The argument therefore is that this usage of the map is tantamount to the EU having adopted the same anti-Turkish position. It is an indication of the effectiveness of the domestic campaign to support this claim that even the Turkish government has started to make references to this "Seville Map", in its discourse portraying the EU as having formally and legally adopted a position on the issue of maritime borders. The "Seville Map" is ostensibly being used in the Turkish debate to emphasize that with such a flawed position, the EU can have no possible role in helping to settle bilateral disputes between Greece and Turkey. It also serves the purpose of further tarnishing the EU-Turkey relationship by Turkish Eurosceptics. Yet, in an answer to a question filed by the Brussels representative of the Hürriyet Daily News, the European Commission clarified the legal status of the "Seville Map", stating that "external reports commissioned by institutions are not official documents of the EU and have no legal or political value for the EU". This very belated clarification will hopefully lead Turkish stakeholders to adopting a sounder position regarding the actual role of the EU.
The Way Forward
Against this backdrop, there may be three areas where the involvement of the EU could be beneficial to mitigating the Eastern Mediterranean dispute.
On the Turkey-Greece exploratory talks
Turkey and Greece have held about 60 rounds of exploratory talks to settle their panoply of bilateral disputes, including the issue of maritime borders. These talks had been suspended since 2016 at the wake of the botched coup attempt in Turkey. The talks are now due to restart between the two capitals. They essentially aim to establish a framework for settlement. To increase the likelihood of a settlement, the EU will need to revisit its position and more particularly its rhetoric on the Eastern Mediterranean dispute. It is clear that the EU is in need of demonstrating political solidarity with Greece as its member. But this inclination should not come at the cost of strengthening the hand of maximalists both in Athens and in Ankara. In other words, the EU should refrain from being seen as unconditionally supporting what is essentially the negotiating position of its member state. Instead, the EU should develop a more neutral language, acknowledging that its role is not to adjudicate, but to facilitate the settlement of disputes.
On the maritime borders dimension of the Cyprus dispute
Another dimension of the Eastern Mediterranean crisis relates to the Cyprus dispute. The dispute remains unsettled despite many UN-led initiatives. A creative way forward would be to delink the maritime borders issue from the overall political settlement of the Cyprus problem. Turkish Cypriots justifiably claim that the off-shore hydrocarbon resources belong to them as well and that they should be entitled to a fair revenue stream from the commercialization of these resources. The Greek Cypriots acknowledge this demand; but continue to link the issue to the outcome of the political talks between the two communities. These talks reached a dead end when the Greek Cypriot party effectively sabotaged the Crans-Montana summit of July 2017, that most observers hoped would have finally brought this conflict to an end.
Nicosia maintains that the revenues allocated to Turkish Cypriots are to be kept at an escrow account until a full political settlement. A possible alternative could be the "condominium" formula. Namely, Turkish and Greek Cypriots would agree to postpone the settlement of the maritime borders issue until the time of a political settlement, but would also agree to a joint commercialization of these resources and a concomitant plan to fairly share the revenues. A possible stumbling block for Greek Cypriots is whether this formula would entail a recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized so far only by Turkey. That is why the EU could help to develop a formula akin to the "condominium" procedure in international law that could satisfy the concerns of the different parties. The EU could also help accelerate this process by appointing a Special Representative for the Eastern Mediterranean who could engage in shuttle diplomacy between Ankara, Athens, Nicosia and Lefkoşa.
On the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum
After having set up the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum in 2018, the six founding members (Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Cyprus and Palestine) have transformed it into a regional organization in September 2020 with headquarters in Cairo. The establishment of the Forum, and its exclusion of Turkey, was driven to a large extent by the reaction in Washington to Ankara’s purchase of a strategic weapons system from Russia, the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system. It has to be recalled therefore that the project was chaperoned by the US rather than the EU. But today, the Forum’s current format has become a major issue. Turkey’s exclusion from the Forum is seen as an affront by Turkish policy makers and is interpreted as a sign of the willingness of the regional countries to "contain" Turkey. It therefore feeds into the combative outlook on the Eastern Mediterranean. Secondly, changes in global hydrocarbon prices, coupled with initiatives like the European Green Deal that aim to lower countries’ reliance on polluting hydrocarbon resources, are set to seriously challenge the economic feasibility of any Eastern Mediterranean pipeline designed to bring offshore gas to European markets by sidelining Turkey. Therefore, the EU should contemplate a diplomatic role that would create the conditions for Turkey’s accession to the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum.