Turkey and Libya reach controversial deal on energy exploration

EU says stability of the eastern Mediterranean could be undermined by the agreement

The stability of the eastern Mediterranean could be undermined by controversial energy exploration agreements reached by Ankara and the Tripoli-based Libyan government, the European Union has warned.

EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said the deals require “clarifications since [they’re] based on a memorandum that goes against Law of the Sea and infringes on third states’ rights.”

Ankara, which is not among the 166 signatories of The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, denies Turkey is impinging on the other states’ rights.

Libya’s Tobruk-based parliament has rejected the agreements, which it says deprive it of constitutional legitimacy. Its spokesman, Abdulla Bleihiq said the agreements “are not binding for the Libyan state and people” as the mandate of the government ended in December 2021 and it is acting in a caretaker capacity.


Greece and Egypt have stated opposition to the deals. Greek government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said they “will certainly not be approved by the international community. [They] will not be allowed by our country, nor by our allies.”

Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced on Monday that the sides have signed memoranda of understanding on oil and gas exploration and drilling. He said the deals are linked to the controversial 2019 agreement delimiting the two countries’ offshore economic zones, thereby preparing the way for the exploitation of Libya’s seabed resources.

That deal was concluded after Turkey intervened to help the Tripoli government win the battle for control of the capital waged against rebels backed by Egypt, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey continues to provide security in Tripoli.

Mr Cavusoglu said third countries have no right to interfere in agreements signed by two sovereign states. However, Libya’s sovereignty is shared between Tripoli in the west and Tobruk in the east and agreements involving the state must be ratified by parliament.

The broad offshore zones stretch from the Turkish coast to the Libyan coast, meet mid-Mediterranean and bisect the eastern end of the sea. As this could violate the rights of Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus and Greece, the agreement was condemned by the UN, EU, Arab League, US, Russia and regional states as a violation of the Law of the Sea.

Greece and Egypt responded by staking claims to their own offshore zones to counter this Ankara-Tripoli deal. Athens and Ankara have sparred for decades over Aegean energy resources and twice risked military clashes. Since 2012 Turkey has deployed research and drill ships off the coast of Republic of Cyprus and sent naval vessels to block multinationals from extracting gas off the Cypriot coast.

Ankara argues it has acted on behalf of the Turkish Cypriot breakaway state in the island’s north, occupied by Turkey following a coup by the Greek junta in 1974.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times