By Stefanos Evripidou
THE UK and Cyprus signed a “historic” agreement on Wednesday lifting restrictions on commercial and industrial development in non-military areas within the British Bases for the first time since the country’s independence over half a century ago.
The agreement signed between Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague in London was hailed by President Nicos Anastasiades as a “historic development” providing an overall framework for property development in the British bases 53 years after the establishment of the Republic.
The deal will give residents and property owners in the three municipalities and 16 local communities situated either fully or partially within the bases’ area the right to develop properties, going beyond housing needs to include commercial or industrial use.
The agreement covers an area of 198 square kilometres, counting for 78 per cent of total Sovereign Base Areas’ (SBA) territory, and affords greater flexibility to develop all private property within the bases.
Negotiations with the UK began three and a half months ago, culminating in Wednesday’s agreement signed during Anastasiades’ first official visit to London as president to meet with UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
Comments emanating from both leaders suggested Cyprus-UK relations have come a long way since the days when a prominent Cypriot politician described the UK as Cyprus’ “evil demon”.
During their meeting, the two leaders discussed the economy, bilateral relations, the Cyprus problem, regional issues in the Middle East and the future of the EU.
In his welcoming remarks, Cameron said he was “delighted” to welcome Anastasiades at 10 Downing Street, to whom he talked regularly at European Councils and other international gatherings or conferences.
The PM described relations between the two countries as “very, very strong”.
For his part, Anastasiades expressed his “deep appreciation for the historic agreement” signed on Wednesday, “as well as for the assistance that your country and you personally have given us with regard to, among others, the restructuring of the banking sector and the public sector”.
The two leaders then issued a joint communiqué reaffirming the “strong bonds of friendship and partnership” between Cyprus and the UK, while highlighting the many areas of shared interest.
According to the joint communiqué, the Bases’ arrangement “is important in giving greater freedom to residents and property owners within the Bases to use their property while safeguarding the UK’s effective operation of the Bases for military use”.
The statement notes that the agreement “is an excellent example of the good cooperation between the two governments in the administration of the Bases”, while also enhancing “considerably the prospects for investment and growth”.
Regarding the continued division of the island, Cameron and Anastasiades reaffirmed their “active commitment to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem, which would bring political, economic, and social benefits to the island and the region”.
The communiqué notes that both leaders “support a settlement agreed under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General, based on the UN Charter and the Security Council Resolutions on Cyprus, as well as on the principles upon which the EU is founded, for a state of Cyprus with a single sovereignty, single international personality and a single citizenship, in a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality, as described in the relevant UNSCRs”.
The two leaders also discussed “how the EU needs to reform to become more flexible, more competitive, and more democratic – including through a strengthened role for national parliaments, where appropriate, and the case for renewing citizens’ democratic consent and support for the EU”.
They recognised the need for single market reform to simplify regulation in the EU and support growth.
On EU enlargement, the two agreed that “accession of future member states to the EU is dependent on them meeting all accession criteria”, as well as on the need to explore ways to manage the impact of accession on local communities in the future.
The communiqué refers to the “significant progress” and “strong commitment” of the Cypriot government to implement its adjustment programme agreed with the troika and to revitalise the economy.
Both countries agreed to continue co-operation on property and energy issues, noting that Cyprus’ exploration and exploitation of its natural resources in its exclusive economic zone will “enhance the EU’s energy security and will contribute economic benefits”.
The two countries also “share a decisive commitment to addressing security threats and humanitarian issues, especially in the Middle East”, with the Syria crisis highlighting “the potential for further cooperation and coordination between Cyprus and the UK, including with respect to the Sovereign Bases Areas, in addressing possible threats and ensuring the security and stability of the wider region”.
Speaking after the meeting to reporters, Anastasiades described the visit to London as being of “historic significance”, adding that bilateral talks were held in a “warm and friendly climate”.
Regarding the adopted text of the joint communiqué on the Cyprus problem, the president described as “very important” the fact the British government supports his positions on the basis of the negotiations.
Speaking to an audience of overseas Cypriots on Tuesday night, the president expressed his satisfaction with the stance followed by the British government on the Cyprus issue, particularly the past ten months. He also expressed gratitude to Cameron for the offer of technical regarding reform of the state and overcoming the economic crisis.
Anastasiades is joined in London by his ministers of finance, foreign affairs and energy, as well as the government spokesman and the director of his diplomatic office. The Cypriot delegation is due back to the island on Friday.