Turkey should wait as Greek Cypriots decide future
Listening to Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides on Al Jazeera over the weekend one got a sense of the disappointment and bitterness Greek Cypriots feel towards the EU less than ten years before they became members in the Union.
One also got a sense of the deep suspicion with which they approach current calls from Turkey to restart the negotiations for a Cyprus settlement. Kasoulides suggested Ankara has ulterior motives in coming out like this at a time when they in the south “are on their knees,” as he put it.
Arguing that the EU was using Cyprus as an experiment through its bailout plan, Kasoulides also admitted that it was not even certain this experiment would work. He nevertheless brushed aside calls for Greek Cyprus to abandon the Euro, saying the result of this would be much worse for them.
This means Greek Cypriots will have to strictly abide by EU regulations from now on, no matter how much of a straightjacket this represents for them. If you ask them, of course, they will argue that Cyprus always did this anyway, but they have to convince other members of the EU, and not just the Germany that they hate so much today, on this point.
On the other hand, while there is deep suspicion of Turkey’s motives, it was interesting to note that Kasoulides did not close the door to an early resumption of the Cyprus talks. He said their priority was to focus on the economic bailout program and then turn to the Cyprus negotiations. He nevertheless said this did not mean their economic crisis had to be overcome first before the talks could resume, and predicted they would start before the year is out.
Asked why they did not consider cooperation with Turkey over the natural gas reserves off the coast of Cyprus in a way that benefits both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Kasoulides admitted that Turkish Cypriots had a share of the wealth to flow from this source. He nevertheless refused any formula where the “illegal entity” in the north would have direct access to these reserves.
Kasoulides also spoke out against a pipeline over Turkey, indication this would leave the tap in Ankara’s hand which could use it against Cyprus in the future. He indicated that the companies involved in the extraction of the gas would finance the LNG facilities in Southern Cyprus that would make a pipeline over Turkey unnecessary since the liquefied gas can be carried by ship.
Kasoulides could now however say anything specific when asked if these companies had agreed to this, merely suggesting that their agreements with Cyprus committed them to a time table for brining in revenues from these gas reserves, the implication being that it was up to these companies to work out how this is done.
What one gleaned from Kasoulides remarks was a lot of uncertainty, bitterness and certain notions that many in Europe are also terming as “pipedreams.” In addition to this the continuing suspicion towards Turkey is now mixed with anger towards the EU, while remarks emanating from Russia, a country Greek Cypriots relied on in the past, cannot be inspiring much confidence either.
Russian Energy Minister, Alexander Novak, was for example quoted by Hurriyet Daily News yesterday saying Russia will not put its relations with Turkey at risk by getting involved in oil and gas drilling off the coast of Cyprus. Such remarks have implications which companies involved in drilling off the coast of Cyprus have to consider also.
Given this picture of anger and confusion in southern Cyprus, the Turkish side should wait and see how Greek Cypriots chart their future, now that their past hopes have been shattered. Whether this future involves Turkey or not in a positive sense, it should be clear to them at this stage that the EU was perhaps the wrong instrument to rely on for browbeating Ankara into a specific position on Cyprus. How this realization will be factored into their plans for their future remains to be seen.