As the language in the Aegean-east Mediterranen territorial and fossil resources conflict gets more bellicose by the day, Germany has announced it’s transferring 32 million euros to Turkey for its coast guard.
Berlin says the money is to make the force more efficient in helping to stop more migrants heading for Greek islands and on into other European Union countries.
The finance ministry has written to the budget committee of parliament that the money is to be spent on among other things replacement engines, spare parts and personnel training.
The letter states: “Saving human lives and improving the humanitarian situation in the Mediterranean region as well as stopping uncontrolled migration towards Germany are in Germany’s state interest.”
The need for the extra money had not been foreseen because it had only been researched by experts of the German federal police, who are responsible for borders, in the preparations for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey at the end of January.
The Turkish coast guard must be supported as soon as possible, Berlin urges, especially in regard to the weather improving from next spring, which was likely to “increase migrant movements again”.
The foreign affairs spokeswoman of the tiny Linke (Left) opposition party, Ulla Jelpke, criticised the government plans. The Bundestag MP argued that with its “war policy from northern Iraq to Syria and Libya Turkey is creating ever more reasons to flee”.
It was therefore fundamentally wrong to give the government in Ankara many millions of euros to upscale the armament of its coast guard for Turkey to act “as brutal bouncer for the EU to keep people seeking protection away from Europe’s borders”.
The situation of many asylum seekers in hugely overcrowded camps on Greek Aegian islands is dire. On and around the government camps on the islands more than 42,000 people are barely holding out.
Daily more than an average of 100 people are crossing over from Turkey to Greece, according to the UN refugee aid organisation, UNHCR.
Meanwhile the dispute between the Greek government and the inhabitants of the Aegean islands over the building of more migrant camps is turning ever uglier.
On Lesvos inhabitants of the small town Mantamados temporarily blockaded the access roads to areas where a new camp is to be built. On Chios locals patrolled an area some 17 kilometres west of the island capital earmarked for a new camp to hold more than 5,000 migrants.
“A good compromise [in the maritime confrontation] must hurt both Greece and Turkey,” argues Jannis Papadimitriou, a journalist with Germany’s international TV broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.
Greece is basically in the right, he argues, “but Athens also has to move”.
The Turkish prospecting ship Oruc Reis has already discovered undersea gas deposits, Mr Papadimitriou notes and “naturally under President Erdogan Turkey alone wants to exploit promising deposits – no question about it”.
He suggests that even countries outside the 1982 UN Law of the Sea convention, such as Turkey, are bound by its provisions.
He sees the bilateral agreement Turkey has entered with Libya, on which it bases its claim to drill for oil and gas off the coasts of Cyprus and Crete, as “a treaty at the expense of third parties”.
“And such treaties open the door to military violence and evoke the darkest hours of 20th century European history.
“The international community must not put up with this. So what’s to do? First of all further acts of aggression like provocative fleet manoeuvres must be stopped, if possibly through talks, if necessary by smart sanctions.
“The notion of a war in the middle of the Mediterranean, what’s more between fellow NATO countries, appears downright absurd. The problem is: in this corner of the world a lot of things are absurd but happen anyway.”
“Greece must also bid farewell to the one or other of its ideals – presumably including the notion that the entire Aegean is something like a closed, exclusively Greek marine area.”
So what is sabre rattling and what is meant seriously? The further the conflict over marine fossil resources escalates, the more insecurity that causes.
Simon Schulte at the Energy Economics Institute of Cologne University argues that for years Turkey has been striving for a central role as an energy supplier, vying for a say in the eastern Mediterranean, where Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt want to exploit large gas deposits.
Greece accuses Turkey of “boundless expansionism” and leaders in Ankara of illegally prospecting off Greek islands, which Ankara rebuts. Turkey’s position is that the waters it’s prospecting in are on the Turkish continental shelf.
The conflict is so highly charged for the EU internally that it could turn into a crucial test of it, because both Greece and Cyprus are demanding the solidarity and support of the Union. If necessary they want Turkey to be brought around with harsh economic sanctions.
But that’s contentious in the EU. Off the record diplomats concede that Turkey’s current actions in the eastern Mediterranean are provocative, but possibly not in breach of international law because they’re only prospecting for gas and not actual extraction wells. That makes it highly questionable whether these activities warrant EU sanctions, the diplomats comment.
Moreover, the EU countries worry that a further worsening of relations with Turkey could prompt it to send some of the millions of refugees in the country towards Europe. President Erdogan has threatened Germany several times that he would do so.
Turkey hosts some 4 million refugees, the world’s largest refugee population. More than 3.6 million are Syrians and close to 400,000 refugees and asylum seekers are of other nationalities.
Vatican News reports that Pope Francis prays for dialogue resolution to the conflicts threatening peace in the Mediterranean. He was quoted as saying: “I follow with concern the tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.”
He did not mention the countries involved.
“I appeal for constructive dialogue and respect for international law in order to resolve the conflicts that threaten the peace of the peoples of that region,” he added.
Traditionally politically neutral Switzerland has offered to mediate in the conflict and the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Cavusoglu, on a visit to the country, said Turkey is prepared in principle to take up the offer.
From a reader of Neos Kosmos in Germany