The move comes days before Greece and Turkey resume exploratory talks on controversial maritime claims in the Aegean.
The Greek Parliament overwhelmingly passed laws to extend the country’s territorial waters along its west coast from six to twelve nautical miles, days before long-estranged NATO allies Greece and Turkey resume exploratory talks on controversial maritime claims in the Aegean .
In Wednesday’s 284-0 vote, representatives from four opposition parties supported the center-right government, while members of the Communist Party of Greece abstained.
The west coast of Greece in the Ionian Sea lies opposite Italy and borders Albania on the northern tip. The enlargement does not directly affect an ongoing maritime border dispute with Turkey in the east, but Greece underscores the country’s right to implement the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which set the 12 nautical miles limit in 1982.
“It is a clear message to those who are trying to deprive our country of this right,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament.
Neighboring Turkey belongs to a minority of nations that have not signed the law of the sea. It is said that an expansion of Greek territorial waters to the east would be a “casus belli” or a reason for war. In 1995 the Turkish parliament declared that it would interpret such an expansion as a reason for declaring war.
Relations between Greece and Turkey have entered a difficult and confrontational phase. The two countries have long argued over maritime borders and mineral rights in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean in a dispute that led to a tense military standoff last year.
Under pressure from Western allies, Ankara and Athens will resume talks on January 25 to ease tension and resume a process suspended five years ago.
“We will be present with optimism and confidence,” said Mitsotakis, but there would be “no naivety” from Athens about the talks, which were unofficial and non-binding. “There will be no discussion of national sovereignty,” said the Prime Minister.
Ankara and Athens held 60 rounds of talks from 2002 to 2016, but last year a resumption of a survey vessel that had sent Turkey into controversial waters was planned and there were disagreements on issues to be addressed.
The latter remains unsolved, as Greece only wants to address the delimitation of the sea zones in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey says all issues should be addressed, including the airspace and status of some of the Aegean islands.
“It is not right to choose one of them [issues] and say: “We are conducting exploratory talks,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier this week, criticizing Greece’s approach as not being constructive.
Mitsotakis told parliament that if the two sides failed to reach an agreement, they should at least come to an agreement on how the dispute could be referred to an international judicial authority.
Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed the need to “make the Eastern Mediterranean a basin of cooperation that serves our long-term interests and not an area of competition”.
Before drafting the Ionian Sea Law, which expanded the country’s borders for the first time since 1947, Greece was negotiating with its regional neighbors, Italy and Albania.