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Israel, Turkey see Cypriot-Greek energy gate to EU

The development of hydrocarbons in Eastern Mediterranean can be a catalyst for the Cyprus problem, a Cypriot MEP tells New Europe

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STRASBOURG – The development of hydrocarbon reserves in eastern Mediterranean can boost “cooperation and peace” between the countries in the region and is important for the European Union’s energy security, Neoklis Sylikiotis, a Cypriot MEP and former energy minister, told New Europe.

The Member of European Parliament highlighted the Mediterranean island’s geostrategic importance, following the discovery of hydrocarbons in the Cypriot exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the agreements Nicosia has signed with neighbouring counties.

He noted that Cyprus started the orientation of its exclusive economic zone with Egypt, then with Lebanon and finally with Israel and proceeded with deals for joint exploration. “Recently, we saw the signing of the memorandums between Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece and Israel, Cyprus, and Greece. These projects that were announced are projects that have been under development for many years,” Sylikiotis said.

“In June 2012, as an energy minister, I submitted these proposals for co-financing in the European programmes for the EuroAsia Interconnector, the connection with electricity cable, and the pipeline (EastMed) that will connect the hydrocarbon reserves from Israel, Cyprus and Greece, a difficult task,” he said, adding that Greece also submitted a proposal in 2012 for building the ambitious EastMed pipeline.

“Last December, fortunately after our initiative it was approved in the European Parliament report for the Energy Union, the position that the reserves of the Eastern Mediterranean are important,” Sylikiotis said.

Meanwhile, Sylikiotis said that Cyprus should not view negatively an agreement reached this week between Israel and Turkey. “We can play a role as a regional hub. Any transfer of natural gas from Israel’s deposits and especially Leviathan to Turkey passes through Cyprus or Cyprus’ EEZ,” he said. “For us, this creates an additional motive for Turkey to show tolerance and find a solution [to the Cyprus problem],” the MEP said.

“We said since we moved ahead with drilling and agreements in 2009 that the hydrocarbon reserves in Cyprus but also in the region can be a catalyst because if Turkey wants to play a role in the management of these hydrocarbons, the position of Turkey passes through Cyprus, like we said in the past that Turkey’s EU accession passes through Cyprus,” he said.

Sylikiotis argued that Turkey’s failed political investment in the Arab spring and Ankara’s recently chilled relations with Moscow, following the downing of the Russian warplane near Syria, have created a new geopolitical environment in the region, prompting Turkey to turn back to the EU.

“Turkey needs energy supplies for its internal market but also in order to become a hub for the energy security Europe, especially given its [Turkey’s] difficult relations with Russia. Don’t forget that it imports major quantities from Russia. All these factors create the motive to towards finding a solution [to the Cyprus problem],” he said.

Sylikiotis said he has always been a strong advocate of building a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Cyprus, together with Israel. “We should not put all our eggs in one basket. We can sell gas to Egypt. We could potentially, after a solution to the Cyprus problem, send gas to Turkey,” he said. “The LNG terminal allows us to send gas anywhere in the world with tankers.”

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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