The founding states of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, a cooperation mechanism between natural gas producers and consumers in the region, have decided to turn the forum into an international organization.
During a meeting in Egyptian capital Cairo on January 16, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Palestine and Israel, which founded the forum in January last year, signed an agreement in this regard. Turning the forum into an international organization will increase cooperation between its member states and boost its international legal standing, Egyptian Minister of Petroleum, Tarek al-Mulla, said. “This is quite an achievement, only one year after the launch of the forum,” al-Mulla added.
The new status promotion comes at a time of high tension in the Eastern Mediterranean region, especially after Turkey decided to send troops to Libya, in the light of two agreements for security cooperation and the delimitation of maritime boundaries with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
The agreements, signed in late November last year, allow Turkey to send troops to Libya at the request of the GNA, according to Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He added following the signing of the agreements also that they make it necessary for Eastern Mediterranean nations to seek Turkish approval before they explore minerals or extend natural gas pipelines in the region.
Such details upend the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, potentially the world’s next natural gas pivot in the light of the too many finds made in it in the past few years, including off the coasts of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt.
The Turkish moves also threaten to sabotage Egypt’s plans to become an energy hub, depending on its sprawling natural gas infrastructure. Egypt plans to import gas extracted from the wells off the coasts of neighboring states, process it, and then export it to Europe. Israel has already started exporting gas to Egypt, in the light of a 15-billion dollar export deal signed in 2018. Israeli Energy Minister, Yuval Steinitz, said the export of natural gas from his country to Egypt would strengthen the partnership between the two countries.
“It will also enhance Egypt’s standing as a regional center for handling and trading in energy,” he said following the meeting of the forum in Cairo.
The January 16 meeting of the forum is the third, following the founding meeting in January 2019 and an additional meeting in July of the same year. France has already submitted an official request to be a member of the forum. The United States also submitted a request to have an observer status. The grouping demonstrates the ability of regional states to turn the vast resources of the Mediterranean into a stimulant for cooperation, not one for conflict or war.
Nevertheless, the forum largely isolates Turkey, even as its founding states called on Ankara to come on board more than one time in the past. Forum membership is still open, but Turkey seems to have opted for another course of action, namely turning the whole thing upside down by working to sabotage ongoing alliances and trying to form new alliances, in which it becomes the central point.
Apart from the GNA, Turkey tries to win Algeria and Tunisia over to its side. A few weeks ago, it invited Israel to export its gas to Europe via it, instead of exporting it via Egypt. On January 16, Cypriot Energy Minister, Georgios Lakkotrypis, said the two deals Turkey signed with the GNA stand as proof of Turkey’s strategy of violating international law.
The aim of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, he said, is to enable its member states to control their natural gas wealth fully. “It also aims to help us cooperate to achieve the best interests of our people in the light of rules that respect the rights of member states,” Lakkotrypis said.