committee and plenary levels, the debate has been, I think, as detailed as the matter permits. This is why I will refrain myself to just a few comments, following the chronological sequence of events:
So, in the beginning of June, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Greece and Italy signed the agreement on the delimitation of maritime zones between the two countries. Along with it, the European Commission was also informed of both parties’ consent to accordingly amend, in future, the Annex to the Regulation on the Common Fisheries Policy.
This agreement is, of course, a special milestone. It is the first signed by our country; the first to establish the Exclusive Economic Zone boundaries with a neighbouring country. But also because it responds positively to national issues. It is based on the Law of the Sea, adopts the median line principle as a method establish the zones, recognizing continental shelf for the islands and sovereign rights over their surrounding sea. Indeed, as the Treaty with Italy follows the 1977 boundary – which is customary in the practice and jurisprudence of boundary delimitations – it establishes that the continental shelf and EEZ have identical breadth.
It is, therefore, evidenced that the country remains committed to its firm positions on the principle of the median line as well as on the effect of the islands, even when they are opposite the mainland coast of another country with a larger area. This is why, in order to set off any reduced effect of some small islands, the median line has been moved in favour of Greece elsewhere in the lines of delimitation.
Dear Members of the Parliament,
The understanding with Italy was the precursor, the necessary forerunner to the agreement with Egypt. Always in the same spirit : to upgrade our excellent bilateral relations by establishing Exclusive Economic Zones in the Eastern Mediterranean. Against the same background: The Law of the Sea And always with the same goal: To serve our national interests overcoming a long-standing impasse.
Because, as you are well aware, this issue with Egypt dates back to the 1980s. Bilateral talks began in 2005, swirled in 14 consecutive rounds and seemed to have no end. Meanwhile third parties attempted to fill in the gaps from the long-standing Greek-Egyptian reluctance. With invalid and provocative decisions that multiply difficulties.
During these deliberations, our priority was set on concluding this agreement on the basis of the International Convention on the Law of the Sea which lays down the principles for maritime delimitation. It acknowledges that islands have sovereign rights and jurisdiction on all maritime zones. It also provides for another crucial fact, that in seas like the Mediterranean, the extent and limits of the continental shelf coincide with those of the EEZ. Besides, as you very well know, the continental shelf exists “ab initio” and “ipso facto”, as legal experts say. And certainly, nothing impedes our country from expanding our territorial waters to 12 miles, whenever it sees fit.
In this agreement, the option of a partial delimitation was selected as a starting point. In article one, however, both parties explicitly commit to pursuing negotiations to further the delimitation line.
The immediate delimitation was, undoubtedly, a matter of urgency since Turkey’s illegal attempts to deal with Libyan forces are at play in the region, to the detriment of the sovereign rights of other states. Besides, a quick partial delimitation was precisely what the leading Opposition party had also proposed, indeed publicly. So we agreed on a delimitation line that serves the interests of both parties. I shall not go into the details which are reflected in the relevant maps. But, allow me to touch upon three key points:
First, the Greek sovereign rights zone is now increased by approximately 38,000 square kilometres, adding to the additional 76,000 square kilometres that resulted from the agreement with Italy.
Second, the final delimitation line confirms that islands possess an EEZ and the respective continental shelf. This is a crucial fact for Kastelorizo as well.
Third, Greece retains all its sovereign rights, both east of the 28th meridian, and west of the 26th, always in the context of international legality.
As regards the latter point, it must be stressed that during the talks and after many discussions – including between myself and President el-Sissy – Egypt changed its initial inflexible position that the agreement should relate solely to the area between the 26th and 28th meridians. It agreed to continue negotiations and to conclude them with a wider scope, both countries agreeing, however, that this partial delimitation is final and absolutely binding.
In other words, Cairo rejected enticing proposals that were supposedly going to allocate to Egypt much greater marine and submarine space. At the same time, it also committed to proceed along with Greece on the path leading to a final delimitation of the remaining areas. In other words, it neutralized the attempts of Ankara and Tripoli to manipulate developments. This way, it demonstrated that Turkish aspirations are unsubstantiated and vindicated Greece’s positions as regards sovereign rights in the delimited area.
The national, political and symbolic significance of the agreements that the Parliament is called to ratify today goes far beyond the areas they refer to. Because, as I have already mentioned, the delimitation of maritime zones with our neighbouring countries resolves issues that have been pending for years. It re-establishes International Law as the key factor regulating transnational relations, validating all our national desiderata, and, last but not least, allows for the exploitation of common resources. In other words, it transforms the seas that separate countries into sources of prosperity uniting their citizens.
But above all, the Treaties with Italy and Egypt reinstate a status of legality in the region; they marginalise arbitrary and unilateral practices, and prove that cooperation can take a strict legal form, capable of shielding out even the most violent of behaviours. Of course, these developments are neither sudden nor accidental: They have been preceded by Greece’s multilateral, multi-level co-operation with Israel, Cyprus, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia; by my almost weekly contacts with European leaders; by the strengthening of the Greece-US relations and consistent understandings with the entire Arab world, and by Greece’s decisive role in the Balkans.
It is true that, occasionally, our country’s foreign policy appeared to be always on the defence, moving sluggishly and deferring any developments until sometime in the future. But standing still leads to marginalisation when correlations around us are constantly changing. Inertia often limits national targets. Indeed, procrastination is not far from passivity, and often any vacillation today runs the risk of becoming painful compromises tomorrow.
For 46 years, Greece invoked sovereign rights to which however it never attributed a bilateral legal status. May I remind you that while the continental shelf and the EEZ do not constitute national territory, they do constitute a field of exercising sovereign rights. But for the latter to happen, maritime zones must first be delineated, always pursuant to the Law of the Sea. This is, therefore, the kind of active diplomacy Greece is following today. A policy which unravels gradually, on every relevant front. All the more so now that there are forces hurrying to fill-in the voids and lying in wait to create faits accomplis, construing, as it seems, legality as bewilderment and their own audacity as the other party’s weakness. But they are gravely mistaken! Because there is no longer room for laxity in our foreign policy.
For the past year, this has been a Government of few words but many actions. It contextualises the interests of this country; it combines resolve and flexibility; it forges alliances guided by International Law, and, primarily, it does not hesitate to take bold initiatives that generate positive results in the face of open challenges.
This was demonstrated by our handling of the Evros crisis which led Europe as a whole to dynamically defend its eastern borders, not just Greece’s borders, but Europe’s borders.
This also became apparent when I, along with eight more leaders, signed the first letter which turned out to be the precursor to the European Recovery Fund. This has triggered France’s recent active support in the eastern Mediterranean. The agreements with Italy and Egypt serve also as a confirmation of all this work. They are the result of a new patriotism that serves as the country’s compass to help it navigate the international scene.
In this context, I am announcing today that the Government will promptly submit a bill for Greece to expand its territorial sea to the West, from 6 to 12 nautical miles! Greece is growing. Others have declared this before us; we are making it a reality. We are exercising an indisputable sovereign right that we have according to Article 3 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, in the area of the Ionian Sea, the Ionian Islands down to cape Tenaro in the Peloponnese.
This is a right that Greece reserves to exercise in the future in other maritime areas as well, and which our neighbours have already exercised. This will be done pursuant to the Convention on the Law of the Sea and by applying the median line where the distance between the two coasts is smaller than 24 miles.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs has already briefed his counterparts in Italy and Albania regarding this decision, and he will soon visit Tirana to discuss the final resolution of the delimitation of maritime zones with the Albanian Government, evidently on the basis the Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which both countries are signatories.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Perhaps there is no better confirmation of the correctness of our choices than the spasmodic reactions that they regrettably cause in neighbouring Turkey. Not to its people, of course, but to its leadership. A staff that insists on using words only to shout, not talk. And actions only to provoke, not construct.
This is why Turkey is increasingly being captured in the nets of political and diplomatic isolation. Because the condemnation of Ankara’s actions in the Mediterranean by the entire global community can mean nothing else but total failure. And how different from a desperate frenzy can the latest provocative decision to turn the pan-human monument of the Chora Monastery in Istanbul into a mosque be?
This downward spiral, I’m afraid, is not a momentary event. It is part of a lasting crisis, which reflects a strategic defeat and will escalate unless this wrong choice is changed in time. As long as some keep violating international law, the international community will keep treating them as troublemakers.
I will not go much further, because our positions vis-à-vis the neighbouring country are crystal clear: Our determination to defend our national laws has already been demonstrated, where and as needed. And our Armed Forces are always on alert.
However, Greece is powerful in the field and it feels equally strong at the dialogue table. Because the weapons of international law, good neighbourly relations and civilized behaviour cannot be fought against. Therefore, Greece has every reason to lead Turkey into the arena of legality. I will thus repeat that the way to understanding as regards the single open outstanding issue that we have with Turkey, that of the delimitation of maritime zones in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, is open and it can also be opened for Ankara. But on one condition: Turkey should immediately stop challenging us!
In history, after all, Greeks were the ones to first establish the term “olive branch”. They know, therefore, that such a branch cannot have thorns. Four words will then suffice: Challenges stop, discussions begin.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to conclude my address without any reference to the pandemic or its consequences. I suppose we will deal with this enormous issue also in the days to come. I do not want to underestimate the importance of the national issue before us today. Because armouring our country is not an option. It is a fundamental requirement! This exact fundamental requirement is served by the agreements with Italy and Egypt which we are called upon to ratify.
Today, I spoke to you clearly and honestly, fully aware of the historical significance of the moment. At this juncture, abstaining from today’s vote is equal to evading. And an awkward “present” is equal to being “absent” from historical responsibility.
Mr Tsipras, I understand you have requested a roll-call vote. It will be the first time in this Chamber that a roll-call vote has been requested and you will end up voting “present”, without expressing a clear position on such a crucial issue. And this is happening on your own initiative and at your own fault. I would like to ask you to reassess this request, for one practical reason: The agreement has to be passed before the Minister of Foreign Affairs goes to the Council of Ministers tomorrow; instead, you are causing tactical delays so that you can resolve any internal objections you may have within your party.
I wonder whether there will be party discipline on this issue on your part. Because I cannot think of any party discipline that undermines national responsibility, given that quite a few of your MPs have supported the agreement. So, let’s see how they are going to vote on the roll-call vote that you are causing to take place.
In any case, it would be desirable for you to reconsider your view as to what you will vote on and not just as to how you will vote; because the national line must be clear, common and straight. It can’t be blurred; it shouldn’t result in a zigzag course.
This is why I think it is imperative that all sides of the House vote in favour of this agreement, despite individual objections, reservations and disagreements that were also expressed in the Committee and were recorded and taken into account by the Government.
It is important, it is very important, that we give additional power to the application of international law and to the safeguarding of our national rights, together and united. It is very important that this Chamber sends out to everyone, friends and opponents, a powerful message of strong and responsible politics. And an example of a diplomacy in motion, a diplomacy with a plan, with a perspective. A diplomacy leading to solutions of harmonious coexistence and creative cooperation.
The two agreements with Italy and Egypt can be transformed into two steps that will positively challenge the historian Fernand Braudel. In the mid-20th century he referred to the Mediterranean and wrote that “Geography is a lever that slows down history.”
By ratifying these two historic treaties today, we can reply to him: In the first decades of the 21st century, it is up to us, it is up to all of us, to make our “common sea” a creative accelerator of history. Let’s do it!
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis Address to the Parliament during the Debate on the Ratification of the EEZ Delimitation Agreements with Italy and Egypt
Dear Members of the Parliament,