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Emmanuel Macron meeting with the leader of Southern Cyprus Nikos Anastasiades in France said that “the security of energy supply in Eastern Mediterranean is vital for our countries. In the region Turkey and Russia have conducted power struggle saliently and European Union has made almost nothing”. With the reference to these words above, Turkey perceived that France’s position in Eastern Mediterranean is pro-Greek on the contrary of Turkey. Besides, according to Macron, it is a mistake for EU to remain unresponsive towards the provocations in the region and he emphasised that it must be imposed sanctions to the states violating Greece’s continental shelf.
After the words of French President, France sent two Rafale fighter jet and a frigate named with Lafayette to the Eastern Mediterranean and declared to conduct a joint military drill with Hellenic Republic. Hellenic Ministry of National Defence also confirmed that Greece and France had started a joint navy exercise near the island of Crete. It was notified that Lafayette (frigate) and Tonnerre (helicopter carrier) from French Navy and four Greek frigates participated into the naval exercise near the island and added that the exercise zone would covered the NAVTEX area declared by Turkey so as to conduct seismic explorations with the ship of Oruç Reis. Considering these developments, it is understood that France stands by Greece and Greek thesis of Eastern Mediterranean either diplomatically or militarily as well. However, France should keep away from some political steps that jeopardise the legal position itself in regards with the past. Greece has specified the boundry line of territorial water among Rhodes, Karpathos and Crete islands as if there is no sea among the islands and beside this, Greece endeavors to specify the outer edge of the continental margin from Meis/Kızılhisar island. That is exactly what this analysis means that if France supports this Greek thesis, there becomes a contradiction with French thesis of 1977 Channel Islands Case.
In 1977, the United Kingdom of Great Britain, French Republic and Northern Ireland had applied to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in order to solve the conflict regarding upon the delimitation of continental shelf on St. Malo Bay and English Channel/Le Manhce consisting of Jersey, Alderney, Guernsey, Sark islands, but the problem was the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland were state parties of 1958 Geneva Continental Shelf Convention, on the contrary, in spite of the fact that France was bound to 1958 Geneva Convention by making a reservation to the article 6 of the Convention.
Article 6 of 1958 Geneva Continental Shelf Convention;
According to France, this article contained contradictory situations. Especially, because of the exclusive qualifications of Biscay Bay, Granville Bay and Dover Strait, France claimed that customary law/common law should be benefited in this maritime zone to delimitate the continental shelf between the United Kingdom and France mainlands and France addressed to the decisions of International Court of Justice in regards to the North Sea Continental Shelf Cases in 1969. The North Sea Cases in 1969 were about the delimitation of continental shelf among the Federal Republic of Germany, Denmark and Netherlands. The Court adjudicated that applying equidistance principle does not include just and equitable results when it is thought concavity and convexity of coastal topography. In addition, according to ICJ’s judgment of 20 February 1969, the delimitation of continental shelf must be made by the methods other than equidistance principle.
Although the United Kingdom objected to French reservation for article 6 of 1958 Geneva Continental Shelf Convention, the Arbitral Tribunal concluded that the reservation made by France with reference to Article 6 was a justified reservation. For this reason, the Arbitral Tribunal has adjudged that the 6th article of 1958 Geneva Convention, that French Republic has made the reservation, will not be applied between the United Kingdom and French Republic in the jurisdiction of the English Channel/Le Manche, and the customary law of international maritime law should be taken into account in the delimitation of continental shelf. Nonetheless, the Arbitral Tribunal has ruled that no reservations may be made to Article 6 in the Atlantic sector of the English Channel/Le Manche. Jersey, Alderney, Guernsey and Sark islands in St. Malo Bay are the islands under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. Thus, the United Kingdom claimed that Jersey, Alderney, Guernsey and Sark islands should also be granted continental shelf rights, referring to the clause “b” of the article 1 of the 1958 Geneva Continental Shelf Convention. The United Kingdom argued that the continental shelf should be located between the Channel Islands and the French mainland. On the contrary, according to France thesis, after determining 6 nautical miles territorial boundaries of Jersey, Alderney, Guernsey and Sark islands, the median line between two countries should be specified based on the French mainland coasts and the coasts of the United Kingdom mainland. According to France’s thesis, Jersey, Alderney, Guernsey and Sark islands are located on the natural prolongation of the French continental shelf margin and on the opposite side of the median line.
If the median line between Greece and Turkey is determined from the islands just like Greece’s claim (the example of Meis/Kızılhisar Island) with the principle of equidistance, an unfair situation is going to reveal in Eastern Mediterranean. Just as it is irrational to compare the cumulative length of British coasts of Jersey, Alderney, Guernsey and Sark islands with the length of the French mainland coasts. Owing to this disproportion, the United Kingdom would enlarge its own continental shelf unfairly and France’s way out to the English Channel/ Le Manche would be prevented. This situation was not accepted by the Arbitral Tribunal because of the fact that it would be the source of a future dispute. Finally, the Arbitration Tribunal concluded that the Channel Islands of the United Kingdom in the coast of France mainland obtained 12 nautical miles wide territorial water and has decided that the border of the continental shelf in the English Channel/Le Manche was an equidistant median line based on the coasts of the mainlands of the two states.
Islands located on the opposite side of the median line between riparian states are accepted as natural prolongations of the state close to the shore. This acceptance is related to the immutability of geography. When the case law of the International Court of Justice and Permanent Courts of Arbitration is examined, it is publicly understood that in accordance with the principles of just and equitable share, “the principle of proportionality” and “the non encroachment of the territory of another state”, the maritime jurisdiction areas of the islands on the opposite side of the median line should be calculated only as much as their territorial waters (maximum 12 nautical miles). To put it briefly, “the dominance of the land over the sea” means an international maritime law principle assuming that the mainland should be taken as a basis in the delimitation of maritime jurisdictions and islands on the opposite side of the median line should have maritime jurisdiction as much as their territorial waters.
France’s approach supporting Greece’s claims recognizing the right of continental shelf and exclusive economic zone to Meis/Kızılhisar island contains contradictions and utterly opposed to the decisions of the 1977 Channel Islands Case and France’s own thesis on Jersey, Alderney, Guernsey and Sark islands. The Greek thesis based on 2003 Seville Map imprisons Turkey to the Gulf of Antalya. If Jersey, Alderney, Guernsey and Sark islands of the United Kingdom are intitled as continental shelf and the Channel Islands and the UK’s mainland are combined on continental shelf, it can be predicted how a median line will emerge in the map below. It can be seen obviously that it will be imprisoned in St. Malo Bay and the principle of “non encroachment of the territory of another state” will be violated.
If Turkey and Greece will signed a Maritime Delimitation Agreement (EEZ) in foreseeable future, Greece must abandon their incompatible thesis with the law of the sea as in Rhodes and Crete examples giving EEZ to the islands.
Indeed, after EEZ Agreement signed between Egypt and Greece on the date of 08.06.2020, the Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued the following statement published on the official website;
“A maritime boundary between Greece and Egypt does not exist. With respect to Turkey, the so-called maritime delimitation agreement signed today is null and void. This understanding will reflect on the ground and at the table. The supposedly-delimited area lies within the Turkish continental shelf as declared to the United Nations.”
If the case-law of the International Court of Justice and the Arbitral Tribunals regarding the islands on the opposite side of the median line of two or more States whose coasts are opposite each other is taken into consideration, the principles of just and equitable share principles; “the principle of proportionality”, “the non encroachment of the territory of another state” and “the dominance of the land over the sea” should be emphasized. These case law examples and principles invalidate the Greek theses supported by France and reveal the contradiction of France in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Greece’s request for maritime jurisdiction areas across 1870 kilometers of Anatolian coastline, with 167 kilometers of cumulative length of the coastlines of Rhodes, Karpathos and Crete islands facing to Eastern Mediterranean, not only brings out an illegal situation in terms of the jurisprudences of international courts, but also ignores them. Furthermore, in accordance with the principles above, Meis/Kızılhisar island as an island on the opposite side of median line in order to usurp approximately 50,000 square kilometers of maritime jurisdiction area from Turkey is an unacceptable situation and a violation of law. The legal position of France in 1977 Channel Islands Cases referring to the results of 1969 North Sea Continental Shelf Cases contains serious contradictions with France political position today.
BAU Maritime and Global Strategies Center Expert