By Stefanos Evripidou
THE “historic” agreement signed last week in London between the Republic of Cyprus and the United Kingdom for the development of property within the British Bases represents a “qualitative leap” in the two countries’ often stormy relations, President Nicos Anastasiades said yesterday.
The agreement safeguards the broader interests of Cyprus and frees more than three quarters of territory within the bases’ area, the president said during a presentation of the agreement to parties, ministers, MPs, local authorities and business organisations at the Presidential Palace.
The agreement, signed during Anastasiades’ first official visit to London last week, will give over 83,000 residents or property owners increased flexibility to buy, sell or develop private property within the British Bases while giving Cypriot authorities the power to establish planning zones in the area and administer those zones for development purposes.
Anastasiades said he respects people’s passion to see a Cyprus free from unfair international legal commitments preventing the full exercise of sovereignty throughout the island.
No Cypriot would consider the status of the bases area agreed in 1960 as fair or the result of the free will of the Cypriot people, but they are a fact that has political and legal consequences, he said.
“I consider it my duty to strive for as long as necessary to ensure that these consequences are less onerous for the Cypriot people as a whole,” said Anastasiades, arguing that this was achieved with the agreement signed in London.
“I have no doubt that the agreement represents a qualitative leap in our relations with Great Britain regarding the bases to the benefit of the Republic.”
He highlighted that “after more than 53 years since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, an overall adjustment for the development of non-military areas within the British Bases is achieved”.
The agreement overturns facts created by the 1960 agreements for residents and owners of property inside the bases, restoring the rights of bases’ residents while dealing with the needs of the three municipalities and 17 communities affected.
“In reality, this agreement frees more than three quarters of the land and includes in its entirety private immovable property in the bases. At the same time, it significantly reinforces the role and say of the Republic of Cyprus in the development of the land in question,” he argued.
Anastasiades acknowledged that many citizens who do not have any connection to the bases area are probably wondering what has been given in exchange to achieve such a favourable agreement for Cyprus.
“I wish to make it clear that interstate relations are not necessarily built on exchanges, but on taking similar measures that improve their relationships.
“This agreement has no winners or losers. It is an agreement by which both sides win, since it removes a half century thorn in our relations with Britain,” he said.
As for Britain, the former colonial power gets to focus on the military role of the bases and free itself to a large extent from the administration of non-military areas while saving on administrative and economic resources, said the president.
Anastasiades listed the benefits of the agreement, explaining that under the agreement the largest part of the bases territory (78 per cent counting for around 200 square kilometers) is integrated into planning zones.
“Essentially, the agreement reverses the policy applied in the British Bases up until today. Instead of the universal prohibition on development with some exceptions, now universal development is allowed with some exceptions. And these exceptions are explicitly defined.”
The agreement also ensures equal rights to residents and property owners in the British Bases in relation to the rest of the population of the Cyprus Republic to develop their property.
Cypriot and EU citizens and third country nationals are entitled to acquire real estate in the area of the bases, and this implies the unrestricted exploitation of property by the current owners.
Urban planning and economic development in the bases is ensured through the agreement, said the president, adding that the Cypriot authorities will be responsible for zoning and other development like public infrastructure.
Residents and owners of property will now have to apply for development permits to the competent Cypriot authorities like everyone else and will know “clearly and without surprises or obstacles in what way their properties can be developed on the basis of planning zones and policies to be determined by the government”.
The agreement also reinforces the practice of leaving civil cases and certain criminal cases arising from within the bases to be heard in Cypriot courts. Decisions will be executed within the bases, while those sentenced to jail time will serve their sentence in a Cypriot prison.
Conceding judicial and administrative powers to the Republic ensures equality and fairness, said the president.
“The agreement reinforces and confirms the longstanding position of the Cypriot side that the British Bases in Cyprus can only be used for military purposes. Also, with the reinforced concession of administrative powers to the Republic of Cyprus, broader vital national interests are safeguarded,” he said.
Anastasiades argued that the government fully achieved its dual targets set from the outset: on the one hand to satisfy the fair and longstanding demand of residents and property owners of the bases to be allowed to develop them, and on the other hand to safeguard and protect fully the broader interests of the Cyprus Republic.
He welcomed the broad acceptance of the agreement by the political leadership adding that the “isolated concerns” – most vehemently expressed by Citizens’ Alliance leader Giorgos Lillikas – regarding the so-called Gibraltarisation of bases territory “are groundless, as one may ascertain from the text of the agreement”.
He added: “What clearly comes out of the agreement is that the British are interested in safeguarding the military use of the Bases and not their exploitation in any way for non-military purposes.”
The agreement rules out the UK government setting up civilian commercial and industrial enterprises in the bases unless these are connected with military requirements.
Regarding the fear of the bases becoming another Gibraltar, Anastasiades argued that plenty of safeguards exist to avoid that.
Specifically, with the agreement the administrative and judicial powers of Cyprus are strengthened over persons who have or acquire land, reside or settle in the bases.
Nobody acquires a right of residence in the bases unless they have a right of residence in the Republic that has been granted by the competent Cypriot authorities, who are also responsible for planning zones and planning permits.
Also, “the most important” is that the political and electoral rights of residents are the same as those in the territory of the Republic.
“Therefore the stated concerns do not reflect reality but the fear of those who express them.”
The president further argued the agreement significantly improves some of the regulations applicable under the Treaty of Accession of Cyprus to the EU, strengthening substantially Cyprus’ powers since the territory of the bases and Republic are considered a single territory in relation to taxes, currency, customs, as far as the free movement of persons is concerned, and in terms of the exploitation of mineral resources at the Bases and the sea nearby.
“Consequently it is recognised that all of the natural resources in their entirety belong to the Republic of Cyprus,” he said.
Anastasiades thanked the two countries’ negotiating teams for their work, particularly senior Cypriot diplomat Tasos Tzionis and British High Commissioner to Cyprus Matthew Kidd, and noted that “both sides are determined to proceed with the implementation of the agreement the soonest”.
The Joint Cooperation Committee established by the two countries will convene for its first meeting on January 29, he said.