ANALYSIS - Turco-Greek relations after Cavusoglu-Dendias meeting
Cavusoglu-Dendias press conference on 15 April turned into an unexpectedly volatile and unproductive one due to the Greek foreign minister’s uncompromising rhetoric, which had been used for internal political consumption within the Greek community
The author is an alumnus of Trinity College Dublin, specializing in Master of Laws (LL.M.) in International and Comparative Law. His main focus areas are Turkey-EU relations, Eastern Mediterranean and contemporary debates in Turkish foreign policy. He has a special interest in public international law, EU law, and late-Ottoman Era legal-political developments.
Turkey - European Union (EU) relations witnessed many critical junctures in April 2021. After the declaration of European Council conclusions of 25-26 March, the working visit paid by the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission on April 6 demonstrated the parties’ commitment to dialogue. Although the visit has been overshadowed by an intra-EU political crisis, it has shown that Turkey-EU dialogue is essential for resolving regional and global disputes, such as irregular migration. On the other hand, once again, it has become apparent that Turkey-EU engagement is barely functional with a view to addressing Turkey’s bilateral disagreements with Greece. In fact, once addressing these bilateral disputes, it is substantial to emphasize that individual states, Turkey and Greece, not the Union, have absolute and irrevocable jurisdiction. Delimitation of maritime jurisdiction areas, demilitarization of the Eastern Aegean islands, and management of hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean are some of these disputes that could be solely discussed and reviewed at a bilateral level.
Turkey, with this understanding, attached utmost importance to Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias’ visit to Ankara, in order to preserve the momentum gained after the re-launching of “Turkey-Greece Consultative Talks”. Nevertheless, Cavusoglu-Dendias press conference on April 15 turned into an unexpectedly volatile and unproductive press conference due to the Greek foreign minister’s uncompromising rhetoric, which had been used for internal political consumption within the Greek community. Actually, the Greek side is completely aware that exploiting the EU’s international personality to impose Greece’s ill-fated maximalist claims upon Turkey would jeopardize Turkish-Greek ties as well as the progress made in Turkey-EU relations. Nonetheless, no matter how the Greek grand strategy will be revised in the next few years, it is a political and diplomatic reality that seeking solutions at the EU level or seeking solutions by manipulating the EU’s credibility would never deter Turkey from protecting her national interests. To this end, Turkey is of the opinion that “the logic of permanent neighbor naturally entails mutual respect for each other’s rights.” and a permanent solution could not be reached by introducing preconditions since “preconditions beget counter-preconditions”. 
Apart from Minister Dendias’ intransigent remarks regarding Turkey’s presence in the region, the most salient aspect of his statements was his asymmetric emphases on the EU and its inclusion in the Turkish-Greek bilateral disputes.
In general, EU law is based on the fundamental principle of “transfer of power”. For member states, a gradual transfer of power has been made possible by sacrificing several sovereign rights. That is why there are some specific fields where the EU has internal and external exclusive competencies. For instance, the Union is exclusively entitled to establish regulations and devise policies in the fields of common commercial policy and customs union. Nevertheless, according to EU law, the EU does not have jurisdiction regarding the issues related to the maritime areas. Member states, including Greece, have the exclusive competence to determine maritime zones. Neither the European Commission nor the European Council has the right to define the maritime policies of Greece, Turkey, or any other third country. For instance, Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based think-tank EDAM, exemplifies the maritime delimitation agreement between Greece and Italy as a manifestation of the competencies of EU member states pertaining to maritime zones. Eventually, regarding the disputes in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, the EU is not the interlocutor of Turkey and Greece. Therefore, Dendias’ recent statements are solely based on political motives for manipulating the EU’s international personality and legally baseless. In order to sustain its political and diplomatic credibility, the EU ought to embrace a neutral approach.
Demilitarization of islands
Another striking subject that was revisited in the Cavusoglu-Dendias press conference is the demilitarized status of the Eastern Aegean islands. As Dendias defined Turkish military forces on the opposite coast of Greece as a “threat”, he argued that islands have been militarized for a “reason”.  In fact, the demilitarization of the Eastern Aegean islands has been an objective that has been aimed to be sustained over years.
There are many international agreements regarding the demilitarization of the Eastern Aegean islands, which impose legal obligations upon Greece, such as the London Agreement (1913), Lausanne Peace Treaty (1923), and Paris Peace Treaty (1947). These international agreements are still in force and binding, and most importantly, their common objective is preserving the internal and external security of the countries in the region. For instance, Turkish legal scholar and member of the parliament Prof. Huseyin Pazarci reminds us about the official reports of the Paris Peace Conference, in which protecting Turkey’s security was pronounced as the main motivation behind the joint decision to demilitarize the Eastern Aegean islands.
On the other hand, from a legal point of view, the Paris Peace Treaty is a “status treaty” and as a result, it introduces an “objective regime”, which legally produces effects with regard to signatory/non-signatory states and encompasses “erga omnes” (“towards everyone”) obligations for non-signatory states. In this example, regardless of Turkey, Greece or a third state’s accession to the treaty, complying with the demilitarization clauses of the Paris Peace Treaty is an international obligation for all countries.
Greece’s ill-fated counterarguments
Interestingly, the Greek side has long been claiming that the demilitarization clauses of these agreements were legally “denounced”/ “terminated” on the basis of the universal legal principle “Rebuc Sic Stantibus” (“things thus standing”). Legally, if there has been a fundamental change of circumstances, a party may terminate a treaty/a provision of a treaty by invoking “Rebuc Sic Stantibus”. However, while invoking this exception, a party cannot unilaterally reverse a treaty under any pretext, there must be a common understanding. Regarding the latest disagreement between Turkey and Greece on the demilitarized status of the islands, it is manifest that Greece could neither eliminate the objective regime provided by international treaties nor terminate these treaties on the basis of “Rebuc Sic Stantibus”. In this vein, Pazarci thinks that Greek claims focusing on “fundamental change of circumstances” are baseless, since Turkey and her region are still in need of demilitarization of islands/islets for preserving Turkish internal and external security.
In light of these points, it is sensible to state that Turkey has the right to demand Greece and/or any other third country to respect the demilitarized status of the Eastern Aegean islands. Likewise, Turkey has the right to call upon the EU that the Union has no sovereign rights/competencies over the maritime jurisdiction areas of individual states and attempts to make Greek/Greek Cypriot claims as EU claims would only create a biased EU position. As the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated, being the two littoral states and permanent neighbors in the Aegean Sea, only Turkey and Greece, with a strong commitment to dialogue and mutual respect, can resolve these interrelated disputes in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.