While the whole of Europe is desperate for gas, under the seabed of Cyprus there are giant gas fields that have not yet been tapped. On the island, conflicts are the norm. Can Gas dollars play a role in reconciliation? And can the gas help the European Union out of the emergency?
The huge gas fields off the south coast of Cyprus were discovered in 2011. There was enormous euphoria: the large supplies could make the European Union less dependent on Russia.
But in the place where a special terminal for liquefied gas was supposed to be built, now only an immense gray plain can be seen. An employee of road and water engineering who does not want to be named shrugs his shoulders: “we have lost years, this is not about energy but about politics.”
The employee thinks that the new energy crisis in Europe may be able to help. “The prospect of hundreds of billions of cubic meters of gas, with ever higher yields, could increase the pressure.”
The island’s top executives see that too. The minister of energy of Cyprus, Natassa Pilidou, and the president of the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Ersin Tatar, both believe that “the gas fields are important within the context of the current situation”. It is about “billions of dollars “that”can help Europe expand its energy resources”.
But those are just words. The political situation on the island is still too sensitive. The self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey. The EU is of the opinion that the entire island is under the jurisdiction of the European member state Cyprus.
According to the UN Convention on the law of the sea, the waters around Cyprus are divided into a Greek, Turkish and a Cypriot zone. Turkish Cyprus also claims the right to these waters. And so also on the important gas fields that lie there.
The Energy Minister of Cyprus: “there are threats. If the Turkish Cypriot community takes some of our proposals as a starting point, that could be a good basis for progress in the discussions.”
Turkey, which has occupied the northern part of the island for almost half a century, believes that the North has the right to a proportional share of gas revenues. President Tatar: “my proposal is that we act together and show goodwill in terms of sharing the profits.”
It is a political muscle ball fight in which the division of Cyprus comes back every time. Turkey has, contrary to international rules, started drilling for gas itself and would have wanted to prevent test drilling by the Greek Cypriots with warships.
The political tensions could keep the much-needed investors at bay, fears Harry Tzimitras. He is an energy specialist and director of the Peace Research Institute PRIO in Nicosia. “The lenders, the companies or banks that finance it must bear the political risks. All of that has to be factored in.”
The most optimistic sound comes from 33-year-old Turkish entrepreneur Hasan Siber, chairman of the Board of olive oil company Colive. He thinks that economic and non-political motives can help in reconciliation. To set a good example, he deliberately opened an office in the strip of No Man’s land between North and South.
As the first Cypriot entrepreneur, Siber works with farmers on both sides of the border. “We buy olives from farmers regardless of whether they live on the north or south side of the island. We hope that more people will work together in this way. This should be the case with gas.”
But even if the cooperation succeeds, it could take years before the first gas is transported to the EU, according to energy specialist Tzimitras. He hopes for new talks. “We must be open to the reality of war in Europe. We are in a precarious situation. And this is mainly due to the fact that we have lost a lot of precious time over the past ten, twelve years. We must not repeat that mistake.”
Can the high demand for gas and the high yields bring North and South together? Both sides weigh their words. The minister of Energy: “the main motivation is to live in a country without an army or threat. But a drive that involves both parties making financial progress can also certainly speed up the dialogue.”
The Turkish Cypriot leader thinks otherwise: “it is of great importance that our homeland, Turkey, continues to protect us. And that the Turkish army remains stationed here to prevent possible catastrophes. If we agree that both sides can coexist, we can use these raw materials together.”
The Turkish entrepreneur Siber continues to hope for a new kind of dialogue. “There must be room for idealism and realism. To all Cypriots who want to solve the problem, I say: Let’s use the gas to get a better life. It’s time for a brighter future.”