03.06.2021

Solidarity and deterrence in the Eastern Mediterranean

Published in Foundation for Strategic Research: FRS

By Elie Perot

Executive summary

During the crisis with Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2020, the Greek government explicitly raised the possibility of activating article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) – the EU collective defence clause which notably provides that “[i]f a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter”. The objective of the present report is to analyse this complex and particularly sensitive issue.

To this end, the report first places the discussion in context by reviewing the Western reactions to the recent Greek-Turkish crisis. In so doing, the report shows that it was largely due to both the internal difficulties encountered within NATO in dealing with Turkey’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the perceived softness of the EU in this regard that Greece found it necessary to sound the alarm by raising the possibility of triggering the collective defence mechanism provided for in the EU treaties.

The report then examines, from a legal perspective, the conditions under which article 42.7 TEU could be activated in the Eastern Mediterranean. As a preliminary step, the report verifies that it would be formally admissible to invoke the EU collective defence clause against a member of NATO. The report then looks at the two criteria that would have to be fulfilled to activate article 42.7 TEU – namely that a given EU member state should have been the victim of “armed aggression” and that such armed aggression should have taken place on the “territory” of that member state – and examines in particular how this could prove problematic in the specific context of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turning finally to the way forward, the report first outlines how the EU collective defence clause could be implemented if necessary in the Eastern Mediterranean. In this regard, the report stresses that the intensity of the actions undertaken according to this provision would have to be commensurate to the specific circumstances in which the latter would be invoked and that EU member states would most likely contribute to such actions in different ways. The report also considers to which extent the latest tensions between Greece and Turkey should lead to a reassessment of the ambition to operationalise article 42.7 TEU that has gradually emerged in recent years at the EU level. The report concludes, however, that the possible link between these two issues is likely to remain indirect and ambiguous, including in the context of the elaboration of the Strategic Compass and a possible political declaration on article 42.7 TEU, on account of the political sensitivities involved.