THE POLITICAL celebrations that followed the signing of the agreement for the construction of the EastMed pipeline were understandable. Not only had the doubters of the project been silenced, but the government had shown that it was putting its plans into practice and that Cyprus was on the way to becoming a key energy player in the region, in defiance of Turkey’s bullying tactics.
Speaking after the “historic” deal was signed in Athens, President Anastasiades said: “It confirms in the most tangible way that the cooperation we have built over the last few years is not limited to theoretical or vacuous proclamations, but it has evolved into practical projects with geopolitical value.” The project also had the backing of the US and the EU, which was co-financing said Anastasiades.
Back in Cyprus the parties were in celebration mode as, according to Diko, this “is a practical step in the exercising of the sovereign rights of the Cyprus Republic and development that could act as a deterrent against Turkey’s illegal machinations and activities in the region.” Edek believed the “completion of the project will further upgrade the geostrategic role of Cyprus and Greece in the eastern Mediterranean and the sensitive region of the Middle East.”
While the strengthening of relations of Greece, Cyprus and Israel, through the signing of the EastMed inter-governmental agreement, is a welcome development that should be applauded, celebrations seem rather premature, as nobody could safely say whether the project would be going ahead. Feasibility studies are still in progress and doubts have been expressed about whether investors will be found for a project expected to cost between five and six billion euros.
A sense of perspective was provided by former foreign minister Nicos Rolandis who spoke to the Sunday Mail about the practical, economic and political difficulties that await the EastMed pipeline. For instance, the pipeline would supply 10 billion cubic metres of gas per year, when the EU’s annual needs are 470 billion cubic metres, mainly supplied by Russia which is in the process of setting up another pipeline.
Government spokesman, Kyriakos Kousios, was obviously not aware of the numbers when he said the EastMed agreement served the “energy interests of Europe as a whole as it provides an alternative solution for uninterrupted gas flow to the continent”. A pipeline covering just 2 per cent of Europe’s needs cannot realistically be described as an alternative solution, but it seems the spokesman got carried away.
For such a relatively small amount of gas, questions arise whether there will be companies willing to make the investment in a pipeline, which Rolandis said would be difficult to build because of the depth and unevenness of the seafloor. And what is the likelihood of investors wanting to undertake such a costly project, given the threats and illegal actions of Turkey in the region? What company or group of companies would sink five to six billion euros into a project going through part of the sea on which Turkey and Libya have made claims through the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding.
The instability and uncertainty Turkey has created with its actions in the region in the last couple of years have not created very favourable conditions for this project. If anything, these conditions, combined with President Erdogan’s unpredictability and heavy-handedness will drive away any potential investors, assuming the project is deemed viable and given the go-ahead. Who will undertake a multi-billion euro project in seas disputed by an aggressive power, with a confrontational leader like Erdogan, who has repeatedly proved his disregard for international law?
Anastasiades is already suggesting that there will be no problems because it has the backing of the US and the EU, but this is rather simplistic political thinking as was his view that the US no longer counted Turkey as an ally. “As a result of Erdogan’s actions there has been a shift,” he said. But as we have seen in the last few years, these shifts are never permanent – relations between the US and Turkey may be strained at present, but nobody should rule out their future improvement.
For now, we should be content that the agreement on the EastMed pipeline has been signed, but we need a sense of perspective. There is a very long way to go before it actually happens, if it ever does.