The move comes days before Greece and Turkey resume exploratory talks on disputed maritime claims in the Aegean Sea.
Greece’s parliament overwhelmingly approved legislation to extend the country’s territorial waters along its west coast from six to 12 nautical miles, days before NATO allies Greece and Turkey since long distant, resumed exploratory talks on disputed maritime claims in the Aegean Sea.
In Wednesday’s 284-0 vote, representatives of four opposition parties backed the center-right government, while members of the Communist Party of Greece abstained.
The west coast of Greece in the Ionian Sea faces Italy and borders Albania at its northern tip. The expansion does not directly affect an ongoing maritime border dispute with Turkey in the east, but Greece says it underlines the country’s right to implement the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which set the 12 nautical mile limit in 1982.
“This is a clear message to those who try to deprive our country of this right,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Parliament.
Neighboring Turkey is one of a minority of nations that have not signed the Law of the Sea. He says that an extension of Greece’s territorial waters eastward would be a “casus belli”, or cause of war. In 1995, the Turkish Parliament declared that it would interpret such an extension as a reason to declare war.
Relations between Greece and Turkey have entered a difficult and contentious phase. The two countries have long disagreed over maritime borders and mineral rights in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean in a dispute that sparked a tense military standoff last year.
Under pressure from Western allies, Ankara and Athens will resume negotiations aimed at reducing tensions on January 25, relaunching a process suspended five years ago.
“We will attend with optimism, confidence,” Mitsotakis said, but there would be “no naivety” from Athens about the talks, which were neither official nor binding. “There will be no discussion of national sovereignty,” the Prime Minister said.
Ankara and Athens held 60 rounds of talks from 2002 to 2016, but plans for a resumption last year fell through due to a study vessel Turkey sent into contested waters and disagreements over the topics to cover.
This last issue is still unresolved, Greece wishing to deal only with the delimitation of the maritime areas of the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey says all issues must be addressed, including the airspace and the status of some Aegean islands.
“It is not fair to choose one of these [issues] and say “we are holding exploratory talks”, “Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier this week, criticizing Greece’s approach as unconstructive.
Mitsotakis told parliament that if the two sides cannot come to an agreement, they should at least agree on how the dispute could be referred to an international judicial body.
Last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed the need to “make the Eastern Mediterranean a basin of cooperation that will serve our long-term interests, rather than a zone of competition”.
Prior to drafting the Ionian Sea Bill, which extends the country’s boundaries for the first time since 1947, Greece conducted negotiations with its regional neighbors, Italy and Albania.