Josep Borrell, who assumed the post of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy as Federica Mogherini's successor, said on Feb. 17, in Brussels, that member states agreed to launch a new operation in the Mediterranean to monitor Libya's UN arms embargo.
Borrell said Italy and Austria's concerns about the operation were eliminated, and the bloc would take more concrete steps in March.
After the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, armed conflicts in the region have increased, which resulted in the UN Security Council decision for an arms embargo in Libya.
No concrete steps have been taken to supervise the decision until recently and the issue was brought up in a Libya summit at the Berlin Conference on Jan. 19. The arms embargo supervision is planned to be put in action through the sea, air, and satellites.
The supervision will be conducted with sea vessels to be placed 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Libyan shores. Defined by Stephanie T. Williams, deputy head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, as a “joke,” the special supervision mission is expected to be concretized and put to action in March.
According to Borrell, Russia and Turkey give military assistance to the conflicting parties in Libya, while the EU is idly watching the developments. EU Council of Ministers' consensus on starting a supervisory mission on the arms embargo signals the EU will be more closely watching the developments in the Mediterranean.
Besides, EU’s Sophia mission, aiming to combat human trafficking and irregular migration in the Mediterranean, has now lost its efficiency. In this mission, between 2015-2018, 45,000 asylum seekers were rescued. Later, due to disagreements amongst EU countries in replacing the migrants, sea vessel activities were stopped in the spring of 2019
This analysis aims to explain the motivations behind the EU’s supervisory mission on the Libya arms embargo. In this context, the history of the EU’s Mediterranean policy, Turkey and Libya’s maritime sovereignty deal, EastMed pipeline project planning to transport natural gas found in the Eastern Mediterranean into Europe and the EU’s stance on this issue will be discussed. Then the aims and motivations of arms embargo supervisory mission will be analyzed.
EU’s history with the Maghreb and the East Mediterranean
Why is the EU interested in Libya this closely? The first reason to come to mind is preventing migration and protecting Europe from a new migrant deal. Although this is true, other aspects of the issue are also important. First of all, going through economic and political problems in recent years, the EU needs successful examples proving it has a united front in foreign policy. The Mediterranean is a significant region in this respect. The EU’s history in Maghreb and Eastern Mediterranean countries goes back to the foundation of the Union. Global Mediterranean Policy in 1972 took the first step, and known as Europe Economic Community (EEC), the Union signed trade and mutuality agreements with countries such as Turkey, Morocco, Tunis, Cyprus, and Malta.
In 1990, the Global Mediterranean Program was revised and took the name “Renewed Mediterranean Policy.” The main purposes of this policy were: supporting economic reform in Mediterranean countries, making legal provisions to increase direct foreign capital investments, opening the regional countries to EEC trade goods and supporting economic development.
The next step of EU’s Mediterranean Policy is the EU-Med Group, also known as the Barcelona Process. This program aimed to make the Mediterranean an island of peace, deepening economic, political and cultural relations with regional countries, thus reshaping the region. Upon distress in reaching its aims, this policy was fortified with suggestions of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, being renamed as the “Mediterranean Union.” Thus, the EU has been closely interested in countries around the Mediterranean since the 1970s. The main idea behind the interest in the region is that countries are being viewed as a market, supplier of raw materials and a political/economic influence area. The EU was also closely interested in Mediterranean countries due to its energy dependence. Especially the petroleum embargo put on the agenda following Arab-Israel conflict in October 1973, channeled EEC countries, France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, to take more careful and objective steps in this age-old problem of the Middle East. In this frame, countries such as the Netherlands, France and the U.K., who were in close relationship with Israel, started following a more balanced policy.
Energy’s role in EU’s Eastern Mediterranean policy is peripheral
Another factor shaping the EU’s Mediterranean policy is the discovery of natural gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean in the last 10 years, followed by the maritime sovereignty debates. It has been confirmed by expert reports that there are more than 3 trillion cubic meters of natural gas resources in Greek Cypriot State and Israel in total, and this amount might be increased with further discoveries.
A 2010 U.S. Geological Survey’s report estimated the total petroleum reserve in the Eastern Mediterranean is 1.7 billion barrels, and the total natural gas reserve is 3.45 trillion cubic meters (TCM) in Eastern Mediterranean. Discovered natural gas in Greek Cyprus’ Aphrodite oil field amounts to 129 billion cubic meters (BCM). In Egypt’s Zohr oil field, the number is 850 BCM, in Israel’s Tamar, 280 BCM and Leviathan oil field, 620 BCM. Egypt’s Noor oil field claimed to have 1 TCM natural gas.
Natural gas reserves discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean are very important for the related countries. Besides, when we think of Iran’s (31.9 TCM) and Qatar’s (24,7 TCM) natural gas reserves, the total reserve in the region remains limited. Following the natural gas resource discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean, both energy companies and superpowers in the world turned their eyes to the region. Powers in the region fortified their existing military bases, made deals for new bases and at the same time gatherings and performances of navy vessels were organized.
Turkey brought up its Eastern Mediterranean continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) rights and made a deal with the central government in Libya Nov. 27, 2019, to legalize. This was followed by a military agreement as well, which created confusion from Israel and Egypt’s perspective. While debates started in Israel about carrying natural gas through Turkey into European markets instead of the EastMed project, Egypt saw the restrictions of maritime sovereignty deal between Libya and Turkey was to its benefits, increasing its dominance in the Mediterranean.
The EU stood with Greeks in the parcel conflict between Turkey and Southern Cyprus. Once Turkey sent the Fatih Drillship into the region, the head of EU Council Donald Tusk said the following on May 9, 2019: “The EU stands with Cyprus. We invite Turkey to be respectful of the EU member countries’ sovereignty. The EU Council will be closely watching the developments.” Besides, a defense cooperation deal was signed between Southern Cyprus and France on May 15, 2019. With the deal, France was supplied with a maritime base in the Mari region of Southern Cyprus. It was announced that ships in this base would also protect the activities of French oil company Total in the region. The U.K. also decided to increase the number of fighter jets in bases in the Akrotiri and Dhekelia regions of Southern Cyprus from 17 to 138.
Considering all this, it is not wise to suggest the reason why the EU stands in favor of Greeks in the Eastern Mediterranean is to diversify energy resources and reducing dependency on Russia in natural gas. While the total natural gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean amounts to 3 TCM, Russia’s totals to 38.9 TCM, Iran’s to 31.9 and Qatar’s to 24.7 TCM. For that reason, Eastern Mediterranean natural gas replacing Russia is out of the question, who sells 194 BCM natural gas per year. We can suggest that the EU’s Eastern Mediterranean policy is not based on economic grounds. The main idea is to disturb the influence of Turkey in the region and support the official stances of Greece and Greek Cyprus.
EU aims to suspend Exclusive Economic Zone deal
Turkey and the UN-recognized Government of National Accord in Libya signed a maritime sovereignty restrictions agreement on Nov. 27, 2019, in Istanbul. The legal base of this agreement goes back to the UN Maritime Convention in 1982. Articles 74 and 83 of the Convention state “the delimitation of the continental shelf between States with opposite or adjacent coasts shall be effected by agreement based on international law.”
The agreement between Turkey and Libya determined the sovereignty area based on international law as 186,000 square kilometers. Thus, the possibility of making an exclusive economic zone agreement between Greece and Egypt, and Greece and Southern Cyprus, was eliminated. The draft of the anticipated deal between the aforementioned parties is known as the “Seville map.”
This map restricted Turkey’s Mediterranean sovereignty area to 41,000 kilometers and restrained Turkey to the shoreline. The second deal signed between Libya and Turkey is called the “Security and Military Cooperation Deal.” By this deal, Turkey will provide military training to the legitimate government in Libya if asked, and will also supply warfare equipment.
The EU has deep concerns about both agreements signed between Turkey and Libya. Supporting the official stances of Greece and Greek Cyprus in the Aegean and the Mediterranean, EU officials invite Turkey to “comply with the international law.” After the signing of the deal, the Libyan ambassador in Athens was announced “an unwanted person.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis claimed Turkey neglects Greece’s maritime economic interests and thus resorts to provocation. Besides, at the beginning of January, Israel, Egypt, Southern Cyprus, and Greece founded an organization called East Med Gas Forum. The forum suggested natural gas in the region will be transported to Europe markets through Crete and Greece, using the projected EastMed pipeline. Three obstacles are blocking the transport of Eastern Mediterranean natural gas into Europe through pipelines: The lack of enough natural gas reserves, that Mediterranean’s ground depth is not suitable for building a pipeline and the pipeline passing through Turkey’s sovereign lands.
Thus, the EU’s initiative for a supervisory mission on the arms embargo in Libya aims to support the official stances of Greece and Greek Cyprus in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. Secondly, it was claimed that Turkey supporting the central government in Libya in the civil war would heat the conflict, causing further migrant waves.
The third point is, EU’s main expectation is the failure of the Government of National Accord, who signed an agreement with Turkey in the Libyan civil war; suspending the maritime sovereignty regions agreement.
In other words, the EU’s plan to start a supervisory mission in March 2020 to support UN Security Council’s 2011 decision for an arms embargo in Libya, serves to disturb the influence of Turkey in the Mediterranean.
*[Prof. Irfan Kaya Ulger is a professor in International Relations at Kocaeli University, northwest of Turkey]
Translated by Firdevs Bulut in Ankara