A deal for a pipeline to carry gas from new offshore deposits in the southeastern Mediterranean to continental Europe has been signed on Thursday by Greece, Cyprus, and Israel, in a move that risks escalating tensions with Turkey.
The signing ceremony for the EastMed line was attended by the leaders of the three countries, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.
Mitsotakis said the EastMed would offer Europe “better flexibility and independence in its energy sources.”
Netanyahu said the three countries have established “an alliance of great importance” that will bolster regional stability.
Anastasiades said the pipeline affirms that Greece and Cyprus have sovereign rights in waters assigned to them under international law.
“This cooperation that we have developed … is not directed against any third country. On the contrary, whichever country wishes is welcome to join, on the understanding of course that it adopts the basic principles of international law and fully respects the sovereign rights and the territorial integrity of independent states,” Anastasiades said.
Cyprus’ Anastasiades was referring to the dispute with historic rival Turkey over claiming offshore energy deposits in the southern Mediterranean.
Turkey does not recognize Cyprus as a state and claims much of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as falling within its continental shelf, in addition to its claims over large tracts in the Aegean Sea and off Crete under Greek control.
Since May, Ankara has unilaterally started exploring disputed waters controlled by the two EU member countries, Greece and Cyprus.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said no project could proceed without Turkey’s consent following maritime border conduct between the country and Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in November.
Turkey and Libya agreed on the two countries’ EEZ, stretching from Turkey’s southern Mediterranean shore to Libya’s northeast coast in the Eastern Mediterranean as they plan to carry out joint natural gas drilling operations in the disputed waters.
Greece and Cyprus reject the deal as being contrary to international law, arguing that Turkey and Libya share no maritime border.
The planned EastMed pipe will cross almost 1,900 kilometers (1,181 miles) from Israeli and Cypriot gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean to Crete and the Greek mainland and before carrying on to Italy.
Greece, Cyprus, and Israel have been discussing the EastMed since 2013. Israel has discovered about a trillion cubic meters of gas since 1999. Cyprus has discovered at least three important gas fields since 2011.
The pipeline would initially carry 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year to energy-hungry Europe, which is largely dependent on supplies from Russia and the Caucasus region.
The European Union (EU) has already declared its interest in the pipeline by pledging 36.5 million euros for research and technical planning as the energy resources in the North Sea are depleted.
Mustafa Akinci, the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), on Thursday, criticized the pipeline project for its exclusion of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots from it.
“Geographical facts indicate that exclusion of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots from the energy equation in the Eastern Mediterranean is impossible,” Akinci said, referring to the project’s “unreasonable in economic terms” decided on purely political concerns.
Cyprus has been split between its Greek and Turkish populations ever since ethnic tensions resulted in Turkey’s 1974 invasion, with the Turkish part being recognized only by Ankara.