Med Conference may change the climate in Cyprus and in the region

Med Conference may change the climate in Cyprus and in the region

The idea of holding an international conference to discuss how to make the best use of and share the hydrocarbon richness of the eastern Mediterranean first came to the fore by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last year during the days when the tension between Turkey and Greece was at its peak.

Let’s first put the context. Turkey’s hydrocarbon activities in the eastern Mediterranean had two major objectives -- first, making clear to all the other littoral countries that its exclusion from the East Med Forum or other mechanisms will not be tolerated, and second, forcing the Greek Cyprus and others to share the hydrocarbon revenues with the Turkish Cypriots.

After nearly a year-long sound and fury in the region, things seem to be much calmer now. Plus, Turkey and the EU are poised for launching a new positive era in ties while Turkey and Greece will resume the exploratory talks. All the parties involved have realized that the best way to tackle all these very complicated issues is through inclusive and result-oriented diplomacy. A multilateral conference to this end seems to be an ideal venue.

The EU Council conclusions on Oct. 2, 2020, neatly underlined: “The European Council calls for a Multilateral Conference on the Eastern Mediterranean and invites the High Representative to engage in talks about its organization. Modalities such as participation, scope, and timeline will need to be agreed with all involved parties.

The Conference could address issues on which multilateral solutions are needed, including maritime delimitation, security, energy, migration and economic cooperation.”

On Dec. 10, 2020, the EU Council recalled the task given to the EU’s high representative, Josep Borrell, for foreign and security policy, saying, “The European Council asks the High Representative to take forward the proposal of a multilateral conference on the Eastern Mediterranean.”

To show its contribution, Turkey has already introduced its proposals on the modalities of the conference to Josep Borrell. According to this paper, the conference should be inclusive with the participation of all littoral countries and non-littoral countries whose energy companies operate a business in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told this columnist that EU has not yet replied to the proposals tabled by Turkey, but he expects to discuss it during his visit to Brussels where he will hold talks with Borrell as well as Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, presidents of the EU Council and EU Commission respectively.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest obstacle for the EU is how to formulate the participation of the Turkish Cypriots in such a conference. It’s good news to hear that Borrell has approached both the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leadership via telephone on Jan. 19, ahead of his meetings with Çavuşoğlu.

Borrell had already been given the task of finding a way to get the Greek Cypriots to agree to share the hydrocarbon revenues with the Turkish Cypriots, which the former has never sought to. The ball is in the EU’s court to make such a conference possible with the participation of all relevant parties, including the Turkish Cypriots.

His mandate was considerably difficult when the tension was high, but now as Turkey has suspended its exploration works via its seismic research vessel Oruç Reis in the eastern Mediterranean and Barbaros off the Cyprus Island, Borrell is expected to use this window of opportunity to the fullest. Of course, his endeavors can only accomplish if he receives strong support from the European countries as well as from the United States.

In addition to resolving the problems related to hydrocarbon activities, a multilateral conference would also revive hopes for a new spirit for the resolution of the Cyprus problem ahead of a potential 5+1 meeting in the coming weeks.

Plus, it will also provide a late but good opportunity for Western countries to fulfill their failed promises to the Turkish Cypriots in the post-Annan referendum period. When it comes to the Cyprus problem, it has long been meaningless and customary to hear from Western diplomats about how they sympathize with the Turkish Cypriots. It would be the right time to turn their sympathy into deeds, not only for the benefit of the Cypriots but for the entire region.