Monday, 25 January 2021

Greece and Turkey restart historic exploratory talks

An abstract of this article was published by Al Jazeera

ATHENS, Greece – Ever since she could hold fishing twine, Vasiliki Mastroyiannaki has gone out onto the Ionian Sea in the family caique. In the last 20 years, however, the family’s revenues have fallen along with their catch, as huge trawlers from Italy and Egypt harvested Greek waters. 

“I think there should be a law that doesn’t allow foreign boats. Only Greeks should be allowed to fish here,” says the 40 year-old. 

Her wish could come true if exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey, beginning on Monday after a four-year hiatus, go well. The talks aim to settle maritime boundaries. As a result, Greece hopes to double its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles from shore, in accordance with international law. 

Greece has begun the process off its west coast. Last week, Greece doubled its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea to 12 nautical miles – the maximum allowed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. Mastroyiannaki applauds the move, hailed as the first expansion of sovereign territory since Greece absorbed the Dodecanese Islands in 1947. The January 20 law adds 13,000 square kilometres of water, airspace and sea bed to Greece’s sovereign domain – equivalent to ten percent of its land. 

“The extension of territorial waters westward inevitably sends a message to the East,” said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in parliament on January 20. “Under the same legal regime, we can resolve our great problem with Turkey, as long as its leaders abandon this monologue of disputation and sit down to talk.” 

Friday, 8 January 2021

2020: Turkey blackmails Europe, Greece adopts a policy of deterrence, the EU remains divided, and refugees suffer

This article was published in The Critic

An Afghan boy among tents in Moria camp, Lesvos, March 2020 (John Psaropoulos)

ATHENS, Greece – This year marked a turning point in Aegean refugee flows. According to migration ministry figures, 14,430 asylum-seekers crossed from Turkey to Greece in the first eleven months of the year, compared with 65,337 for the same period last year. 

That is a scale of arrivals not seen since before a 2015 peak, when almost a million asylum-seekers entered Greece, followed by 205,000 in 2016, and many tens of thousands a year since. Spain and Italy have thus become the main refugee entry points to Europe this year. 

 “The rules have changed,” migration minister Notis Mitarakis announced in January, as the conservative New Democracy government put a concert of defensive and deterrent policies into action. “We are not open to people who do not have a refugee profile.” 

A Brief History of Moria

This article was published in The Critic.

Three Afghan men talk around their campfire in the unofficial Moria camp

Three Afghan men talk around their campfire in the unofficial Moria camp (John Psaropoulos)

I watched as Moria camp was built in January of 2013. A disused military camp on a terraced hillside was girdled with four metre-high fence, and large units capable of sleeping 15 or 20 people were lifted onto the terraces by crane. Each terrace was individually fenced off, too, so that if police chose, the only outside space inmates would be able to enjoy would be a few square metres in front of their dormitory. 

Moria was then designed for 1,200 asylum-seekers. Greek authorities had been alarmed not so much by the 3,345* arrivals in the previous year, as much as the agitated state of the unregulated migrants already in the country. In the post-2008 global financial crisis, Greece went through the worst economic recession in the postwar history of the developed world. Many unrecorded migrant labourers found themselves on the street, hungry and undocumented. Fights broke out and petty crime rose. The conservative government elected in April 2012 determined that more should not come in, and those who did should be incarcerated out of sight and out of mind. 

Sunday, 27 December 2020

Annus horribilis: Key Greek-Turkish developments in 2020

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Greece and Turkey have had their worst year since 1974. Here is a timeline of the key events: 

January 2: Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed an agreement to build the East Med Pipeline that will carry natural gas 1,900km from the eastern Mediterranean basin to the European market. The pipeline is estimated to cost 7bn euros and carry an initial 10 billion cubic metres annually, expandable to 16bcma. It is a major irritant to Turkey, which sees it as an attempt to exclude it from the region’s energy bonanza. 

January 30: The Turkish seismic survey ship Oruc Reis entered Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zone southeast of Karpathos for about 24 hours, testing Greek reflexes. It was monitored by the Greek frigate Nikiforos Fokas.

February 27: Turkey announced it was opening its borders to refugees bound for Europe, triggering the biggest refugee crisis in five years. For two weeks, Turkey gave free passage on the country’s buses and trains to refugees travelling to the Greek border. During that time, Greece says it resisted more than 42,000 attempted entries at the land border and an unspecified number at sea. Turkey posted video of the Hellenic Coast Guard preventing refugee-filled boats from reaching Greek waters. By March 9, Greece registered 2,164 successful crossings, of which 313 by land and 1,851 by sea.

A turbulent 2020 spurs Greece to rearm

This article was published by Al Jazeera International

ATHENS, Greece- Greece and France are completing the sale of 18 Rafale jets to Greece ahead of January, when French defence minister Florence Parly is to visit Athens to sign it. The sale will make Greece the first European client for the advanced plane, in a deal valued at 2.5bn euro ($3bn). 

It is Greece’s first major defence equipment purchase since 2005, when it bought more than 300 Leopard tanks from Germany, and its first investment in a new combat aircraft since buying French Mirage-2000s in 1989. 

Greece's overall defence spending halved from 7.88bn euros in 2009 to 3.75bn euros in 2018, as an eight-year recession led to budget cuts. Greece is sharply increasing its defence spending by 43% this year, to 5.5bn euros ($6.7bn). 

Despite Covid-19, Greece makes strides on high-tech ambitions

 This article was published by Al Jazeera International

Athens, Greece – When Krystallia Sarantopoulou graduated from Thessaloniki’s Aristotelian University seven years ago with a degree in electrical and computer engineering, she landed in the worst job market in Europe.

Greek unemployment in July 2013 stood at 28 percent. The country was then still halfway through an eight-year recession that would claim a quarter of its economic growth. It still ranks as the worst contraction of any postwar developed economy.

“It’s already difficult to start a job as a new graduate, but during the financial crisis it was impossible,” she says.

Forced to seek her fortunes abroad, Sarantopoulou accepted an entry-level job in The Netherlands. The pay was basic but she felt at home. Walking into the Dutch company cafeteria, she recognised many fellow graduates from the Aristotelian University mess hall.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

How much longer can Greece and Turkey avoid war?

 This article was published in The Critic on 6 October. 


ATHENS, Greece - Last summer, Greece and Turkey came closer to war than they have done since 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus. The drama began to unfold on July 21, when Turkey announced it was sending a seismic survey ship, the Oruc Reis, to look for oil and gas in areas the UN Law of the Sea awards to Greece.


Within hours, the Greek and Turkish navies had deployed throughout the Aegean and east of Crete. They remained so for two months. Greek helicopters pinned down Turkish submarines off the island of Evia. Frigates shadowed each other so closely, that on August 12 two of them collided when a Turkish frigate performed a manoeuvre across the bows of a Greek one. Greek and Turkish F-16s intercepted each other between Crete and Cyprus. Greece came close to invoking the European Union’s mutual defence clause.


On September 13, Turkey withdrew the Oruc Reis, ostensibly for maintenance, and redeployed its navy. In the coming days, Greece and Turkey are to resume talks abandoned four and a half years ago on carving out their continental shelves – vast swathes of the east Mediterranean where they may exercise exclusive commercial rights to exploit undersea resources.


For now, there is de-escalation, but expectations for the outcome of these talks are low.