The Mediterranean region has always been important for the great powers as well as the states around it throughout history, and with this importance, the region has been a place of competition for the states. There have been struggles between the great powers who wanted to take this region under their control. In fact, there were struggles in this region during the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The fact that the Mediterranean has trade routes connecting the Eastern and Western civilizations and is a gateway to the warm seas makes this region an important and dynamic region. With the increase in the energy needs of Western States after the Industrial Revolution, the proximity of the Mediterranean region to energy resources, and the recent discovery of new energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, the region has gained more importance in international politics with these qualities. In this context, the states in the region have been the backyard of the great powers. The reason used by the great powers to gain interests and have a say in this region was to ensure the stability and security of the region. The states that gained independence after the Cold War and the emerging international organizations or organizations determined their positions in the international arena. One of these new actors is the European Union, which started with the European Coal and Steel Community step. Although European states entered formation under the name of the European Union, their policies towards the Mediterranean did not change, and its importance in terms of security was added to its economic and commercial importance. In this article, the approach and activities of the European Union to the Eastern Mediterranean, which is a critical region, are briefly examined.
Keywords: European Union (UN), Eastern Mediterranean, Strategic, Energy.
1. The Importance of the Eastern Mediterranean as an Area of International Competition
The Eastern Mediterranean Region has always been a region of strategic value from past to present, as it has important trade routes. Significant international conflicts in world politics are also the determining factors of the geopolitics of the region (Ozan, 2020, s. 162). Particularly, the Cyprus Issue, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, the disputes between Turkey and Greece on issues such as the Aegean territorial waters, the continental shelf, and the disarmament of the islands are the main problems. Despite its strategic importance, the Eastern Mediterranean has not been evaluated as a stand-alone unit of analysis, but rather as a part of the Middle East or North Africa. However, the changes and energy discoveries in this region in recent years have pushed the region to be evaluated as a unit of analysis on its own. In the Eastern Mediterranean, geopolitical change is experienced in three areas: The first is the newly discovered energy resources (Ozan, 2020, s. 162). While the discovery of new energy sources causes conflict in the region, it also ensures the formation of cooperation. While the discovery, extraction, and presentation of resources in the region create the need for cooperation, the sharing of these resources is a matter of discussion and conflict. In addition, the desire of great powers and non-state actors to be active in this region creates a regional equation. The second change is the increase in instability and uncertainties in the region, causing security problems among the states of the region. The third development experienced is the increase in instability in parallel with the increase in energy discoveries. This feature of the region attracts the attention of the great powers more and for the last ten years, therefore the region has become the focal point of global competition. Apart from the USA and Russia, actors such as the European Union and China have started to be active in the region.
2. Policies of the EU in the Eastern Mediterranean
In the context of the European Union (EU), the creation of regional policies, the foundations of which were laid with the Single European Act in 1987, has been one of the most comprehensive policies of the EU. In the formation of Regional Policies, it can be said that Marshall Aids applied by the USA after World War II also had an impact. The purpose of regional policies is to put into action the understanding of co-development, which is one of the principles of the EU. However, in practice, these policies reveal a determination in front to as “Europe of Regions: Someone’s Dream, Someone’s Nightmare” (Özer, Ayhan, & İrdem, 2017, s. 181). The basis of the EU’s regional policy is to complement the policies of the member states and to harmonize them with the policies of the union.
The Mediterranean Region has always been an important region for the European Union. The EU’s security approach to the region has an approach that includes the establishment of democracy, cooperation in the economic, social and commercial fields and strategic objectives. The terrorist attack of September 11, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Iraq crisis enabled the EU to concentrate on the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, organized in Barcelona in 1995, to which Turkey is also a party, started with the adoption of the Barcelona Declaration at the Euro-Mediterranean Foreign Affairs Conference. Thus, the EU’s Mediterranean Policy became official with this declaration. Within the scope of this partnership, which has been aimed to create an area of peace, stability and prosperity in the Euro-Mediterranean region, it is aimed to create a free trade area until 2010; but this goal was not achieved (Özer, Ayhan, & İrdem, 2017, s. 181). With the entry of Cyprus Island to the EU in 2004, the Union expanded its borders to the east of the Mediterranean and thus gained geopolitical strength. The fact that the economic, political, and geographical borders of the EU include this region has reinforced the EU’s being a regional power in the northern hemisphere. In line with the EU’s enlargement policy, with the membership of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, the EU expanded its borders to the Black Sea. In this way, the effectiveness of the EU is not limited to Europe alone; By incorporating some of the regions such as the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and North Africa into the Union, it has begun to have the potential to become a great power neighboring other. While the member states of the European Union have gained strength in this regard, it has also made it necessary to ensure stability and cooperation with the neighbors located in the regions where the EU’s external borders are located. The increasing number of members of the Union and the integration problems experienced with the participation of new members, the expansion of external borders, and the conflict areas at or near these borders have made it necessary for the European Union to create new strategies. In this direction, the EU is trying to develop many ways to maintain good relations and stability with other countries and neighboring countries. The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the European Neighbourhood Policy are examples of these.
The Eastern Mediterranean is a region that brings together the oil of the Middle East with Europe, brings together the transportation in the Indian Ocean with different parts of the world, directs the economic values loaded from its various ports in the Black Sea to different parts of the world, and brings NATO closer to the Middle East and the Far East has come to the fore (Güneş, 2015, s. 1-2). Today, it is claimed that making energy discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean will transform the region into a production center where it will be shipped to world markets. Dominant in the Mediterranean, especially in Cyprus, it provides a great advantage in terms of energy resources, trade routes, and military strategy in the region. For this reason, the power that wants to dominate this region cannot be expected to ignore Cyprus. In this direction, the European Union defines the Mediterranean as an inland sea and has included the Southern Greek Cypriot Administration (SGCA) as a member in 2004 to use this situation to its advantage.
The Greek Cypriot Administration saw itself as the sole representative of the island and brought the task to the point of declaring it an Exclusive Economic Zone unilaterally. However, the legal status of the decisions taken is a controversial issue, since 30% of the institutions do not meet the requirement of Turkish Cypriot representation in the authorities as per the Cyprus Constitution. Nowadays Turkey does not recognize the practices of the Greek Cypriot Administration, acting on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus. Today, the Greek Cypriot Administration and Greece are trying to make the energy discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean an EU problem. There are two reasons for this: First, the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus and Greece needs the support of the EU because they cannot prevent Turkey’s activities in the region, although they act together; the second is to show Turkey as the only culprit for the insolvency of the Cyprus Problem, by keeping Turkey in a difficult situation before the EU (Korkmaz, 2019). It is noteworthy that the EU, its members Greece and the Greek Cypriot Administration act according to the theses of the drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey, on the other hand, accuses the EU of making it a member as if the administration of the island belonged to the Greek Cypriot Administration without solving the problems on the island of Cyprus. In addition, the EU’s ignoring the sovereign rights and interests of Turkey, which has the longest coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, is met with reaction (Şeker, 2019). Turkey has stated that it will not remain unresponsive to all these events and that it is determined to continue to protect its continental shelf rights and the rights of the Turkish Cypriots.
Marine areas, continental shelf and energy resources are important factors affecting security in the Eastern Mediterranean. The tension over the sharing of these elements in the Eastern Mediterranean continues. In this respect, the EU should not act unilaterally in the Eastern Mediterranean, should take a role in coordinating the states in a way that would not violate the rights of the states in the region, and should produce policies to ensure security. In this way, the European Union will be able to establish healthy relations and cooperate with the states of the region.
Prepared by Sudenur Yıldız for The FEAS Journal.
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