A new Schuman Plan to solve the gas issue in Cyprus

A new Schuman Plan to solve the gas issue in Cyprus

Angelo Santagostino
There is growing and widening tension on the gas issue in Cyprus. Now the Aquestion is directly affecting EU-Turkey relations and, inevitably, an already strained accession process. Last Friday the European Parliament adopted a text stressing that “the Republic of Cyprus has the full and sovereign right to explore the natural resources within the Exclusive Economic Zone [and] that Turkey’s actions constitute a violation of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus and of international Law.”

Consequently, the EP has “urged Turkey to show restraint and act in accordance with international law.” The answer of the Turkish government was pithy. “It has no validity for us,” said EU Minister Volkan Bozkır. The situation is not promising. It seems we are facing the first gusts of a cold wind, bound for freezing everything meets.

Seen from the EU side, a candidate state is violating the sovereignty of a member state. Seen from the Turkish side, an action of an unrecognized state is denying the legitimate rights of the citizens of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The positions of the two sides are so far apart that no solution and no compromise is in sight. Each expects the other to step back. Needless to say, no one will take it.

The present international situation, from Ukraine to Syria, from Libya to Nigeria, will not allow any deterioration in EU-Turkey relations, for intuitive reasons which are much beyond the ongoing accession process. We cannot afford any new wall or curtain. What we need is a different approach; we need to get rid of the logic of mutual accusations.

The solution lies, as a first step, in finding out the common ground shared by the two sides. Although of microscopic dimensions, this common ground exists. In the document adopted by the EP, we read: “If properly managed, the discovery of significant hydrocarbons reserves in the region could improve economic, political and social relations between the two communities in Cyprus.” This position is quite in line with the view repeatedly put forward by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots saying that the natural resources of the island should be shared by a united Cyprus. After establishing the existence of a small common ground, you must now find a way to enlarge it. History tells us an interesting and successful narrative, dating back to 1950.  

By the end of the 1940s, the Franco-German dualism on natural resources was going to rise again, although the war had ended less than five years. With general relief, this dualism came to an end (a permanent end) with the setting-up of the European Coal and Steel Community. An invention of the French politicians Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, leading to the creation of a common market of the natural resources of the regions across the borders of the two countries. That move was the seed of what we know today as the EU.

Can the spirit of the Schuman Declaration of May 9, 1950, be useful in solving the Cyprus gas issue? The answer can be found in the following quote from the preliminaries of the Declaration: “A Europe where Ruhr, Sarre and the French basins will work together.” Substituting and re-arranging we obtain “a Cyprus where North and South will work together.”

We should, therefore, think of a Cypriot Energy Community, the only way to concretize the auspices of both the EU and Turkey about the use of the energy resources of Cyprus to the benefit of its population.

We need a “… Declaration.” The dots are waiting to be replaced by a name. There is an extraordinary opportunity for the ambitions of European and Turkish politicians to be acknowledged as the new Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman of history.

Angelo Santagostino is the Jean Monnet Chair ad personam of European Economic Integration at Yıldırım Beyazıt University of Ankara.