PRIO Cyprus Centre (PCC), in collaboration with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Cyprus, the Atlantic Council, Istituto Affari and Strata Insight is organising its annual Conference On Energy entitled ‘The Future of Eastern Mediterranean Gas’. The Conference will be held on the 21st of November at Chateau Status in Nicosia UN Buffer Zone.
On the occasion of the Conference, the Cypriot Puzzle met for a discussion with the two organisers , Harry Tzimitras, the Director of PRIO Cyprus and Ayla Gürel, a Senior Research Consultant at PRIO Cyprus.
The Conference through the years
Cypriot Puzzle (CP): This is the fourth consecutive Conference On Energy organised by PRIO. What were the objectives behind this series of conferences and to what extent do you think that they have been fulfilled up to now?
Ayla Gürel: We started in 2011 with our first Conference with the aim to bring together different perspectives. So we set off doing two things at the time. One was starting to do research while at the same time we decided that it would be a good thing to organise a conference. So we brought speakers from the different sides and some energy experts to tell us about what might be happening. We already foresaw at the time that in the discussion on hydrocarbons, the political differences were still coming in the way. So we thought we could start these public conferences without exclusively concentrating on the geopolitical or the strategic aspect, this is just one aspect. There are many other issues; the way developments are or are not coming about and reasons for this, the linkages between the general landscape to do with energy in the region and globally. So we felt that the public needed a relatively neutral forum in which things could be discussed and the public would hear about.
Harry Tzimitras: Before this started being an issue, we felt that there was a great danger that this would become yet another chapter in the existing conflict. So the logic was both to see how we could minimise conflict by bringing a balanced understanding of things and make sure that this does not become a new link in the chain of the problem. At the same time, we tried to think outside the box and of ways that this could form a platform of cooperation between the two communities and in the broader region or vice versa making sure that Cyprus does not become a thorn through energy, in the relations of others. We feel that public dialogue on the issue is both limited and fragmented. This is particularly true in the Turkish Cypriot Community, not only because it has not been part of the discussion since the Republic of Cyprus develops the issue but also because there was very limited expertise in the North as well.
CP: How did people receive these conferences and are Cypriots interested in the issue of energy?
Ayla Gürel: These conferences have always attracted great interest, they have been widely attended. We have produced proceedings on the conferences we held up to now, we have reports about them, because there was such a demand, people kept coming back saying that they would like to see reports of the conferences.
Harry Tzimitras: The logic is also further in this respect in a duo fashion. We both want to contribute to an informed public dialogue in Cyprus, bringing individuals who are experts of international repute, but vice versa use the presence of these individuals in Cyprus to bring to their attention the particularities, the sensitivities, the concerns if you like, of the Cypriot society to people who are instrumental in the development of the issue of energy, internationally.
CP: The conference is organised in collaboration with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Cyprus, the Atlantic Council, Instituto Affari and Strata Insight. How did this collaboration come about?
Harry Tzimitras: The initial conferences were scheduled with the Friedrich Hebert Foundation which is very active in Cyprus. But it was exactly because of the outcome of these conferences that they acquired interest from international actors that approached us. At the same time, we also thought that bringing together institutions that are key in the discussion internationally, brings a better information to the public debate here , from different perspectives. So it contributes to the plurality of the public dialogue.
The Conference Today
CP: You have both been working on hydrocarbons. What do you expect the major issues at this conference to be? What are the most relevant aspects of this conference today?
Harry Tzimitras: The conference will have three pillars. One is a more global take on trends; global and European trends on energy, introducing a broader framework because sometimes the discussion is too focused on Cyprus and the EastMed. The second one is an energy security / geopolitical angle where we try to see beyond the market and financial and technical considerations; what are the geopolitical and political ones in energy? Finally, the third is to bring the perspective from the industry with the inclusion of major companies in the international sphere. Part of the problem of the discussion, not only in Cyprus but the whole of the EastMed is that decisions to the day seem to have been taken on the basis of nearly exclusively political criteria. So in this respect we try to bring in the technical and financial aspects simply because when you have companies involved, for them any effort needs to make primarily business sense. But vice versa we also want to introduce the geopolitical framework within which any discussion takes place. So it is again a bridging exercise between these perspectives.
Ayla Gürel: It is important to have a more realistic approach to the whole issue be it with a solution or without a solution; how could these resources be exploited, monetised for the benefits of the people on the island? This needs to be approached from a pragmatic angle and you need a more realistic perspective regarding the conditions for developing these things or the political context.
Harry Tzimitras: If you like a branding of these conferences is the triptych of: Objectivity, pragmatism and thinking outside the box.
CP: What marked your choice of speakers? Interestingly, you chose not to include any politicians. What does this say about the conference?
Ayla Gürel: It is not that we excluded politicians as such but there are difficulties with getting politicians on board. In the first panel the choice of speakers has been on the basis of how we could understand the main issues that are pertinent to developing these resources in the commercial sense. And this is of course determined primarily by markets and prices. We need to understand the situation in the regional markets from a realistic perspective. It is not good to say just, oh we will export to Egypt, it is fine. We need to understand exactly what the prospects are and what the market in Egypt is about. The same goes with the constantly mentioned possibility of exporting to Turkey and the European possibility; again, how realistic is it and what does it take for that to materialise? All these need to be looked at from the perspective and conditions of the markets as well.
Harry Tzimitras: This conference should be understood as complementary to others taking place in the Republic. There was if you’d like the need or the gap to be filled and will be complementary to the political discourse that takes place quite widely. Also this is an international conference on international aspects. So we bring individuals who have either a global understanding of things or have expertise in other areas that would complement the discussion locally. This conference is a bit different because it bridges all the different perspectives; market, technical, political, company perspectives. It is also different because it is a truly open public conference and contributes to the dialogue in a different way.
Implications for Cyprus
CP: We are in a political hype at the moment with regards to the Cypriot issue. Do you think that this conference is relevant regardless of the conclusion of this process, or does it depend on a solution of the Cypriot problem in order for it to be relevant?
Ayla Gürel: I think it will be relevant in any case. This conference is not organised based on the premise that there will be a solution. We cannot predict that. But it will shed light on what possibilities exist if there is a solution or where we might find ourselves if there is not a solution and all these are within the remit of the conference and surely these questions, just as you have asked it, will come up there; either in the speakers’ presentation or in the questions of the audience.
Harry Tzimitras: It certainly is not tied up to any particular outcome. Energy will be there for the years to come, it will have to be something that will have to be developed for the benefit of the people, either through the federal State or otherwise. Hopefully we would like to see that through these efforts, energy does not further fuel the conflict but rather that it becomes a platform of cooperation between the two communities, as it stands or is developed by a federal Government for the benefit of all the people in the event of the solution. It absolutely has to do with Cyprus and Cyprus people in the way that they should be the beneficiaries of natural resources.
CP: So you are in the positive front, the one that says that regardless of whether we will have a solution or not, natural gas will be exploited.
Harry Tzimitras: Hopefully we will have the natural gas period because for the time being reserves confirmed are quite small. But it is exactly because we’ve seen that these small quantities that in and by themselves do not support any mode of extraction already have become a contestation point between the two communities as it stands and further brings in the discussion others like Turkey. We would like to see the resources becoming a bond rather than a diversifying fact.
Ayla Gürel: Also, if there is a solution, we will have a different setting in the sense that at least we will have had the political problem settled on the basis of a certain understanding which will help negotiations as regards to how these resources will be developed. If there is no solution it looks like the efforts towards exploration for hydrocarbons and exploitation, somehow will continue. So, for anyone who is interested in the development of hydrocarbons, surely there is reason to sit down and think what are the facts and what are the outlooks and how can we survive in either of these situations. In order to have a strategy you need to know the facts and these facts concern a wide range of things of the sort that we hope will come forward in this conference.
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