AKEL, Speech by Toumazos Tsielepis at the event “The Cyprus problem - perspectives after Crans Montana” organized by the AKEL Delegation and GUE/NGL

7/12/18 10:30 AM
  • Cyprus, Progressive Party of the Working People [AKEL] En Europe Communist and workers' parties

27 June 2018, European Parliament, Brussels


“The exploration of hydrocarbons in the EEZ of the Republic of Cyprus: a motive for the solution of the Cyprus problem”


Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

I would like to thank you for your presence at today's event. The issue of my own intervention concerns a timely reflection on whether and in what way the natural gas that has been discovered in the Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ) of the Republic of Cyprus can be used as an incentive for the solution of our political problem.

As it is known, in February of this year Turkey prevented the Italian company ENI from carrying out planned drilling within thedelimitated zone and a licensed plot of the Republic of Cyprus. The specific area is not even included in those that Turkey - wrongly of course - is claiming as part of its own EEZ. This action was one of the most serious, if not the most serious, provocation since the Turkish invasion of 1974. This particular incidentdemonstrates that natural gas can lead to a crisis with unpredictable consequences. The issue at stake is therefore to search forways in which the issue of hydrocarbons should be a blessing and not a curse for our country and people as a whole, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.

In order to render my analysis concerning the specific case of Cyprus more comprehensible, I must inevitably focus very briefly on some key aspects of the Law of the Sea regarding maritime zones.

The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea has so far been ratified by 168 States, including the European Union in its capacity as a subject of international law and by the Republic of Cyprus, but unfortunately not by Turkey. This, of course, causes difficulties, but does not mean that Turkey is free to act uncontrollably given that it is bound by both the basic principles of the UN Charter and customary international law. The latter recognizes an EEZ to all coastal States and sets out peaceful ways for resolving differences. There is also relevant case-law of the International Court.

The Convention provides that when distances between coastal states are smaller than those required to allow a unilateral declaration of an EEZ (400 nautical miles which amount to 740 km), procedures for an agreed delimitation must be initiated. If an agreement is not reached within a reasonable period of time, the parties should take recourse to an international judicialbody(Hague International Court of Justice or Special Court for the Law of the Sea based in Hamburg or an arbitration tribunal). The relevant judgments of the Court are binding and final. In the meantime, actionsthat jeopardize or prevent a definitive agreement being reached must be avoided.

The distances of Cyprus from the shores of all neighboring states are too small for us to be able by ourselves to determine an EEZ at 200 nautical miles. Let me indicatively note that Turkey is 75 kilometers away from our northern shores, Syria is 105 kilometers from our eastern shores, while our farthest neighbor, namely Egypt, is just 380 kilometers away from our southern shores. Delimitation agreements are therefore imperative. So far we have reached such agreements with Egypt (2003), Lebanon (2007) and Israel (2010) all in the medianline. Furthermore, I note that the Lebanese Parliament has not yet ratified the abovementioned agreement because of its dispute with Israel and not with Cyprus. We have not yet entered into any process of delimitation with Syria and Turkey. Under a number of concurrent preconditions, a delimitation of maritime zones with Greece might also occur.

The big problem is the delimitation with Turkey. Certain political parties in Cyprus declare that a delimitation agreement must be concluded with the neighboring country before the solution of the Cyprus problem, arguing that if we leave the issue to be pending after the solution, we will create a new Cyprus problem. We believe the exactly opposite: If we seek a delimitation with Turkey before solving our political problem, the only thing we will manage to dois to create a new serious obstacle to the solution of the Cyprus problem.

There are three difficulties of such an ambitious undertaking. Firstly, a bilateral delimitation agreement would be tantamount to a de jure recognition of the Republic of Cyprus by Turkey before the solution of the Cyprus problem, something which is not going to happen. Secondly, Turkey did not sign the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. And thirdly, Turkey does not accept the delimitation of a median line. On the contrary, with the coordinates it hassubmitted to the UN, Turkey is claiming/asserting a large part of the EEZ of the Republic of Cyprus to the northwest far beyond the median line; arguing that this resembles an equitable solution.

Having promptlyanticipated the difficulties we would be facing with Turkey, during the Demetris Christofias presidency, we made persistent efforts to agree at least with our Turkish Cypriot compatriots on issues related to maritimezones and indirectly to natural gas. I say indirectly because although the issue of hydrocarbons was not the subject of discussion at the negotiating table, but as we are seeking a federal solution, the competences of the central government were inevitably discussed. We agreed to include all the maritime zones, including the EEZ, in these federal competences. The same was agreed for natural resources, which, by definition, include natural gas. In addition, on the chapter of the Economy the way of distributing federal revenuesbetween the central and constituent states was agreed, as is the case for all federal systems. Inevitably, these will also include federal revenues resulting from the exploitation of natural gas.

In simple terms, this means that the EEZ will be one and that the natural gas will belong to our people as a whole. Both communities will benefit from this arrangement: The convergence that the EEZof the federal Republic will be one ensures the single sovereignty and single international personality as the Greek Cypriot side is seeking. While the convergence that natural resources will also constitute a federal competence, it means that the Turkish Cypriots will also have a share, which has indeed been agreed regardless of the fact that the gas fields were found in the southern part of the island.

Therefore in essence, with the solution of the Cyprus problem, the natural gas issue will automatically also be agreed upon. Only the issue of delimitation with Turkey will be pending, but there is also internal convergence that can help to this issue: to the overall package of the convergence on maritime zones it is provided that the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will be included in the list of international treaties of the federal Republic. This is something that certainly does not bind Turkey, but will bind the federal Republic that it will seek a delimitation with Turkey as required by the Convention. That is to say, it will seektalks for delimitation with Turkey and if the two States do not reach a conclusion within a reasonable period of time, then they will have to jointly submit the case before the International Court of Justice.

How significant the aforementioned convergences are is also demonstrated by the fact that the UN Secretary-Secretary, both in the Report he submitted last September to the Security Council following the breakdownat Crans Montana, as well as in his recent report, makes special referenceto them and stresses the need to safeguard them.

Unfortunately, however, when Mr. Eroglu emerged in the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community in 2010, he basically undermined all the convergencesthat had been agreed up till then on the key issues, including those related to natural gas.

Mr. Eroglu subsequently proceeded to a so called "agreement" for the delimitation of a continental shelf with Turkey. Of course, this agreement, while in terms of International Law is worth as much as the paper on which it is written, has led to serious complications and adverse effects.

The first thing which we must note is that the so-called "delimitation" of a continental shelf was not made in the median line, but concedes approximately 2/3 of the continental shelf north of Cyprus to Turkey. Secondly, the question arises as to why they delimited a continental shelf instead of an EEZ. I would like to point out that the EEZ is a wider concept (it includes the rights deriving from the continental shelf regarding exploration and exploitation of the seabed and the subsoil, but also extends to the overlying waters). And given that geographically as a rule and in our case certainly the two concepts coincide, when an EEZ is delimitated simultaneously a continental shelf is also delimitated.

Furthermore, this specific so-called"agreement" clashes completely with Turkey's long-standing position that islands have no continental shelf and that Cyprus constitutes an extension of the Turkish continental shelf. These are perceptions that recall Ottoman Empire mentalities and have nothing to do with Law of the Sea, since they deliberately confuse the legal concept of the continental shelf with the geological. To put it simply, even if the allegations for extension of the Turkish continental shelf were valid, this is of no importance whatsoever from the point of view of the Law of the Sea which recognizes a continental shelf to the islands and particularly to island-states (see the decision of the ICJ in the case of Libya- Malta in 1985).

So why did they proceed to the so-called “delimitation” of continental shelf instead of an EEZ?A wishfulunderstanding could be that they simply wanted to be able,in the event of a future delimitation with the federal Republic,to negotiate with different coordinates; having at the same time the internal alibi that Turkey will not beconceding, since a future delimitation will concernthe EEZ and not the continental shelf.

There followed a second so-called "agreement", this time concerning the licensing of Turkish companies for drilling within the Republic of Cyprus' EEZ. This is an extreme provocation, given that the claimed licensing is not limited to the sea area along our occupied coasts (which occupy 60% of the coastline of Cyprus), but extends to the southwest up to the administrative boundaries of the district of Paphos!

Despite all the aforementioned difficulties, we firmly believe that with the discovery of natural gas in the Republic of Cyprus' EEZ all sides have an additional powerful incentive for the solution of the Cyprus problem. Regarding the Greek Cypriot side, the additional incentive in seeking to resolve our political problem is that only then we will be able to exploit fully the potential benefits from the finding of natural gas. On the contrary, for as long as it remains unresolved, we will encounter the following obstacles:

Firstly, with the pending deadlock on our political problem, Turkey's claims to the northwest will continue. Secondly, the pseudo-state’s claims will continue. Thirdly, the unimpeded use of this precious natural wealth will be an extremely difficult task. Fourthly, the energy map of the region may be shaped without us. For example, before the recent deterioration in Israel-Turkey relations, the two countries made serious thoughts about a natural gas pipeline from Leviathan to the port of Ceyhan via the EEZ of Cyprus. Some people in Cyprus have the impression that they can’t do so without our own consent. Yet they can, since the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea permits thelaying of submarine pipelinesin the EEZ by third countries. We may only have a say on route and environmental issues, but we cannot stop them. Consequently, they can do so without us, but we do not think that such a pipeline would be the best choice because it would be very close to unstable regions like Lebanon and Syria. But the financial cost also would be more than double the cost of a pipeline through the territorial waters and territory of Cyprus, for which they need our permission which will certainly not be given without a priorsolution to the Cyprus problem.

On the contrary, we believe that if a solution to our political problem is achieved, this will have beneficial effects on the issue of EEZ and natural gas. At least as far as the first obstaclefor a negotiation of a delimitation agreement is concerned, Turkey's refusal to recognize the Republic of Cyprus will be overcome. Whereas Turkey's claims northwest of our EEZ will continue, there will be a better chance of reaching a conclusion. We note that our existing energy program is not affected by these claims.

As far as the present claims of the pseudo-state are concerned, they will not exist after the solution. Moreover, with the implementation of the previously mentioned convergences, there will no longer be differences between the two communities on the issue of hydrocarbons.

There is also a strong incentive for Turkey; which is seeking to play a role in the region's energy issues. We must therefore reflect on whether there is a way for Turkey to acquire a role without affecting our own legitimate interests and legal rights. Of course we cannot accept its unreasonable claims. We can, however, immediately after the solution, start negotiating with Turkey for drawing up of an agreement regarding routes for a pipeline channeling natural gas based on commercial terms. We are well aware that Turkey already has a developed pipeline network that is constantly expanding. We therefore agree with Mr.Akinci that that network can be used to the benefit of all of us.

Finally, the Turkish Cypriots also have a strong incentive. The basic position of the Turkish Cypriot side is that the energy planning cannot progress without it having a role and therefore it demands the creation of a joint committee to take relevant decisions regardless of the negotiations to solve our political problem. Nonetheless, there is the Greek Cypriot side’s well-known sensitivity that with the Cyprus problem unresolved, without any visible prospect for a solution, and without revoking the declaration of the illegal regime in the north of Cyprus, the Republic of Cyprus cannot concede its sovereign rights. The legitimate and justified concern is that the adoption of the said Turkish Cypriot demands will nothelp towards the solution of our political problem, as it will provide additional incentives for the perpetuation of the partitionist status quo.

The sure and effective way for the Turkish Cypriots to benefit as it has already been agreed is through the solution of the Cyprus problem. I will not say much about how the solution can be achieved, as this issue has already been analyzed by Mr.Kyprianou. I shall limit myself to say that if we proceed with a resumption of the negotiation process as prescribed by the UN Secretary-General it will soon be clear if we are in a position to reach a strategic understanding on the six key pending issues; towards which we were very close at Crans Montana. If we achieve this, it will be much easier to deal with the remaining outstanding issues, not to say that we will be counting down for a solution. This in itself will finally solve the issue of hydrocarbons as well.

We firmly believe that these two elements, the intention to negotiate for the construction of a pipeline towards Turkey and the benefits of Turkish Cypriots from the natural gas through the solution of the Cyprus problem, can proveto be powerful incentives, inter alia, for achieving a solution on the agreed basis in a short period of time.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

There is no other way other than using the hydrocarbons issue in the direction of the solution of the Cyprus problem. And it constitutes further proof that the overall settlement of our political problem is in the best interest of our people as a whole, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, of Greece, Turkey andthe peoples of our troubled region. In concluding, I would like to underline that the EU is also to obtain concrete benefits from the exploration of gas fields in our region, which can better be exploited with the comprehensive solution of the Cyprus problem. And to this end, we expect the EU’s utmost support. 


[1]Member of the Political Bureau of the C.C. of AKEL, Head of Cyprus problem Office of AKEL, International Law expert.