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Bridge over troubled waters: Growing maritime dispute between Croatia and Bosnia, neglected by the EU

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Authors: Dr. Enis Omerović and Adil Kulenović
The bilateral international agreement on the state border between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Croatia, known as the Agreement on the Border between the two states, or more familiarly, as the Tuđman-Izetbegović Agreement, signed in Sarajevo on 30 July 1999 between the then President of the Republic of Croatia, Franjo Tuđman, and the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alija Izetbegović, represents in its 23 Articles, conditionally, “a valid act since it has been applied until a new one is made” (V.Đ. Degan, 2013).

This Agreement could also be perceived to contain a transitional or provisional solution, since it has never been ratified by any parliament and does not serve its ultimate purpose – the permanent establishment and determination of the land and sea border between the two neighbors. In this regard, it can even be argued that the Republic of Croatia de facto abandoned the execution of this Agreement when its official authorities decided to embark on the building of a permanent construction at sea. This all supports the fact that the issue of delimitation and demarcation at sea, especially in the area of ​​the Bay of Neum and the Mali Ston Bay, is still permanently undefined and unsettled and thus requires, in our opinion, a serious step towards opening an official dialogue with Zagreb with the involvement of EU institutions, since the Republic of Croatia is a member of the European Union.

The second difficulty should be addressed together with the first. It would be especially important to define the sea boundary, regarding the tip of the Klek Peninsula and the uninhabited islets, Veliki and Mali Školj or, more precisely, the rocks in the Mali Ston Bay, which are part of a unique geomorphologic unit, together with the Klek Peninsula. If we draw the line of equidistance for purposes of delimitation of two states whose shores in one bay lie or are opposite to one another (the Peninsula of Klek and Pelješac), which is in accordance with the international law of the sea, as well as Article 4 (3) of the bilateral Agreement which, inter alia, prescribes that border at the sea stretches “the median line of the sea area between the land of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Croatia”, it could be claimed that the disputed area would belong to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Closely connected to this, the question of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s access to the High Seas or international waters of the Adriatic Sea and other world seas should be addressed, where no country in the world has territorial sovereignty, nor does it exercise any sovereign rights. High sea areas are world seas and oceans which are outside any state territory and provide a regime of free navigation and overflight, as well as other freedoms inherent to the High Seas. On this part of the planet, according to general customary international law, all countries in the world, under certain circumstances, exercise their jurisdiction over vessels flying the flag of their country.

For these reasons, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea from 1982 (UNCLOS) (ratified both by the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina) states in Art. 7 (6) of the Convention that, in declaring its straight baselines, from which the width of the territorial sea is measured, the coastal State may not cut off the territorial sea of ​​another coastal state from the High Seas or the exclusive economic zone. As things stand currently, in order to get from the waters of Bosnia and Herzegovina by vessel to the High Seas, it is necessary to pass through the internal waters and the territorial sea of ​​the other coastal state, so that, in crossing the line that represents the outer boundary of the territorial sea, one leaves the sovereign territory of the Republic of Croatia. Further into the High Seas, the Croatian Protected Ecological and Fishing Band (ZERP) has been declared and covers the sea area in the Adriatic Sea from the external border of the territorial sea in the direction of the open sea to its outer boundary, determined by the general international law, and temporarily follows the line of demarcation of the continental shelf established by the Agreement between Italy and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia concerning the Delimitation of the Continental Shelf between the two Countries in the Adriatic Sea from 1968.

In fact, it is essential for Bosnia and Herzegovina to secure a specific route, that is to say, a corridor, which will physically connect its waters with the High Seas, since it is in an unfavorable geographic position, due to its sealed coastline. At this level, it is state practice to support coastal states to limit the width of their territorial sea, due to the undisputed flow or passage of the other coastal state to the High Seas, in accordance with the above-mentioned UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which represents a codification of this branch of international law. Examples of this are the Republics of Estonia and Finland in the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea, in relation to the Russian Federation (St. Petersburg area), and the Republic of France in relation to the territorial sea of the Principality of Monaco in the Mediterranean Sea.

Hence, Bosnia and Herzegovina should not accept the guarantee of the neighboring state that Bosnia and Herzegovina will have the right only to innocent passage for all vessels to and from Neum or, in the case of some other ports in the state territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, since Neum is extremely unconducive to the construction of a larger port which would be open to international traffic – we predict that a port of this type and category could be built on the Klek Peninsula, whose waters are much more suitable, especially in respect of access and sea depth, for the construction of an international port. This is because the right to innocent passage of a vessel is linked to the territorial sea, not to the internal waters of the coastal state. This should have been precisely defined in accordance with the principles and rules of international law, preferably by a bilateral international agreement between the two neighboring states, namely, the existence, the position, the proper width and the legal regime of such a corridor or waterway, which would probably be through the Neretva and the Korčula Channel, to move all vessels to and from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The legal regime of such a corridor should be explicitly articulated in writing, together with the rights and obligations of both contracting parties, all in accordance with international law.

Therefore, it could be understood that there is a noticeable difference between the right to innocent passage of foreign ships through the territorial sea of ​​a coastal state and the formation of a corridor with a special legal regime. The latter would most likely pass through Croatian territory, as it would be unrealistic to expect that the Republic of Croatia in the area of ​​such a corridor remains without its territorial sovereignty and integrity. This is regardless of the fact that it not very legally rightly inherited from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, by its Maritime Code, the straight baselines under the conditions of more sovereign states whose coastlines are touched and lean on one another in the same sea area. Namely, the disputed area in terms of the declaration of these straight baselines is from the​Cape Proizd (near the island of Korčula) all the way to the southwestern tip of the island of Vodnjak, near some of the more famous Paklinski islands (along the island of Hvar), as this act simply contributed to the “closure” of Bosnian and Herzegovinian waters. We have written “most likely to pass” since it is hard to imagine that in the area of ​​the Neretva and Korčula Channels, with a width of not less than 1-1.5 nautical miles, that condominium (shared sovereignty) can be established or that an international legal regime be determined completely outside Croatian sovereignty.

Finally, in support of the assertion that any coastal state should have unimpeded (not just innocent passage, which is subject to various restrictions on the part of the coastal state) access to the High Seas, there is the final determination of the arbitral award of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in the case the Republic of Slovenia and the Republic of Croatia of 2017, according to which the Republic of Slovenia, through the so-called junction of 2.5 nautical miles wide, i.e. the physical link of its territorial waters with the high seas area of ​​the North Adriatic was awarded a corridor from their waters, where Slovenia enjoys full sovereignty to the High Seas, where many freedoms are guaranteed to all countries of the world, both coastal and non-coastal, as well as to those with an unfavorable geographic position regarding access to the sea, as in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Namely, as the Chairman of the Arbitration Council in this very case, G. Guillaume, stated in the public statement of the arbitral award, “the junction between the Slovenian territorial sea and the High Seas is a space where ships and planes have the same right of access to Slovenia as well as in the High Seas. The Court identified the area of ​​the Croatian territorial sea that is adjacent to the Italian waters within which a special legal regime would be applied. The corridor is approximately 2.5 nautical miles wide, and located immediately next to the border, according to the Treaty of Osimo, within Croatian territorial waters. A special legal regime should guarantee the integrity of the Croatian territorial sea, and Slovenian free communication between its waters and the High Seas.” It follows that the free communication of a coastal state between its waters and the High Seas is not the same as its right/obligation to innocently pass through the waters of another coastal state. It should, therefore, be concluded that the first term refers to the freedom of navigation and over flight to a little more extent than that provided by the institute of the innocent passage of foreign ships to territorial sea, which is only a necessary passage, since every foreign vessel must navigate through this area on the shortest conventional route, without disruption or delay. Moreover, this accessory or connecting corridor would have a kind of limitation of Croatian sovereignty and jurisdiction, since it would be in the spirit of this particular legal regime that would go in the middle of the Neretva and Korčula Channel. It would be worth questioning, moreover, whether Croatian internal waters should be left where they are now. The same question appeared to have been posed by a legal scholar from Croatia – “the question remains whether the waters of Croatia delimited by the territorial sea of Bosnia and Herzegovina can continue to be considered as having the legal status of internal waters.” (B. Vukas, 2006). 

Accordingly, a maritime corridor with a specific legal regime needs to be differentiated widely, or clarified in detail, so it does not necessarily represent identical international legal categories with the right to innocent passage of foreign ships and the right of transit passage. These latter terms are characteristic of the very specific maritime zones and parts of the sea which are not the subject of our current exploration and explication.

When all interconnected notions finally acquire their coherent power in terms of consistency, then will be the time to discuss continuing the construction of a permanent artificial installation on the sea, called the Pelješac Bridge (mainland – Pelješac Peninsula). Having understood that the Republic of Croatia only wants to connect two parts of the mainland, that is, the northern and southern ends of their country with a high-quality road link, this modern traffic connection should not endanger, or be detrimental to, the interests of their neighbors. Therefore, for the purpose of solving the traffic difficulties of the Republic of Croatia, the continuation of the construction of the Pelješac Bridge should be permanently solved by settling the so-called previous issues elaborated earlier – the permanent maritime delimitation on the Adriatic Sea as well as the permanent determination of the land border through a bilateral international frontier treaty, which will be applied equally and in good faith by both signatory parties and which will, above all, be confirmed in both the Croatian Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969 would be applicable in the event of any dispute as to its application, and the interpretation of certain provisions thereof. In addition to this, as mentioned above, it is necessary to establish in an internationally appropriate manner the legal regime and the width of the future corridor, which will represent, inter alia, a junction between Bosnian and Herzegovinian waters and the High Seas of ​​the Adriatic.

Hence, only after the final determination of all the aforementioned, and after a thorough, concrete and legally binding determination of the legal regime of the corridor above which the permanent bridge will be built, the scientific and professional processing of the project known as the Pelješac Bridge must be approached. This should meet all the technical characteristics of bridges that have already been built over water within the international legal regime, i.e. international waterways, such as the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge and the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul that cross over the waters of the Bosporus strait which is under international legal regime, or the Oresund bridge (although most of the international maritime traffic takes place above the underwater tunnel) linking the Kingdom of Denmark and the Kingdom of Sweden and which is also located over the international waterway. This means that if the agreement between the two neighboring coastal states in this part of the Adriatic Sea could be achieved, in the sense of completing its construction and opening it for all road traffic, the bridge of these dimensions must have a certain minimum navigation height and a minimum range between the pillars, or at least the central ones, so that big ships could also sail into the Neum waters.

Bosnia and Herzegovina always somehow tends to delay consideration of certain questions. If this continues, there is a great chance that there will be no single institutional response, with the result that the position of Bosnia and Herzegovina in relation to this important international legal issue will remain very vague and indeterminate. Additionally, there is a very long internal tradition which does not encourage political cooperation, and a lack of understanding of things that are of fundamental significance to the whole country, not just to one of its constituent peoples.

However, in expectation of any kind of determination on the part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with or without the Pelješac Bridge, the problem of the permanent “drawing” of the borderline between the two countries, both on the sea and on the land, will remain. The question of the access corridor or the connection of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s waters with the High Seas will not be sorted out alone. So, is it wise to wait for the international community or the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (if it is still here?!) to take steps to protect the international interests of this state?

This is an opportunity to see the strength of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian diplomacy which will once again demonstrate its position on the international stage. There is certainly a consistent lack of unity, resulting predominately from the less than satisfactory territorial organization, and attempts to build a state on the basis of ethnicity. This lack of unity is reflected in the impossibility of coming to clear institutional views on the part of the official state government. There may again be the emergence of a culture of conflict and non-cooperation at the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina (which could, adopt the declaration, as a political act, with precisely defined conclusions), the Council of Ministers and the Presidency.

But if dialogue is opened, perhaps after formal disagreement through a diplomatic note to the Republic of Croatia, the latter will surely have the advantage, or at least a better negotiating position, due to its European Union membership. This fact may well be crucial (since the European Union also recognizes the interest in land consolidation of its territory, so that its members can better monitor and control their state territory, with the goal of Croatia’s entry into the Schengen area) to the success of the negotiations as a diplomatic mean of settling one international dispute, which surely here does exist, at least with respect to the territorial title. Finally, it is worth mentioning that an international dispute does not need to be specifically proclaimed, the essence is in the existence of a disagreement with respect to essential facts, or in their apparently different interpretations.

If there is an international dispute between two coastal states that share the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea – that is not debatable – it is now best to choose the most appropriate and effective means of settling the dispute with, if possible, mutual interest as its aim. In this respect, it would be best to choose the most appropriate means for peaceful settlement of disputes from a large palette of diplomatic and legal means that are equally available to each state. Based on the foregoing, a dispute can be brought before the ICJ in The Hague, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, or it can be “easily” settled through ad hoc arbitration, i.e. special arbitration tribunals. But for the decision, which is the only outcome of these legal proceedings, it is necessary to wait for years, since such international legal processes can be very long-lasting and, above all, extremely expensive. In any case, Bosnia and Herzegovina will surely need to find a modus operandi in solving the above-mentioned issues with its western neighbor. This could be found in the Joint Team of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Croatia for Negotiations on the Implementation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Delimitation at Sea or, perhaps, on a general level, in a body that will be composed on a parity basis, such as the Inter-State Diplomatic Commission for the Determination of the Border Line, which should, inter alia, settle the border dispute over the Danube River between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Croatia, still, so far, with little success. All this graphically demonstrates the complexity of the international law of the sea, particularly in the area of delimitation.

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Who are the ‘Willing’ in Central Europe – Axis of the 1930s coming back ?

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The idea of an “axis of the willing against illegal migration” between Italy, Germany and Austria has been proposed by Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s right populist leader. He spoke about it with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a Bavarian conservative who shares the Austrian chancellor’s views on tighter border control. Kurz said fighting illegal immigration will be a top priority for Vienna’s EU presidency from July 2018. Kurz and Seehofer met on the same day as Merkel’s “integration summit,” leading to media reports about serious political clashes between Germany’s coalition parties.

“We shouldn’t wait until we have a catastrophe, like in 2015,” Kurz said, referring to the refugee crisis when German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened her country’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants. “Instead it is important to act on time.”

Kurz’s meeting with Seehofer means the German minister was unable to attend Merkel’s “integration summit” happening the same day in Berlin. Referring to media reports that this was meant as a snub to the German leader, Seehofer said his reason for not attending was the presence of a journalist, Ferda Ataman, who opposed German deep state and has compared his policies on migration to the Nazis.

“I cannot be part of an integration summit where there is one participant who in an article compared my strategy on homeland to the homeland understanding of the Nazis,” Seehofer told reporters.

Seehofer takes a much harder line than Merkel on immigration and was expected to present a “migration master plan” this week. That has been postponed, but Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and Seehofer’s Christian Social Union (CSU) hope to find a compromise on the plan this week, Seehofer said.

“From my point of view, it would be ideal to secure the external borders of the European Union,” Seehofer said after the meeting with Kurz. Dismissing voices about the brewing putch within the German ruling coalition, he continued: “I promised Chancellor Kurz that on the question of strengthening the external borders he has my full support as interior minister.”

Seehofer, after talks with yet another government that of Italy, notably with a populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, said the new government in Rome is also keen to build a partnership with Vienna and Berlin on security, counterterrorism and migration. Seehofer and Salvini are in ‘full agreement’ on how to secure the EU’s external borders, the German minister said.

Concluding, youngish and hawkish chancellor Kurz said: “In our opinion we need an axis of the willing in the fight against illegal migration.”

This choice of words raised a few eyebrows, as a previous “Axis” between those three countries carries much darker historical undertones, as does former US President George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” in Iraq. But the Austrian chancellor didn’t seem to care.

Home troubles

An “axis of the willing” would inevitably be seen as an anti-Merkel alliance. Even further, “perhaps the end of the grand rapprochement between the Atlantic and Central Europe” – says prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic whose long standing claim is that one EU turns into five Europes in times of crisis and externally induced stress.

Mr. Salvini, who heads the far-right League, attacked Ms. Merkel during Italy’s recent election campaign and demonstrated his harsh stance on immigration by refusing to let a rescue boat with more than 600 migrants dock in the country. He stands for pretty much everything Ms. Merkel opposes: unilateral national action and a merciless approach to asylum-seekers. “The good life is over for the illegals, they’re going to have to pack their bags,” he said recently.

And on top of a new cross-border alliance against her, Ms. Merkel is facing enough domestic troubles as defiant conservatives are pressuring her into toughening her immigration policy by means fair and foul.

Mr. Seehofer, whose right-wing Christian Social Union is trying to woo sympathizers of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) ahead of a regional election in the CSU’s home state of Bavaria in October, has drafted a package of measures to curb the number of asylum-seekers coming to Germany.

They include turning away refugees at the border if they have already registered in another EU country — a step that Ms. Merkel rejected on Monday because it would amount to a reversal of her open-border policy and undermine her efforts to find a pan-European agreement on how to deal with refugees. The chancellor’s veto was the spark that reignited the simmering asylum dispute with her Bavarian ally.

Über-muttisummoned

The two held late-night crisis talks on Wednesday with Markus Söder, Mr. Seehofer’s successor as Bavarian premier, and with Hesse state premier Volker Bouffier, a senior figure of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union who is running for re-election in the fall.

However, the two-and-a-half-hour talks failed to deliver a breakthrough. Ms. Merkel did compromise with the CSU’s plan to turn away asylum seekers at the border, but she also proposed this to be first agreed bilaterally with other European countries during the upcoming EU summit later this month, in order to avoid unilateral decisions from Berlin that could further jeopardize the EU’s shaken unity. “It makes sense to wait two more weeks until the summit to find solutions jointly with partner countries,” she said.

For the Bavarians, however, that offer wasn’t enough. Mr. Söder said on Thursday that hoping to reach bilateral deals so soon was unrealistic. “We don’t believe that in two weeks it will be possible to achieve something that has been impossible for three years,” he said. The hawkish Bavarian leader added that instead, creating a fait accompli as soon as possible might force the rest of the EU to adopt a common solution at last.

Rescue plan

An unbending CSU is instead looking into ways to strong-arm Ms. Merkel’s CDU into adopting its proposed immigration plan in the days ahead. The Bavarians are mulling submitting it to a vote within the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag on Friday, as they believe a majority of Ms. Merkel’s CDU lawmakers would side with them. They were probably looking at a survey tabloid Bild published on Thursday. The country’s most-read daily asked all 246 conservative lawmakers in the Bundestag whether they sided with Ms. Merkel or with the Bavarians. Of the 70 who answered, just three backed the chancellor. But that was before she made her compromise on Wednesday night.

On Thursday, CDU lawmakers abruptly interrupted a parliamentary session to hold a group meeting on Ms. Merkel’s latest offer. It turns out that, after Bundestag President Schäuble, who long served as Ms. Merkel’s finance minister, gave a “moving” speech on the future of Europe, the Christian Democrats overwhelmingly endorsed their leader’s proposal after all.

The Bavarians are still digging in their heels, though. The CSU announced that it will make its next move known after an internal summit scheduled for Monday. Some are saying that Mr. Seehofer could disobey the chancellor, his boss, and enforce his plan. The Bavarian party could also break with its sister party, the CDU, as a last resort — but this highly unusual move in Germany’s post-war history could topple the chancellor and plunge the country into a political crisis.

Or Mr. Seehofer still has his axis with Mr. Kurz and Mr. Salvini to fall back on. In the long run, the trio may indeed find a way to defeat a weakened Ms. Merkel and march the EU into unknown.

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The Aegean Dilemma: Turkish-Greek Complexity Challenging European Solidarity

Alexandros-Ioannis Papamatthaiou

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On the 12th of February2018, a Turkish coast guard patrol rammed into a Greek patrol boat near the Imia islands (Kardak in Turkish). The pair of uninhabited islands has been a source of dispute between Greece and Turkey since a military crisis in 1996, which almost resulted in war. The collision has been the climax of a number of Turkish violations on Greek territorial waters and airspace, which have damaged Greek-Turkish relations and escalated the tensions between the two countries. In this article I argue that Turkey’s geopolitical advantages over the US and the EU embolden it to pursue an ambitious foreign policy in the Aegean Sea, while its toxic domestic politics necessitates that it must do so. This combination creates a ticking time bomb for crisis in the Aegean Sea.It is time for the EU to act.

Turkey’s control of refugee flows has EU hands tied

The Syrian crisis has increased Turkish power over European nations that receive the greatest part of refugee flows. Currently, over 2.5 million Syrian refugees reside in Turkey. Turkish officials have threatened to force an influx of Syrian refugees into Europe, a situation that would destabilize already complex tensions within European states and further the far-right political crisis of Europe. The potentiality of this development provides Turkey with a favorable bargaining position over many Western European governments, which are interested in actively averting extremist actions against immigrant populations in order to prevent sectarian divide.

In addition, the waning desire of the Turkish administration to join the EU has removed any leverage the EU had over Turkey. In the past, Turkey has been willing to engage in bilateral talks with Greece over territorial disputes, mainly in an effort to withdraw Greece’s veto over its potential membership in the EU. However, Brexit and the emergence of anti-European movements in founding members like France and Italy, has caused Turkish officials to have second thoughts about the prospect of joining a union on the verge of collapse, according to reports. This development has reduced the bargaining advantage Greece previously enjoyed.

The US is unlikely to react in the event of a crisis

Since the time of the Cold War, American policymakers have viewed Turkey as a key ally against the Soviet Union and now Russia. The proximity of Turkey to Southern Russian cities favors the deployment of strategic nuclear weapons, while, most significantly, the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits create a double chokepoint that checks Russian maritime activity from the warm ports of the Black Sea. This means that in the case of conflict, if Turkey cooperates, Russia’s supply lines from the south could be shut down.

The location of Turkey, north of the Levant, gives Turkish leaders influence in Middle East matters as well and the ability to affect the political situation in both Syria and Iraq. The proximity of Turkey to the Syrian conflict allows it to intervene militarily as it did through Operation Olive Branch in Afrin in January. Turkey also holds a large portion of the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which hydrate the majority of agricultural land in Syria and Iraq. In the past, Turkey has used its control over these river flows as a bargaining tool to curb Kurdish militant activity along its borders with the two countries.These geopolitical facts give Turkey a unique advantage in influencing politics in the Middle East, both directly through military operations and indirectly through river flows.

Turkey’s capacity to contain the Russian navy in a time of a crisis, its ability to directly get involved in the Syrian war, and its influence on the prosperity of Iraq, gives influence over key American strategic objectives: namely, keeping Russia under control, maintaining peace in the Middle East, and ensuring the stability of oil outflows. Despite the status of both Greece and Turkey as members of NATO, the US is unlikely to risk bringing Turkey and Russia closer diplomatically and tempting Turkey to intervene more often in the Middle East.

How are Turkish domestic politics exacerbating the conflict?

Turkey’s militarism is informed by the institutional friction between Turkish politicians and the Turkish army. Since the death of Ataturk, the Turkish army has assigned itself the role of the protector of Ataturk’s ideals. Frequent army intervention in Turkish politics through coups has made politicians apprehensive of the army and ready to externalize the army’s domestic pressure into international operations. After the coup attempt of 2016, President Erdogan has become increasingly determined to preoccupy the army with military operations and maintain stability domestically, as he concentrates power through institutional change and purges political and intellectual dissidents. Turkey’s leaders have also been empowered by public support. The Turkish public has a deep historical understanding of the Turkish identity, the memory of the Greek invasion of 1919, and the unfairness of the Treaty of Lausanne. President Erdogan’s popularity after the failed coup attempt of 2016 has enabled him to empower these conservative opinions and silence opposing Euro-friendly voices in Turkey.

Greek leadership has also done its part to worsen the tensions. The Greek Minister of Defense, Panos Kammenos, leader of the nationalist minority party in Greece’s coalition government, has been vocal on Greece’s expansion of territorial waters, mainly as a feat to maintain his party’s share of the vote. Historical tensions between the two countries, as well as President Erdogan’s public and institutional empowerment and Greece’s current diplomatically inept administration have fueled Turkish nationalist sentiment against Greece, counterbalancing against public support for European integration, and emboldening Turkey’s aggressions in the Aegean.

What are the objectives of Turkey?

Turkish perceptions and expectations of European and American passivity embolden Turkey to act in calculated aggression according to its favorable estimation of the balance of power. Turkey’s primary goals are to increase its claim on maritime territory that may contain potential oil reserves in the Aegean Sea and to hinder Greek efforts to expand territorial waters according to proposed international law [1]. These objectives constitute a reversal of the Treaty of Lausanne, which gave Greece control of the entire Aegean archipelago, and essentially landlocked the Turkish western coast. In a highly complex domestic climate, if Turkish policymakers judge that tensions have risen enough to even minimally justify translation of rhetoric into action, then Turkey is likely to annex the Imia-Kardak islands in a symbolic statement of intent, or even to potentially claim control over Kastelorizo, which would extend Turkey’s continental shelf into the southeast Mediterranean Sea.

Why should the EU care? What can be done?

In an environment of European reluctance and American rejection of involvement, the clock is ticking before the Turkish administration could make bolder moves. The crucial coming election could be the catalyst in materializing Turkish threats over the annexation of disputed territory. In the ever-increasing tense domestic politics of Turkey, political rivals try to outdo each other on anti-Greek rhetoric, resulting in heightened public expectations of conflict. Under the current circumstances, if Turkey escalates the conflict, then the EU stands to lose in all possible scenarios. If the EU intervenes, then Turkey may retaliate with the release of Syrian refugees into the continent, which will increase the influence of the far-right and break the EU from within. If the EU fails to act, then trust in its institutional power will wane, discouraging potential members from joining and increasing the separatist sentiments inside member countries.

The Aegean Dispute sheds light into the most important institutional anomaly of the EU: the absence of political unification to support economic integration.The European experiment has been successful in integrating economic activity within the continent. However, it now teeters with an unstable equilibrium, between further integration and outright demise. The Aegean dispute offers both a challenge and an opportunity for Europe: EU policymakers must look into ways of integrating security strategy, through cooperation agreements, security guarantees and investment into border control, while also moving towards an integrated and centrally-organized immigration plan for Europe. Tighter border security in the Balkan Peninsula will stop Turkey’s use of refugee flows as a bargaining chip and also appease nationalist sentiment in European countries, while security agreements will halt Turkish aspirations in the Aegean Sea and improve public trust in the EU’s institutional power. If the EU wants to remain relevant far into the future across the greater European continent, then it must start behaving as boldly and strategically as Turkey has over the past several years. If it doesn’t it will simply be outmaneuvered and, potentially, replaced as a major political voice in the global community.

[1] Wolff  Heintschel von Heinegg Der Ägäis-Konflikt: Die Abgrenzung des Festlandsockels zwischen Griechenland und der Türkei und das Problem der Inseln im Seevölkerrecht. (Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 1989)

 

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Catalonia would have been facing severe problems had it broke away from Spain

Bahauddin Foizee

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Catalan independence referendum, held in late-2017, had thrown Spain and Catalonia into severe political crisis and has created uncertainly for the foreign investors inside Catalonia.

What fate would the Catalans have embraced had Catalonia broke away from Spain after referendum?

Catalans from all walks of life would have suffered severe problems had the pro-independence camp got what they wished for in the referendum.

Here’s some food for thought for the Catalans who voted in the referendum and who didn’t, and for the ones who had been a keen spectator from Europe and elsewhere.

State Structures

Inception of an independent state requires the setting up of the essential state structures, including central bank, tax authority, judicial system, social security, a diplomatic service, a central bank and even an army.

Though most of these state structures/elements are available to Catalonia as an Spanish state/province, there are obvious concerns whether these elements are self-sufficient and mature enough to take the responsibilities of a newly born state.

Chaos

Had Catalonia become a sovereign state, a greater political uncertainty would have arose. There would be political chaos between the ones who opted for independence and the ones who didn’t.

The ones who sought to remain with Spain, or atleast didn’t actively support pro-independence campaigns, could have ended up facing rage and infuriated gestures from the opposite camp immediately after independence (had it been achieved).

Debt, currency, exodus of businesses

Moreover, Catalans would then have to assume a significant part of Spain’s debt. They would have to find a currency other than the Euro, as Spain would veto Catalan membership in the Euro Zone.

Without a confirmed currency in the market and with political uncertainty, there would have been a likely evacuation of multinational and Spanish companies from Catalonia to other parts in Spain. Already some multinational and Spanish companies either left or declared to leave Catalonia immediately after last independence referendum.

Access to EU market

If the membership to the European Union (EU) was delayed after Catalonia’s independence, Catalan products would have lost the privilege of unrestricted access to the EU market.

This newly independent state would have lost the leverages of entering into the EU member states’ markets as a free trade zone – a leverage its commercial products enjoy now as Spanish products.

Duties on Catalan goods and services would have been imposed not only by Spain, but also by other EU member states. Moreover, in times of economic disasters, Catalonia could not have called upon the help of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European Central Bank (ECB).

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Americas1 hour ago

Stronger Sanctions Won’t Solve the Venezuelan Problem

The outcome of recent elections on May 20th has triggered renewed sanctions against the Venezuelan regime. After banning ‘Petro,’ Venezuela’s government-issued...

Middle East2 hours ago

US Foreign Policy in Crisis

Following the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is the third multilateral...

Russia3 hours ago

Russia and Africa to strengthen ties further

Faced with persistent criticisms, Russia has finally announced it will most likely host the first high-level Russia-African Union forum next...

Newsdesk3 hours ago

Value Chains Idea Contest Launched To Support Ethnic Minority Communities In Vietnam

Viet Nam’s Committee for Ethnic Minorities Affairs, the World Bank and Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade today jointly...

Economy3 hours ago

Trade in fake Italian goods costs economy billions of euros

Global trade in fake Italian goods such as luxury handbags, watches, foodstuffs and car parts is taking a bite out...

Southeast Asia4 hours ago

Indonesian Muslim leader signals global shifts in meetings with Pence and Netanyahu

Yahya Staquf, a diminutive, soft-spoken leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim movement, and Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s advisor...

Americas4 hours ago

How Fashion Ties U.S. Domestic Politics with an Authoritarian on Kashmir

There is something charming about a first lady making media bloopers; however, one cannot say the same for those born...

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