ANOTHER meeting of the party leaders will be held at the presidential palace tomorrow morning, (as long as President Anastasiades is not trapped in his Troodos residence by the snow) to discuss how the government should handle the latest complications in the ongoing hydrocarbons saga. These meetings are becoming a frequent occurrence indicating that policy – reaction to Turkey’s moves would be a more accurate term – is being improvised as we go along and that the politicians primary concern is that it sounds good.
If there was a plan, these meetings would have been unnecessary, but it seems the president and the party leaders prefer to act on impulse rather than be subjected to the constraints of something resembling a strategy as this would cramp their brave, but ineffective rhetoric. What was the point of setting up the committees of advisors such as the Geostrategic Council if the president prefers taking spur-of-the-moment decisions with the party leaders for dealing with the latest perceived crisis, caused by previous spur-of-the-moment decisions.
It has now become blatantly obvious that when Anastasiades, with the unanimous support of the party bosses, resolutely announced, a little over two months ago, that he would pull out of the talks as long as Turkey’s NAVTEX was in place, he did not have any idea where his decision would lead. None of the party leadership seemed to have considered the possibility that this decision would have brought the issue of hydrocarbons to the Cyprus problem negotiating table. This is what has happened now, with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor Espen Barth Eide stating that hydrocarbons were linked to the Cyprus talks.
This comment sparked the obligatory angry reaction by the political parties, which collectively made calls for demarches to be made to the UN so that Eide’s “unacceptable and provocative” statement would be rescinded. Turkey should not be rewarded for violating Cyprus’ sovereignty, was the consensus view, which in theory was correct. But even if Eide is forced to rescind his statement, what would be achieved in practical terms? We would have scored a meaningless moral victory that changed nothing. It would not stop Turkey from issuing another Navtex and sending the Barbaros into Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), thus keeping peace talks in limbo.
The current situation is the following: As long as companies are carrying out exploratory drilling on behalf of the Cyprus government, Turkey’s ship the Barbaros would continue the seismic surveys in Cyprus’ EEZ. And as long as the Barbaros is in Cyprus’ EEZ, Anastasiades would refuse to participate in peace talks. The ENI-KOGAS joint venture is expected to start drilling in another plot in Block 9 in the next few days, which would mean the Barbaros, currently anchored off Famagusta, would return to the Cyprus EEZ, rendering the resumption of the talks impossible.
Eide, whose job it is to conduct the peace talks has come up with a compromise to get the two sides back to the negotiating table – the hydrocarbons being introduced to the talks agenda. The Turks would be happy with such an arrangement, even though it is unclear whether they would also demand that the Cyprus government suspended all drilling for as long as talks were in progress. Anastasiades has underlined that he would not agree to hydrocarbons being part of the peace talks, which he would not take part in for as long as the Barbaros continued its incursions into the Cyprus EEZ; the incursions would continue because the exploratory drilling would resume.
Under the circumstances, it is very difficult to see what constructive decision could be taken by the president and the party leaders at tomorrow’s meeting. The DIKO leader said the president should take measures that would incur a political cost for Turkey, without specifying these measures; AKEL suggested Anastasiades should undertake initiatives that would force Turkey to abandon its current positions. How these objectives would be achieved we were not told because the parties have not worked this out yet and we doubt they would have done so in time for the meeting.
All we can expect from tomorrow’s meeting is more improvisation dressed up in tough rhetoric, because this is much easier than confronting reality and coming up with a pragmatic solution, from an extremely limited set of options. Our options have always been limited even though our political leadership refused to acknowledge this.