By Stefanos Evripidou
A diplomatic source with close knowledge of the agreement told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that the bases’ deal is the culmination of increasingly improved relations between the two countries and with President Nicos Anastasiades.
The UK and Cyprus have put their relations on a better footing, improving collaboration to the extent that they can discuss difficult issues without suspicion, sometimes making agreements, and other times agreeing to disagree.
Improved collaboration was most evident last autumn when the two countries engaged in “real discussions on how to deal with the common Syrian threat” to the bases and Republic.
The bases, perhaps, are no longer seen by the Cypriot government through the prism of historic animosity but as part of the European security architecture.
The source said as relations improved, the two governments realised they had more in common than they thought, not just on Syria. For example, they share common positions within the EU on financial services, the free movement of persons and external trade issues.
In 2004, the UK had offered to hand over almost half the Sovereign Base Areas’ territory to a federal Cyprus Republic had the two sides voted in favour of the Annan plan. That never happened.
The latest agreement with the UK raises the question as to whether Britain would now be willing to offer 78 per cent of Bases territory as part of a sweetener for any new solution plan that goes to the vote.
The source said the 2004 offer remains on the table as is, adding that the ten-year old proposal has nothing to do with the recent agreement signed between the two countries. One is about individual property ownership, the other about the location of territory.
While Britain does not necessarily need the extra 40-odd per cent of territory that it wants to hold on to post-solution for military purposes in terms of land use, it is most interested in access to the airspace above.
And however improved relations are between the two countries, it seems Britain remains a long way off from giving all non-military zones back to Cyprus and resorting to seeking permission to use its airspace as Cyprus’ other partners do.
Regarding fears of a new Gibraltar, the source described this argument as “bogus” since Gibraltar’s status did not come about recently through a referendum but dates back long ago.
Second, the land in the bases is owned by Greek Cypriots. They would have to sell it all and mainly to Brits for any fear of a majority British civilian population within the bases to be realised.
In any case, the trend is quite the opposite, with Britain wishing to share more with the Republic, in terms of applicable laws etc, rather than doing things the British way in the bases, said the source.
The recent agreement was not at all well received by the Turkish Cypriot leadership with all politicians – past and present – crying foul, saying that the agreement is an injustice to Turkish Cypriot property owners in the bases.
According to sources, the Turkish Cypriots were not consulted, and feared that they had lost property rights. This is not the case and no rights have been lost at all as a result of the agreement, the diplomatic source explained.
In practice, however, Turkish Cypriots can’t sell land on the Bases because post-1974, they signed away their land in the bases to obtain occupied properties in the north.