THE RETURN of the Cyprus problem to the news 10 days ago lifted the gloom of the politicians, broadcasters and newspaper commentators, who, for the previous two months, had to talk and write about the unrelenting barrage of negative developments that hit the country. In these two months, their powerlessness and the hollowness of their public pronouncements were exposed for all to see. Brave and serious-sounding words meant nothing as the Eurogroup set in motion the demolition of our economy with nobody in Cyprus able to limit it, let alone stop it.
The national problem, in contrast, has always allowed a much more extravagant discourse, marked by defiant rhetoric, big words and uncompromising posturing. This is why our leaders and opinion formers seized the opportunity to make big issues out of the previous week’s revelations about the existence of the 77-page UN document, recording convergences and divergences during talks and President Anastasiades’ letter to the UN Secretary General. They all started playing their favourite role again as brave defenders of our national interests, determined to resist the foreign attempts to impose an unfair deal.
Last Sunday’s newspapers were full of articles about Anglo-American attempts to ‘force a speedy closure of the Cyprus problem,’ as well as calls for the replacement of the UN Special Representative Alexander Downer. Political parties were also calling for Downer’s immediate replacement, as they had been doing every so often in the previous three or four years. The consensus was that the Anglo-Americans were working on an ‘express solution,’ now that they felt the collapse of the economy had put the Greek Cypriots in a very weak position, because the US also wanted to tackle the issues of energy in the eastern Mediterranean.
Inevitably, the hydrocarbon deposits in the Cyprus EEZ are now being linked to the Cyprus problem, even though the Anastasiades government has been arguing that the two issues should not be linked, as if this were a realistic possibility. With Turkey regularly issuing threats and warning that it would use force to stop Cyprus extracting natural gas from its EEZ, is there the slightest possibility that the two issues would not be linked? In fact, the UN is pushing for a resumption of the peace talks because a settlement would create the stability necessary for the exploitation of the area’s hydrocarbons.
NATO chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen was stating the obvious a few weeks ago when he said that the exploitation of the natural gas would have to wait for a settlement, but all Cypriot politicians dismissed his view as ‘unacceptable’ because it ignored our sovereign rights. The possible existence of large quantities of natural gas in our EEZ has, regrettably, made us have ideas out of step with our size. The nationalist hard-liners are now boasting that Cyprus could become a major player in regional politics. One columnist wrote last week that the east Mediterranean would a ‘world energy power’.
The Barroso proposal, presented on Wednesday in Brussels, for a gas pipeline from the eastern Mediterranean to Greece and from there to Europe, had commentators talking about the creation of a ‘regional power,’ comprising of Greece, Cyprus and Israel, the implication being that Turkey would not dare mess with it. Had anyone asked Israel if it wanted to be part of this alliance? As for the idea of an underwater pipeline to Greece, it had been repeatedly dismissed as impractical and too costly by experts, a factor that did not enter the analysis.
Will our Cyprus problem warriors ever realise that we are a tiny country incapable of playing regional power games. It would be our biggest mistake yet, if we thought we could use the discovery of hydrocarbons to reject a settlement again, under the illusion that we could become a major energy player, something that will never happen. If we are ever to benefit financially from the hydrocarbons in our EEZ, we need to recognise that the first requirement is regional stability that could only be achieved through some form of co-operation with all our neighbours.
We need to have a sense of perspective and consider how badly our politicians fared the last time they had to handle a serious matter such as the bailout, which involved dealing with powerful countries. We do not want to be put in a similar position – being faced with an ultimatum we cannot turn down – because we think Cyprus could become a ‘regional energy player’ and not have to worry about a settlement.