Παρασκευή, 5 Αυγούστου 2011

Cyprus is Facing an Energy Security Dilemma

Cyprus is located in the geopolitically significant region of the eastern Mediterranean at the soft underbelly of Turkey and the easternmost part of the European Union. It is obvious that the modern political agenda is constantly changing. Apart from the traditional socio-political and economic issues, in recent years, the issue of energy security has made its appearance. Thus energy policy has become a crucial field of international diplomacy.
In this context, the Republic of Cyprus has recently developed its own strategy, thus marking the first important step. The existence of oil and gas resources in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is one of the most important issues in the geopolitical games currently taking place in the wider Eastern Mediterranean. This issue relates both to developments regarding the Cyprus question and relations between the Republic and other countries of the region. Therefore, a comprehensive and well organized, strategic plan is an immediate and urgent priority.
The issue of the existence of energy reserves in Cyprus has been part of the regional geopolitical map since the British colonial era. Recently, information came to light showing that in 1936 the British Colonial Office in Cyprus gave permission for geological tests to be conducted with the intention of exploiting any possible resources for Britain’s interests, research which confirmed for the first time the existence of oil in Cyprus.
After the end of colonialism the first major move that the newly independent Republic of Cyprus made took place in 1980 when, for the first time, it expressed an interest in an underwater search for exploitable energy resources in the wider region. However, those efforts were not successful after the discussions were ended by the intervention of the then UN Secretary General, Kurt Waldheim, while in a later attempt in 1989, Cyprus was again refused permission to explore for oil by the international community.
However, the situation has changed radically during the past decade. The reasons presented by the international community regarding the “non-harmonized legal framework” of the Republic are no longer valid. In a coordinated manner, Cyprus began a series of contacts with almost all countries of the region in order to officially delineate its territorial waters and define its EEZ. Then, in 2007, it began implementing a medium-term plan, which included the licensing of companies to study the possible existence of hydrocarbons in Cyprus’ EEZ.
The current situation is extremely complicated and creates a new dynamic. Furthermore, it presents opportunities both in terms of short-term and long-term strategic planning. That is because of the unstable regional geopolitical environment and the commencement of drilling operations next September by the US company Noble Energy.
Given the above, if Cyprus were to follow a well shaped strategy it could become a large energy hub in the Mediterranean. Based on recent statements by Terry Gerhart, the Vice President of Noble Energy, Cyprus is on the verge of a “natural gas revolution”, which will give a new impetus to its economy for decades to come. Consequently, all the geo-economic and geopolitical realities could turn into directly beneficial effects for the country. Moreover, this could alleviate the energy security challenge that the European Union itself is facing. Cyprus can become a key geopolitical player in the Mediterranean region, thus offering opportunities for new oil and natural gas supply routes into Europe, both as a transit point and as a producer.
Nonetheless, in order for this scenario to become a reality, a series of steps are required on the part of Cyprus. Beyond the strategic importance of maintaining and expanding Cyprus’ relations with Israel and other regional states, an urgent need emerges - the establishment of a well resourced and staffed Energy Ministry that would deepen and further develop the Republic’s energy policies. Such a move could provide Cyprus with a strategic advantage and also enhance not only its regional but also its international role.

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