Solving the Cyprus problem: the message from the last European summit

Nowadays, Cyprus is the only country in Europe still divided by a wall that establishes the ethnic, political and physical borders between the Turkish-Cypriot community in the North and the Greek-Cypriot one in the South. The Cypriot issue was created and reiterated by outside interests and by a realpolitik approach developed through decades of negotiation rounds sponsored by the United States, the United Nations and currently by the European Union, whose role caused its failure. In the last few years, this issue has acquired a new dimension, not only related to political factors but also to the energetic field.

The important stretch of gas in the Mediterranean flowing through Israel, Turkey and Cyprus affects three domains: the reconciliation between the two communities, the Ankara regional future great power and the accession of Turkey to EU[1]. Needless to say, the small Mediterranean island plays an important geopolitical role which became a relevant item on the EU’s agenda at the summit of October 23. Especially, because of the resurgence outbreak tensions with Turkey.

The Cypriot foreign policy is dominated by the “national question”. As we know, the problematic relationship between Turkey and Cyprus peaked in 1974 when Turkey invaded the Northern part of the island leading to a de facto division. This paradoxical situation has forced Cyprus to live with the military occupation of another country.

The territory of the Republic of Cyprus[2], including the whole island, joined the EU in 2004, but the Community law application has been suspended for the North. Indeed, this part of the country was self-proclaimed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, although it has not yet been internationally recognized. At the same time, Ankara does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus which is a factor that contributes to prevent the Turkey accession to EU[3]. Ankara is also contesting the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Cyprus and the exploitation of oil and gas reserves discovered therein[4]. The political question is intertwined with the energetic one, thus setting a new challenge for the Turkish-Cypriot relations: the enormous interests at stake could lead to further tensions or could this be the trump card for a strategy that points to a peaceful resolution of a long political history?

The sites discovered in Levantine Sea are contested by Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon, and not all parties have found a satisfactory agreement for the exploitation of offshore platforms. Submarine areas could become, therefore, a complicated legal affair as neither Ankara nor Tel Aviv have ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)[5] that sets the guidelines for the economic exploitation of natural resources in the oceans. This Treaty is ratified by Cyprus, Egypt and Lebanon. Israel and Cyprus, in accordance with international law, have therefore established a line of demarcation between the relevant waters of the two countries. However, it is necessary to underline that, firstly, Ankara considers the areas where they place these exploratory activities as “international waters” and not as the EEZ of Cyprus relevance; secondly, the Turkish government believes that in any case such initiatives cannot be undertaken without a prior agreement with the Turkish-Cypriot community, otherwise excluded from any economic benefits. The attempt to control offshore fields by Israel and Cypriot can work in a context which affects not only the ability to resize the Turkish position in the Levant, but also the guaranty of energy supplies to Europe through a network of pipelines made in the Mediterranean island and Greece.

The energy issues described above are able to change the global energy balance in the near future: the exploitation of gas fields could play a role in satisfying their own energy needs, selling both in European and Asian markets. The basic idea would be to make Nicosia and Tel Aviv major energy hubs for the countries of Northern Europe. However, these intentions weigh on the Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot’s appetites on Levant basins as Turkey could see contended its role as a major energy hub for the region. Furthermore, the agreements between Cyprus and Israel would cut off Northern Cyprus and Turkey as users, while the latter, thanks to the gas in the Levant, would be the customer and transit country for oil and gas pipelines towards Europe. This is an important development for Europe and the United States, who are always looking for alternatives to their energy dependence on Russia. In light of the predictions of the “Journal Europae” and of the encounter between the negotiators of the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot community happened on June 2, a reconciliation was expected between Nicosia and Ankara because of the joint exploitation of energetic reserves. Moreover, it was also forecasted by the other countries involved, the creation of a common European pipeline: the EastMed[6], linking Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy. Clearly, something went wrong.

In early October, Turkey issued the directive “Nav Tex”, whose objective, given the conflicting reports in the Cypriot government, was to define the boundaries for the detection of oil in the waters of both countries. The provisions came into force on October 20 and authorized the presence of Turkish oil tankers and the beginning of oil exploration by the Turkish frigate “Barbaros” in the EEZ of Cyprus. The immediate consequence of the Turkish initiative was the suspension, by the Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, of the UN round table on October 7. It is interesting to note that on  October 20, the unity of the Russian navy begun some exercises in the waters off the southern coast of the island as agreed with the Nicosia’s government. The Russian position on the Cyprus issue has always been ambiguous, especially during the Cold War. However, in the recent events, there was a meeting between Anastasiades and Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Milan, during which the Russian President said that “any violation of the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus is unacceptable”[7].

These are the conditions why the Cyprus problem was placed on the agenda of the EU summit on October 23-24 and received the request of the Nicosia’s government after Turkey objected to his rights to exploit submarine fields of oil and gas.

The final draft of the summit conclusions approved by EU leaders of the 28 member states expressed “grave concern at the renewed tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean” and calls on Turkey to “respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus”. The European Council also points to Turkey that “recognition of all member states is a necessary component of the accession process” and that the priority is to “ensure a positive climate for the resumption of negotiations to solve the Cyprus problem[8]”. On October 23,  the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced that the new executive branch will discuss the dispute between Turkey and Cyprus and will take the necessary steps. The issue also involved the High Representative for Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn. The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, has announced that MEPs will discuss the dispute, involving the rights of its citizens of a member state[9].




Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)



[1] cf. Palley C., An International Relations Debacle. The UN Secretary-General’s Mission of Good Offices in Cyprus 1999-2004, Hart Publishing, Oregon 2005; Christou G., The European Union and Enlargement. The case of Cyprus, Palgrave MacMillan, Hampshire 2004.

[2] With the London and Zurich Agreements on February 1960, Cyprus became a republic but under the supervision of United Kingdom, Turkey and Greece. According to historical sources, here the Cypriot question, as we know it, was born. To deep see also: United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 382, 1960; United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 397, 1961. cf. Grandi B., Profili internazionali della questione di Cipro, Giuffrè Editore, Milan 1983.

[3] To deep the process of Turkey’s accession to EU, see:

[4] From the biennium 2009-2011, the eastern Mediterranean has been the site of perforation and inspections by the US energy company Noble Energy joint venture with Israeli partners Delek Energy, LP Drilling, Avner Oil & Gas Ltd. and Ratio Oil Exploration. The energy companies have discovered huge deposits of hydrocarbons from large submarine strategic potential. The explorations have brought to light many as 14 sites, including “Leviathan”, “Dalit”, “Tamar” and “Aphrodite”, which represent the largest natural gas reserves in recent years.

[6] The project was included in the EU (PCI Projects of common interest) of 2013, approved by the European Commission together with other 250 proposals for the European energy independence.

[7] Febbo G., Alta tensione tra Cipro e Turchia, “guerra” in mare per il gas, “Interris”, October 20, 2014.

[8] Anon., Cipro: Leader Ue a Turchia, rispetti sovranità Nicosia, “ANSA”, October 24, 2014.

[9] Anon., Energia: vertice europeo chiederà a Turchia di rispettare sovranità di Cipro, “Agenzia Nova”, October 23, 2014.

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