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Discussing Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zone in the White House

Wednesday, July 24, 2013  |   |  Tags: ,

By Professor Theodore Kariotis

It would be a great omission if the Prime Minister of Greece does not discuss the critical issue of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with the President of the United States in his visit to the White House on the 8th of August 2013.

There are today 134 nations that already possess either an EEZ or an Exclusive Fisheries Zone (EFZ) of 200 nautical miles. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides for an EEZ regime in which there are no restrictions, prohibiting islands from having an EEZ. On March 10, 1983, the President of the United States signed a proclamation establishing an EEZ extending 200 nautical miles from the U.S. coastline. The area of this particular EEZ encompasses 3.5 million square nautical miles of ocean, an area 1.67 times larger than the land area of the United States and its territories. This EEZ contains vital natural resources, both living and non living, in the seabed, subsoil, and overlying water. Most important of all, however, this U.S. presidential proclamation gave an EEZ to all the islands of the United States, in accordance with the Law of the Sea Convention.

The United States, therefore, would be in a difficult position to argue against a Greek EEZ similar to the one it itself has established. Furthermore, Cuba is only 90 miles from the coast of Florida, but the United States did not argue that Cuba, because it is an island, does not have the same rights as continents do to an EEZ. In fact, the United States and Cuba came to an agreement for the delimitation of their respective EEZs using the method of equidistance, which Turkey immensely dislikes.

Of course, we should not be surprised by the position taken by Turkey because we can recall how opposed the Turks were to the creation of the EEZ and its inclusion in the final document of the Convention. The afternoon of Friday, April 30, 1982, a final vote took place in New York for the new Convention of the Law of the Sea. The results of the voting were 130 in favor, four against and 17 abstentions. One need not be an expert in International Law to understand that Turkey was upset with this Convention, which is why she was one of the four countries that voted against it. Greece, on the other hand, was almost completely satisfied with the benefits of the new Constitution of the Oceans and voted in favor of the Convention.

The Greek Prime Minister should not hesitate to explain to the American President that the insistence of his government that Greece should not unilaterally proclaim an EEZ without getting the permission of Turkey is a clear violation of international law. Samaras should remind Obama that an EEZ proclamation is a unilateral act and that Greece has a right to proclaim unilaterally an EEZ. This is exactly what President Reagan did in 1983, and this was followed by the unilateral proclamations of the then Soviet Union and many countries of the European Union. Many people are confusing the proclamation of an EEZ with its delimitation. Delimitation is a bilateral act and should always be decided by an agreement or by taking the case to the International Court of Justice. President Papadopoulos of Cyprus unilaterally declared an EEZ in 2004 and immediately the United States approved this decision. But now the time has come for the United States not to bring any obstacles to Greece declaring an EEZ and then help for its delimitation with Turkey. At the same time, the government of Greece has no right, any longer, to ignore one part of the Law of the Sea that is so advantageous to its country. A Greek EEZ can play, especially now, a critical role in the economic development of Greece with the vast amounts of hydrocarbons that lie deep in its seabed. Antonis Samaras has a historic opportunity to brief the American President on this critical issue. Let us hope that he is up to the task.

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